Few believed that they would actually go through with it. But last Thursday, British voters chose to become the first nation to leave the 28-member European Union in a referendum that many believe will have worldwide repercussions. The results are already visible on financial markets, with sharp declines on Friday and Monday.
Since the end of World War II, integration has transformed the once-warring nations of the European continent into the world’s largest free-trade area. In 1999, the European Union (EU) debuted the euro currency, which quickly became one of the world’s leading currencies and, many believed, a prototype for regional unions in other parts of the world.
Yet on June 23, voters in Britain dealt a severe blow to the EU and globalization generally, when nearly 52% of the electorate there voted to leave the union. The next day, stock markets around the world fell as much as 8%, while British Prime Minister David Cameron chose to resign rather than lead his country in an unprecedented exit from the regional bloc.
The Roots of Brexit
When the predecessor organizations of the EU formed in the 1950s, Britain was not part of the European unity movement. It was not until 1973 that Prime Minister Edward Heath took the UK into the union.