or, Brexit for Normal People…
Smoke and mirrors, smear campaigns and hateful rhetoric, and of course ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’*. I will deal with the aftermath of the result in a later post, but in order to fully understand how the ‘United’ Kingdom (at the time of writing, anyway) came to be part of the European Union, and why the UK has voted to leave, I have compiled a very simplified record of notable events that shaped and formed the EU as we now know it. The aim is to offer some bite-sized clarity on the formation of the EU and why the UK has voted to leave it.
Once upon a Time…
- Between 1939 and 1945 most of the world was engaged in the Second World War, but you already know this. The cost of total war decimated entire economies, and this led to the Treaty of Paris being signed in 1951, which created the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The original idea was that France and West Germany fostered an alliance that would aid recovery of both countries and prevent any future conflict.
- In the end, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany became the original signatories to the treaty; the aims being to spur economic recovery, preventing future European wars and maintaining lasting peace into the future. All very noble and sensible so far.
- In 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed by the same six countries. This established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom), which came into being on the 1st January 1958. The goals were to create a common customs union, agricultural and transport policies for the EEC, and nuclear power cooperation within member countries of the Euratom (a seperate entity to the EEC and ECSC, but governed by the same people).
Birth and Growth
- Algeria leaves the EU in 1962 as it gains independence from France.
- 1965 sees the Merger Treaty signed, which combines the ECSC, Euratom and EEC into one body, called the European Communities (EC).
- 1973: Denmark, Greenland, Ireland and the UK (after an unsuccessful earlier attempt to join was vetoed by France) join the EC in the first (European) enlargement. Norway negotiates a membership, but it’s voters reject this in a referendum.
- The UK votes to remain in the EEC in a national referendum in 1975.
- 1981 and Greece join the community as part of the second (Mediterranean) enlargement.
- Greenland leaves the EC, partly over a fishing dispute in 1985. The Schengen Agreement introduces open borders with no passport control to member countries.
- Portugal and Spain join the community in 1986 in the third (Iberian) enlargement, and the European Flag starts being used by the EEC.The Single European Act (’86) comes into effect, which aims to establish a single market within the community by the end of 1992.
The European Union Arrives
- The Maastricht Treaty (’92) officially heralds in the European Union in 1993. The Three Pillars of the EU are created: 1 – European Community, 2 – Common Foreign and Security Policy and 3 – Justice and Home Affairs.
- Austria, Finland and Sweden join in 1995, in the EU’s fourth (post cold war) enlargement. The Schengen Agreement (’85) kicks in with borderless travel for EU citizens in 7 countries — Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
- The Amsterdam Treaty (’97) comes into effect in 1999, which devolves further governmental powers to the EU.
- The Treaty of Nice (’01) is rejected by Irish voters in a referendum, but quashed a year later, and comes into effect in 2003. Members are concerned about diminished powers and a proposed enlargement of the EU.
- The 2004 EU fifth (Eastern block) enlargement has 10 countries join the EU: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
- Bulgaria and Romania join the EU in 2007 for the sixth (Balkans) enlargement.
- The Treaty of Lisbon (’07) comes into effect in 2009, offering greater democracy and transparency for member states.
- Croatia joins the party in 2013, making it the 28th state to join the EU.
Not to mention the Euro…
- 1999 sees 11 nations in the Eurozone (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain) adopt the Euro as their official currency. Britain and Norway aren’t included.
- By 2016 the number has grown to 19 (Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia).
Little Britain gets Fed up
- In 2001, World Trade Centre buildings One, Two and Seven become the only three steel-reinforced buildings in existence to collapse in on themselves due to ‘fires’. The US promptly invades Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat the ‘Axis of Evil’ that apparently did this. Tony Blair joins George W Bush as per prior arrangement. There is widespread outrage both from home and abroad at what is seen as an illegal war started by the US & UK governments.
- Gordon Brown becomes the unelected Prime Minster of the UK in 2007 after Tony Blair resigns his post to take up a lucrative peace envoy position in the Middle East (you are allowed to guffaw at the irony of this).
- The world collapses into financial turmoil in 2008 after the effects of the junk mortgage fiasco in the US finally affect the entire global financial system. The gap between the worlds elite and the struggling masses becomes very apparent now.
- In 2009 the Parliamentary Expenses Scandal is exposed to the British public. The public are again sickened by the government gravy train, but only the worst offenders are punished.
- Gordon Brown and the Labour Party duly loses the UK General Election of 2010 (Voter turnout is 65%) and the UK enters a period of coalition (Tory-Liberal Democrats) government. This is led by the Conservative Party under David Cameron. This result could be seen as a reaction to the ongoing ‘War on Terror’ and the governments disregard for the UK electorate.
- Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 ends with a vote to stay as a part of the United Kingdom of 55%, to the 45% that voted for independence. Voter turnout is 85%.
It’s the end of the world as we know it…**
- In 2013 David Cameron promises the Eurosceptics in his party that he will offer a referendum on EU membership if the Tories win a majority in the next election. If they win he promises to negotiate new EU membership terms for the UK and then hold a referendum on membership before December 2017, all of which gets published in a draft EU Referendum Bill.
- United Kingdom Independence Party wins 1st place in the 2014 European Parliament Election (Turnout is 36%), with Labour second and the Tories in third place. UKIP win the most seats in the European Parliament and become a credible threat to the Conservatives now. This has never happened before.
- On the promise of offering an EU membership referendum, in 2015 the Tories surprisingly win a General Election (Turnout 66%) with a majority in the House of Commons. The assumption is that this will stem the rise of UKIP and that the usual middle class voters will maintain the status quo and vote to Remain in the EU. The Liberal Democrats are unceremoniously kicked out of the coalition government and back into the wilderness. A notable increase in support for the Scottish National Party and UKIP is visible.
- In 2016 David Cameron tries to negotiate better terms for the UK so far as EU membership goes. The result – nothing fundamental will change with the UK’s EU status. ‘Campaign Fear’ is promptly launched with the help of the BBC, most government media lackeys and rich celebrities, who all preach about the risk committing economic suicide if the country votes to leave the EU.
- A wave of immigrants paralyse Europe as they flee from all the countries that Europe and the US has waged war in since the 9/11 atrocities. This becomes one of the polarising issues of the referendum, although there are plenty of other issues to ponder as well. Cameron finally announces the date for an in-out vote of European Union membership.
- A massive campaign of scaremongering, propaganda and misinformation commences from both the ‘Remain’ and ‘Brexit’ camps, with the general public begging for factual information, which continues to remain elusive. This doesn’t happen and the country splits into two distinct camps of support for ‘Remain’ and ‘Brexit’, with vehement support for both arguments in around equal measure.
- 23 June 2016 and Britain goes to the polls for the second time in it’s history on the question of remaining in the European Union. Voter turnout is 72%, which is a much larger percentage than anticipated.
- On the night after the referendum polls close Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP concedes defeat to Remain. Most major polls have the Remain camp ahead by a few points and Brexit looks certain to lose the referendum, which is reflected in the financial markets, who stand to make a fortune from a Remain win.
- The ‘expert’ polls and the financial markets are entirely wrong, and the result is astounding: despite the incessant efforts of the government, BBC and big business, Brexit wins by 52%, to Remains 48%. Armageddon begins…
- One month later and everything is back to normal… the London Stock Market is at an historical high, house prices are still rising, Sterling is at its usual level, unemployment is where it usually is and interest rates are at a record low.
- Nothing can actually change until Article 50 is triggered (which nobody has ever done before). This would govern the UK divorce from the EU if it is ever used. The UK and the world have no definite idea what happens next…
* Attributed to Mark Twain, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, as well as a host of other people… so who knows…
** Good tune by REM.
Countries in the EU as of 2016
Country, Year Joined, Currency
Austra, 1995, Euro since 1999
Belgium, 1958, Euro since 1999
Bulgaria, 2007, Lev
Croatia, 2013, Kuna
Cypres, 2004, Euro since 2008
Czech Republic, 2004, Koruna
Denmark, 1973, Krone
Estonia, 2004, Euro since 2011
Finland, 1995, Euro since 1999
France, 1958, Euro since 1999
Germany, 1958, Euro since 1999
Greece, 1981, Euro since 2001
Hungary, 2004, Forint
Ireland, 1973, Euro since 1999
Italy, 1958, Euro since 1999
Latvia, 2004, Euro since 2014
Lithuania, 2004, Euro since 2015
Luxembourg, 1958, Euro since 1999
Malta, 2004, Euro since 2008
Netherlands, 1958, Euro since 1999
Poland, 2004, Zloty
Portugal, 1986, Euro since 1999
Romania, 2007, Leu
Slovakia, 2004, Euro since 2009
Slovenia, 2004, Euro since 2007
Spain, 1986, Euro since 1999
Sweden, 1995, Krona
United Kindom, 1973, Pound Sterling