Update: British citizens have voted to leave the European Union, with 52% of the United Kingdom in favor of leaving. Age was a huge factor in the decision: Young voters were seemingly in favor of remaining, but older voters overwhelmed with votes to leave. In the wake of the results Prime Minister David Cameron, who was against leaving, has resigned. As of this writing, the British pound sterling had plummeted to a value of $1.37, a 31-year low.
It feels presumptuous to pass judgment on another country’s political and economic choices unless you’ve walked in its people’s shoes, which is why Birmingham native John Oliver is the ideal person to speak out against Britain leaving the European Union, or Brexit, as it has become known.
On June 23, the United Kingdom will vote in a referendum to decide whether to leave the EU and fly solo. Of the 28 countries that make up the European Union, Britain has always stood out as a maverick. Switch from sterling-pound currency to the euro? Oh, not so fast, this is London, not Athens. As Oliver put it in Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, the country “has always had an arm’s-length relationship with EU,” and he went as far as playing clips of British politicians bullying EU leaders in meetings, almost to the point of tears.
Still, it’s one thing to feel nationalist pride (or to be a bit of a jerkface), and another to cut off your nose and spite your face by up and leaving the EU. The possibility of this happening is freaking folks out everywhere, from Portugal to Latvia, and Oliver reminds us that it can have repercussions in places outside of Europe — wink, wink, that’s our cue to wake up.
So, here’s the deal with the EU: No one ever said it was perfect. Oliver calls it “overbearing,” “bureaucratic” too, “big,” “aspirational” and “complicated.” The number of regulations it imposes on commerce are oftentimes absurd. And the UK sends £119 million a week to the E.U., Oliver says, which may seem like a lot but works out to 26p a day for each British citizen, which InFacts points out is the cost of a Mars bar. Oliver understands why 44 percent of Brits are in favor of leaving and admits there is a ”British desire to tell Europe to go fuck itself. I feel it too.”
But despite all of that, he still thinks Britain has to be out of its freaking mind to vote in favor of leaving the European Union and all of the benefits it provides (among them, membership in the EU gives Britain a say over trading rules — a nifty plus considering how 50 percent of British exports are sent to European countries). What’s more, a number of financial organizations have called a spade a spade by declaring that leaving would have a negative effect on the British GDP.
Oliver would have needed more time to go into specific detail about the economic reasons almost half of all British people polled want to leave the EU. But there’s one contentious topic of debate across the pond that directly mirrors the one going on right now in the U.S.: immigration. The recent refugee crisis from places like Syria has incited a more vocal anti-immigration sentiment in the UK, one that organizations like UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) have seized upon, Oliver says.
UKIP, and many who support a break from the EU, are hoping it will also significantly reduce immigration. The problem, Oliver says, is that there is no guarantee that leaving will secure the borders. What’s more, unless it is content closing itself off completely, Britain will have to play by EU rules if it wants to participate in the trade market. It simply may not be worth it to shake things up in the EU (especially if you’re British and can say anything you damn well please and get away with it, which comes in handy when you’re sitting across from Belgium and make a passive-aggressive — but therapeutic — comment, turning your throat into a fire pit).
“Britain would be absolutely crazy to leave,” Oliver says — especially because if it stays, it gets all the benefits of the EU, while still being able to be a bitch to the other countries.
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal.