On 23 June 2016 a very important referendum was held in the UK. British people were asked whether they wanted Great Britain to leave or to remain in the European Union (EU). The EU is a group of 28 European countries that co-operate together and have strong economic ties. Their citizens can move and work wherever they like in the EU. The origins of the Union can be traced back to 1957, when 6 nations formed the European Economic Community (EEC). Over the years, other nations, such as Britain, joined, and the EEC became the EU. No nation had ever left the Union… until recently. The British referendum had an unexpected result: more people voted ‘leave’ (51.9%) than ‘remain’ (48.1%). Britain’s exit from the EU – also called Brexit – is not going to be easy. Britain is currently facing a difficult ‘divorce’.
Off the coasts of Europe
Brexit is the latest chapter in the long-running drama between the UK and the Continent. Many British people believe that their country is different from the rest of Europe. They say that Britain developed for hundreds of years as a separate entity, producing its own special and unique culture. They feel that even geographically Britain is not really part of Europe. This perception is so common, that some dictionaries, like the Collins Dictionary, have a special ‘British’ definition of the term ‘Europe’: ‘the continent of Europe except for the British Isles’. Yet history tells a more nuanced story: Britain was never fully isolated from European affairs. In the last century, for example, it participated in two World Wars on the Continent.
United in Diversity
The second of these conflicts, World War II, was so destructive that many European politicians wanted to find a way to maintain lasting peace in Europe. The EEC (later the EU) was their solution. The concept was simple: if countries co-operated and became dependent on each other, they would not fight any more. As Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II, said: “We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and that without losing any of their love and loyalty of their birthplace.” The EU’s motto sums it up: ‘In Varietate Concordia’ – United in Diversity. The EU has been so successful in putting into effect its original intentions that in 2012 it received the Nobel Peace Prize for having ‘contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe’.
Britain at a crossroad
So why Brexit? Those that voted ‘leave’ in the referendum feel that the EU did more harm than good. Perhaps it ensured peace, but they claim that it also took away the right of the British people to govern themselves. They blame the EU for their social and economic difficulties. Leaving the Union, though, will not be a short and painless process. Britain will have to pay a ‘divorce bill’, and negotiations will go on for months (the UK will officially leave the EU in March 2019). The first phase, on the ‘principles of the divorce’, was concluded in October. The second, more complicated phase is starting now. Current British Prime Minister, Theresa May, finds herself in a difficult situation. She has to negotiate a deal with the EU, and then have the British Parliament approve it. But what if it rejects the deal? Nobody can say what will happen then. Certainly, the Brexit vote has caused great divisions within the UK. Most Scots (62%) voted to remain in the EU, and now they’re asking for a referendum to decide on whether or not Scotland should remain in the UK. There are similar talks in Northern Ireland. Could the Brexit vote, ultimately, lead to the end of Great Britain?
1) Do you want to know more about every aspect of Brexit? Read this webpage:
2) Do you want to know more about the EU? Check out this official webpage:
…or watch these short videos:
3) Do you know the member states of the EU? Take this quiz:
(Try the other quizzes on the same page. Guess European cities, capitals, flags…)
4) Look at this video about Scotland and its independence movement:
1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative.
1. A citizen of one EU country
- cannot live in another EU country.
- can decide to work in another EU country.
- cannot work in another EU country.
- was a founding member of the EEC.
- is not the first nation to leave the EU.
- joined the EU when it was called the EEC.
3. In 2016 the British people decided to
- leave the EU.
- join the EEC.
- remain in the EU.
4. Some dictionaries claim that the British Isles are
- part of Europe.
- off the coasts of Europe.
- Isolated from European affairs.
5. To say that Britain developed for hundreds of years in isolation is
- absolutely true.
- totally false.
6. Winston Churchill
- thought that a united Europe was a good idea.
- gave the EU the Nobel Prize.
- founded the EU.
7. The EU was formed
- after World War I.
- to promote peaceful relations between nations.
- to win the Nobel Prize.
8. Brexit succeeded because
- British people lost their love and loyalty for their birthplace.
- many British people felt damaged by the EU.
- the EU did not ensure lasting peace.
9. Leaving the EU
- is a long but cheap process.
- is a short but expensive process.
- is a long and expensive process.
10. Brexit might lead to
- other countries joining the EU.
- Scotland leaving the UK.
- Scotland becoming part of the UK.
2) Complete the sentences with the following words. Put the verbs and nouns in the right form, if necessary.
tie * lasting * to trace back * to blame * harm * chapter * nuanced * to sum up * to belong * loyalty
1. He’ll never leave: he has too many family ______ here.
2. Don’t ______ me, it’s not my fault!
3. Could you ______ everything you said in just a few words?
4. Your description is too simple, the issue is more ______ than that.
5. I can ______ my family to the 17th century!
6. That writer left no ______ impression; he was quickly forgotten.
7. This book has very short ______.
8. Many British people felt they didn’t ______ in the EU.
9. A country cannot leave the EU without causing ______ to itself and the Union.
10. Her ______ to her family is very strong: her relatives can really count on her.
GRAMMAR – Subordinating conjunctions
3) Choose the correct subordinating conjunction to complete the following sentences.
1. Churchill was in favour of a united Europe ______ (if/because/when) he knew the horrors of war.
2. ______ (Before/After/Until) I vote, I’m going to ask for your political advice.
3. ______ (If/When/That) the referendum was over, the Prime Minister resigned.
4. Many people voted ‘leave’ ______ (because/so/that) they dislike the EU.
5. I heard ______ (when/that/where) Scotland might hold a referendum.
6. ______ (Whenever/If/Because) Scotland leaves the UK, Great Britain will no longer be ‘Great’.
7. ______ (Wherever/Whenever/Where) I go in Europe, I feel at home.
8. ______ (If/Because/After) Brexit, Europe will not be the same.
9. Many British people have been critical of Europe ______ (when/if/since) the UK joined the EEC.
10. Countries join the EU ______ (so/when/since) they can be part of the common market.
4) Each country is unique in its own way. What do you think makes the UK special or different from other countries?
What about your own country? What do you think makes it unique? Explain your ideas in a short text of approx. 100 words.