Over the last three years, issues surrounding the UK’s bid to leave the European Union (popularly known as “Brexit”) have come under intense scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle in Britain.
Currently headed by Boris Johnson, the UK’s Conservative Party argues that the country’s population has mandated an exit from the EU this fall. Led by liberal MP Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party has argued that a break with the European Union could bring on an economic recession throughout the United Kingdom.
So far, the Conservatives have set a goal for leaving the EU by the end of this month. As Prime Minister, Johnson has already had to quell political fires currently raging in the House of Commons, and so far, the fierce battle being fought over Brexit’s future doesn’t appear to have an end in sight.
But Brexit’s main issues have deep roots in Britain’s fiercely independent culture, and its themes will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of 20th Century British history. Memories of mass unemployment and housing crises throughout the 1970s are still fresh in the public imagination in the UK, and ground support for a revote on Brexit is even now gaining steam on the political left.
Conversely, the United Kingdom has always been a nation that has prided itself on its political independence from Europe. As a confederation of countries like England and Scotland, the UK has had a tense relationship with the European mainland for the entirety of its recorded history. Indeed, it is little wonder that the UK is one of the first major nations to propose an exit from the European Union.
As a Prime Minister whose predecessors (Theresa May and David Cameron) lost their positions due to domestic tensions over Brexit, it cannot be lost on Boris Johnson that his political life will depend on how he handles a break with the EU. The press in the UK has always pounced on weak political operatives in Parliament, and Johnson will have to raise himself above the fray if he is to successfully guide the country to economic independence and maintain his current position in Downing Street.
How the political theater around Brexit will play out on the world stage is anyone’s guess, but the upcoming deadline for an exit from the EU could prove to be a major milestone to the pro-Brexit movement. Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister’s career trajectory will depend on the extent to which he is able to successfully guide Brexit policy to a satisfactory conclusion, but for a politician who styles himself after Winston Churchill, that kind of conflict come as a welcome acid test.