Brexit was one of the biggest new words of the last year; a shortening of “Britain exiting the European Union”, which is quite long-winded and not nearly so snappy. On the other hand, some pundits have said that “Brexit” sounds like some sort of dietary cereal. Many politicians have delivered speeches in which they say “breakfast” rather than “Brexit”. Since the EU referendum vote, perhaps the most seismic political event the country has witnessed in the last half century, people have started talking about “hard” Brexit and “soft” Brexit. But what exactly do they mean?
They are two rough types of Brexit that Britain could have. Many of the politicians who campaigned for Britain to leave the European Union in the referendum last June say they want a complete break from the European Union, so that Britain is entirely separate from the political organisation. Such people are mostly from the Conservative Party and UKIP, two parties with a lot of strong Eurosceptics (those who are sceptical of, or dislike, the European Union) in them – especially the latter. Whereas many of the politicians who campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union in the referendum, from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and Labour parties, are pushing for a less dramatic break from the organisation. They want to remain in the European Single Market (which allows people to sell goods and services freely throughout the EU’s 28 member states, plus some other states, such as Norway, who are not in the EU), for example.
Why is there this split? Well, many Eurosceptic Conservatives and Ukippers want to see the numbers of people coming from the European Union to live and work in Britain to come down. They say that high levels of immigration over the last fifteen years or so has affected the living standards of the working classes in this country, by worsening the country’s housing shortage and flattening wages (because employers in this country, they say, exploit the workers coming from the EU, who often don’t expect to be paid as much as workers in the UK).
Others argue that immigrants are taking British jobs, because employers know they are prepared to work the same hours for less money, and that the high levels of immigration we are experiencing mean that migrants are less likely to integrate into British society and accept Britain’s values.
Having a clean break with the European Union and not remaining in the European Single Market will mean that Britain will be able to reduce levels of immigration from the EU, as the hard Brexiters want. This is because while we are in the Single Market we are obliged to accept the EU principle of the freedom of movement for people, as well as goods and services.
Coming out of it will allow Britain to tighten its border controls in regard to the other members of the Single Market so that fewer EU citizens will be able to come to live and work here. Though this also means it will be harder for British citizens to go to live and work in EU member states.