Robert Geyer discussed Brexit at the 50 Minutes in Focus event held on October 31.
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King’s College invited Robert Geyer of the University of Lancaster, England to discuss why and how Brexit happened, what will happen next both in Britain and the internatioal economy, and how it is similar to the 2016 United States presidential election.

The “Brexit and the EU” lecture was held on October 31 and was part of the 50 Minutes in Focus series. The event was free and open to the public.

The 50 Minutes in Focus series serves as a way for students to learn about contemporary policy issues. It is hosted by The Public Policy and Social Research Institute. Faculty, staff, and students are welcomed to attend these discussions.

Geyer is originally from Sacramento, California and has taught at the University of Lancaster’s Department of Politics, Philosophy, and Religion for the past 10 years. He supervises PhD students who are interested in international political economy.

He has been living in the United Kingdom as a dual resident of the United Kingdom and the United States for the past 20 years, which makes him the farthest traveling speaker for the 50 Minutes in Focus series of the 2017-2018 academic year thus far. This lecture was a shortened form of a longer lecture he gives to his own students in England.

In his own words, Geyer has a strong “background in EU [European Union] politics and policy. In particular, I have been working on applying complexity theory to public policy for the last fifteen years.”

Geyer initially began studying the subject of European Policy while studying abroad in Paris, France but has “been fascinated by the politics of Europe since high school…especially the five or six parties that included communists and socialists running…rather than just the two-party system [of America] …and went for [his] study abroad because [he] wanted to see how that many parties existed side by side in a democracy.”

Geyer began his lecture by explaining that the European Union was formed following World War II as a direct response to the war. It was a way for the European countries to keep the peace between themselves and to create a centralized forum for the European countries to conduct business with each other, such as the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community that was seen as a step toward creating a federation rather than a mass of warring countries.

Geyer explained that although the European Union was created with lofty expectations and the best intentions, it has not been without problems.

For example, today, nearly seventy-three years after the end of World War II, the European Union has a number of contradictions embedded into its core values including the opinion that “war is a distant memory for most people.” In addition, “the EU has decreasing political legitimacy” due primarily to the decline of public support because of increased membership into the EU and diversity, which seem to be weakening the core narrative.

Britain’s labor party, in particular, saw this increase in diversity and membership as being especially problematic since the EU was promoting diversity of media and business, which clashed with business and media owners and executives who began to air stories with bias against the EU.

Although former Prime Minister David Cameron was positive that the referendum to leave the EU would be shot down, he added it to the ballot as a way to silence the “eurosceptics’ in [his] party.” The referendum was a success and, by a very close vote in an election with a historic 74% voter turnout, Britain voted to leave the EU.

According to Geyer, the “trigger was the European migration crisis [which was] kicked off by the Syrian civil war and the Middle East and Africa because of warlords like Gadhafi, and though the UK [took] very few [refugees], they saw headlines on the news like … ‘being swamped with migrants and the threat of having a new city created every year’… and this influenced thought.”

Geyer went on to explain that though migration had increased, it was not how they had thought; the “annual net migration in Britain is 300,000 and 160,000 are international students who will eventually leave the country.”

This election in Britain was seen by many, including Geyer, as “the old taking back control [of the country] from the young” due to the large generational gap that existed between those who voted to leave and those who wanted to remain in the European Union. Because of this and the emphasis on migration as a topic during the election, this election has been compared to the 2016 United States election in which republican Donald J. Trump was elected president.

Although they do seem similar on the surface, Geyer noted, “Trump and Brexit have elements of globalization, when you look at the details you can’t really link them; the detail is very different… in general only globalization plays a role [in both elections].”

Just as American citizens see the future in the United States as unclear, Geyer explained that the future of Britain is scrambled and uncertain.

Geyer specifically emphasized, in relation to the future of Britain and the European Union, “how messy it is all going to be… it is a scrambled Brexit because you have had 40 years of dense migration with United Kingdom and unpacking it will take years and years if it is done peacefully and though it will be full of challenge, peace is worth it.”

He concluded by reminding his audience that, though it may seem like the democracy has failed the people, “democracy has evolved over time and is always growing and changing and rethinking things and finding a new way forward.”