Brexit: breaking down the ‘B-Word’

Still struggling to understand Brexit? Hesllie Ilunga has broken down the ‘B-word’ in this article and offered some insight into how the general election could affect Britain’s future in the EU.

From 2016, the word ‘Brexit’ has triggered an ongoing debate and conversation amongst Britons.  

We may have an idea of what Brexit is, but do we actually know what it is and is it just a word made up since the 2016 referendum was announced by David Cameron’? 

This article will be breaking down Brexit, its effect on Britain and, of course, the effect on students. With the fast-approaching general election taking place on 12th December, it would be mindless to not cover each party’s take on Brexit.  

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

What is Brexit? 

The word ‘Brexit’ is defined: ‘Britain exits’, referring to Britain leaving the EU. Before answering the question, exploring the history would be necessary to understand how Britain has ended up in a complicated break up with the EU.  

The EU was first associated as the European Economic Community, an economic and political union beside 28 other countries in Europe. It allowed these countries to share a common market along with free trade and movement of people within Europe to study, work and settle.  

Britain’s first application took place in 1961, finally joining in 1971. The first referendum did not actually take place in 2016 but in 1975, four years after joining. This resulted in 67.2% voting in favour of remaining. By remaining, Britain had to pay a net contribution to the EU which, during the 1980s, current governor Margaret Thatcher believed Britain’s contribution was the second highest net contributor. She successfully negotiated a Rebate (refund system from the EU that reinvests into Britain’s public sector) which is a financial mechanism which helps reduce the UK contribution to the EU budget.  

In the 1990s, the Eurosceptic (a political ideology that opposes the EU institution) UKIP party were growing supporters. They wanted their country back, control of immigration, asylum policies, border control, Britain to be free from jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, resignation of its membership from the European Court of Human Rights, have no ‘divorce’ payment towards the EU or its contribution to the budget and so much more.  

There were many other Eurosceptics members within the Conservative party in 2016, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, decided to carry out a referendum to satisfy these members. 51.87% vote to leave the EU, deciding Britain’s fate. Shortly after, David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister.  

In summary, Brexit is the plan of leaving the EU in hopes to save more money for the country from the net contribution and for it to gain the ability to trade with other countries with our own tax rules. But the biggest goal from Brexit is finally having more control on immigration, as many believed migrants were either ‘stealing jobs’ or ‘claiming benefits’ – stealing from the UK. 

So are we still within the EU?

Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay

This question is a little blurred for now, but this is where we start to break down the position Britain is currently in.  

David Cameron stepped down and Theresa May stepped up. By this time, May had prepared and sent a Trigger agreement (250 word explicit confirmation to the EU that Britain is leaving), in which the EU had given May and her fellow party two years to negotiate a deal for the leaving process and changes to pursue.  

The original deadline was set for the 29th March 2019, two years after the Article 50 trigger. May’s deadline has been pushed twice after MPs disagreed and rejected her Brexit deal which included the backstop and Withdrawal agreement.  The Backstop was designed to ensure there would not be border posts or barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (as the Republic of Ireland will be remaining in the EU, they would still be taking trades from the EU market) after Brexit. The Withdrawal Agreement is temporarily keeping the UK and Northern Ireland in the EU single market until an official solution is found.

Many MPs were critical of the agreement as they believed this would only leave the UK trapped, missing out on an opportunity to strike new trade deals with different countries, along with their own policy. May, after constantly going back and forth from the EU to parliament with no settled result, believed she could offer no more and resigned on 27th March 2019.  

Due to Mays’s two missed deadlines, the deal was once again pushed on the 31st October 2019 in which Boris Johnson has taken a determined position; to create a new deal that would compromise both the EU and parliament.

Boris’ Brexit deal

Image ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor, license

Boris renegotiated May’s Withdrawal Agreement; instead of just temporarily remaining within the EU single market, he had replaced the backstop with a new customs of arrangement, allowing Britain to sign and implement its own trade without the need of relying on other countries. According to the border between Northern Ireland and Britain, the goods that would be entering Northern Ireland through Britain, Britain would be eligible for the tariff (tax) Northern Ireland would pay the EU and would be refunded if the goods remain in Northern Ireland and not moved in the Republic of Ireland. 

However, due to MPs not agreeing on the law, the deadline was missed and once again the EU has pushed the official current deadline to the 31st January 2020.  

Due to the lack of support from MPs in fast-tracking his new deal, Boris pushed for a general election in which he promised he would make sure a deal would be passed if he won and Britain would be officially out of the EU by the deadline. As he described it; “unrelenting parliamentary obstructionism”.  

The General Election and Brexit

The election will determine what will happen to Britain and Brexit. Here is a list of parties with their ideas on Brexit.


Image by Andrew Parsons, license
  • Boris is determined to make sure the UK leaves the EU with an amended deal, he claims Brexit will be done as soon as he is elected.  
  • However, a week after taking office, he has promised to prepare the country with £2.1bn in preparation for no deal.   
  • Legislate the same workers’ rights, environmental and consumer rights as under the EU. 
  • Replacing common agriculture policy with a system-based on ‘public money for public goods’. 


  • Renegotiate Johnson’s deal and put in another public vote that would be achieved in the space of six months. 
  • Party would like to remain neutral but guarantee a sensible leave option.  
  • Negotiate the UK to remain within the EU custom and maintain a ‘close’ single market relationship 
  • Enabling UK trade within the EU to not undergo checks.  

Liberal Democrats

  • Pledge to cancel Brexit. 
  • If they do not win the majority they will side a party willing to take another referendum. 


  • UKIP stands for a complete end of Britain’s relationship with the EU, leaving without a deal, single market and the customs union (free trade area of common external tariff). 
  • Wanting a completely fresh start for the country. 
  • The first step is to decrease migrants. 

Green Party

  • Push for another referendum on the final deal including an option to remain in the EU. 
  • Commit to the single Market Membership. 
  • Guarantee the full rights of EU citizens and their families living in the UK.  
  •  Ensure Freedom of Movement as the core principle of the EU.  

Brexit Party

  • Want the UK to leave the EU without a deal in what is called a ‘clean-break Brexit’. 
  • Believe no-deal is the way to start changing Britain for good, starting from day one.
  • Pledged the transition period after leaving would be extended.


Image by Ewan McIntosh, license
  • SNP is pro-remain and want the UK to remain a member of the EU.  
  • Would want to revoke Article 50 if it is the only alternative to a no- deal Brexit.

No-deal… what’s the big deal? 

No-deal Brexit means the UK leaves the EU with no deal at all; exiting immediately from the customs union and single market arranged to make trade easier.  

  • There will be no deal on how the Irish border operates after Brexit and a lack of guarantee on the rights of UK citizens in the EU and vice versa. 
  • There will be no deal on the settlement money to pay the EU.  
  • There will be no transitions on the trade deal for the future. 
  • It will be harder to predict how to deal and recover from the new economic changes as there has not been a modern industrial economy to ever try/act upon this. 
  • Overnight free trade would stop, causing long queues due to checks taking place. This would have a great impact as it would cause a delay in food and medicine.  
  • Police would no longer have access to the European Criminal Database.  
  • There will be increased immigration checks. 
  • There will be an increase in price for utilities, food, and fuel.  

Nevertheless, many no-deal supporters believe many of the problems listed are highly exaggerated. Turning the other cheek, experts and economists believe leaving without a deal would cause great harm to the economy. While the Office for Budget Report, an organisation that produces the UK public finance analysis, believes it would leave the UK in a recession.   

Alternatively, the EU made a promise during this time; they would allow flights to take place and coaches and buses to cross channels temporarily.

The effect on university students

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There has been a great concern that the majority of universities in the UK may have found themselves unprepared for a no-deal Brexit. A recent survey by the members of the universities representing more than 130 higher education institutions discovered half of universities have witnessed a drop in the number of EU student applicants. 60% of universities claimed they have lost potential and existing staff due to uncertainty around the no-deal plan.

Universities UK believes 80% are concerned with stockpiling, ranging from chemicals to toilet paper; leading to several universities staking the initiative plan to prepare stockpile food and utilities to be shared amongst students living within the residence. The vice-chancellor had opened up to the Guardian about a specific product; “if we run out of loo roll then we have to close and send everyone home, it’s as simple as that”.  

There are other problems students may face: 

  • Inability to study/work abroad due to the lack of EU freedom of movement. 
  • Erasmus will be cut short, leaving students with no access to the same loan and scholarship as UK citizens students. This has resulted in Spain and Norway already warning their students to avoid British Universities.  
  • EU students would require a Visa in order to study. 
  • Cut in research funding as the UK will no longer receive supported EU fund  

The election is now fast approaching. Be prepared to carry out your research and consider each party’s Brexit policy, as that will play a big role in what is about to happen for future Britain. Carry out more research, stay updated with debates and pick out anything that may not sound right. I hope this article has broken down Brexit, leaving you with a better understanding of what the talk is all about and are now encouraged to join in the conversation.  

Feature Image by Marco Verch; license

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