When will the UK leave the European Union?
You’d be forgiven for not knowing the answer. In part because the political circus surrounding President Trump‘s — imminent? — impeachment has stolen the headlines in the U.S., and also in part because not even Boris Johnson really knows.
But the U.S., and universities like Yale in particular, should pay closer attention to events on the other side of the pond. The result of the next few weeks’ politicking in the British House of Commons and in Brussels will have far-reaching consequences for the Yale student body, the 2020 election and global diplomacy.
To summarize the current state of affairs: the UK is currently scheduled to cease being a EU member state on Oct. 31. Current prime minister Boris Johnson — our third since the Brexit referendum in 2016 — is an ardent Brexiteer, and ostensibly favors breaking away from the EU with or without a withdrawal agreement that would facilitate the transition. The major sticking point in negotiations at the moment is whether there should be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Many opposition members of parliament are now advocating having a second EU referendum, or straight up reversing the decision. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is.
So why is this relevant to you?
For a start, Yale has a large number of British students. They constitute the sixth-largest group of internationals on campus — 140 in 2018–2019. This means that you’ll probably come across a few of us throughout your time here.
Brexit affects us all on a personal level — speak to any Brit, and they’ll tell you that the insidious nature of the political debate has split families and ruined friendships. On a darker note, the Brexit debate has been linked to a rise in hate crimes as recorded by the Home Office, which has led many to question whether Britain is really a place they want to call home.
Being caught in the crossfire is especially hard for EU citizens and their children — like me — who have lived in the UK for most of their lives but feel increasingly vilified by many of their British neighbors. There are many anecdotes I’ve heard from family friends about being verbally abused for speaking a different language in the street. The increasingly violent rhetoric coming from pro-Brexit politicians — including the Prime Minister — has empowered the perpetrators. The result is that many Brits like me are much happier to move abroad — to somewhere like New Haven — while our country grapples with its identity.
There’s another reason for why you should care about Brexit: research funding. A report commissioned by Universities UK in 2016 found that 8,864 jobs in academia were supported by EU money. Much of this was in the form of grants assigned by the European Research Council (ERC). Even if as a researcher in the UK you don’t directly receive money from the ERC, you likely collaborate with someone who does. For their part, many researchers at Yale have similar collaborations with UK labs that rely on ERC funding.
The uncertainty around future research funding is definitely a reason for grad students and postdocs looking to pursue their scientific careers to look beyond the UK, and may pose difficulties for U.S. researchers looking for collaborations abroad.
It’s not just UK citizens who may be flocking to research institutions around the world rather than staying at home — around 450,000 international students study in the UK, second only to the US. The Leave campaign used the slogan “Take Back Control” — in other words, adopt a tougher immigration policy than currently allowed under EU law. It is more than feasible that a Brexiteer UK government will make it harder for international students to study in the UK, and thus push applicants to consider alternatives — such as American universities like Yale.
The ripples of Brexit may well be felt across Yale’s campus in the years to come.
More immediate, but no less personal, is the political fallout of the Brexit debate in the U.S. Donald Trump has made no secret of his support for Brexit and his camaraderie with its two main proponents, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. In doing so, Trump has aligned his own political future closely with that of Brexit’s leaders.
Trump’s recent speech at the UN, in which he claimed that “the future belongs to patriots,” cuts to the heart of the matter. Should the UK reverse its decision to break away from the EU, either in a general election, a second referendum or a parliamentary vote, Trump’s greatest political bedfellows abroad will have found that the future does not in fact belong to them. This would surely shake the foundations of his reelection campaign. A Britain that rejects Brexit would pave the way for an America that dumps Trump.
Yale students — take note.
TOM REERSHEMIUS is a first year PhD candidate in Geology and Geophysics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .