Brexit

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What is 'Brexit'

Brexit is an abbreviation of "British exit" that mirrors the term Grexit. It refers to the possibility that Britain will withdraw from the European Union. The country will hold an in-out referendum on its EU membership on June 23.

BREAKING DOWN 'Brexit'

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister since 2010, announced support for a referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2013. He said that the country would hold the vote before 2017 if the Conservatives were re-elected in the May 2015 general election. They were, and Cameron pursued a renegotiation of the terms of Britain's membership, to be followed by a vote on Brexit. 

Cameron supports the "in" or "remain" side (sometimes dubbed "Bremain"), arguing that the renegotiated terms he secured with European Council President Donald Tusk are favorable to Britain. Skeptics on both sides see the renegotiation as political theater, which Cameron was forced to perform as a result of his prior sympathy to euroskeptic (anti-EU) arguments. They reason that this skepticism was not completely genuine, but at least partly calculated to head off electoral challenges.

The UK Independence Party in particular presented a challenge to the Conservatives leading up to the 2015 election. The movement was founded in 1991 (under a different name) to oppose Britain's EU membership and saw its popularity surge in 2013. UKIP's arguments, and euroskepticism more generally, also appeal to elements of the Tory base, and following the renegeotiation a number of prominent Conservatives have come out in support of the "leave" side. These include London Mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove

Others see merit in the terms Cameron secured with the EU, which include exemption from the principle of "ever-closer union," enhanced recognition for the pound, a four-year "emergency brake" on in-work benefits to EU migrants and a "red card" system that would allow a bloc of EU parliaments to block legislation from Brussels. Most supporters of the "in" camp base their opinion on the largely unforeseeable economic consequences of exit, rather than an emotional attachment to the EU. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney called Brexit "the biggest domestic risk to financial stability." 

Supporters of Brexit base their opinion on a variety of factors from the global competitiveness of British businesses to concerns about immigration. Britain has already opted out of the EU's monetary union (meaning that it uses the pound instead of the euro) and the Schengen Area (meaning that it does not share open borders with a number of other European states). "Out" campaigners argue that Brussels' bureaucracy is a drag on the British economy and that EU laws and regulations are a threat to British sovereignty.

Popular support for Brexit has varied over time, but the "in" and "out" sides have mostly been about evenly split. Popular referendums are, however, notoriously difficult to predict through polls. Some pundits have argued that greater enthusiasm on the "leave" side will result in a win for Brexit, since even "in" campaigners are not generally enamored of the EU, while "out" campaigners are often passionate about their stance. Others counter that the status quo will win out due to the uncertainty of Brexit's implications.

Brexit is tied in with Scotland's membership in the United Kingdom. In the wake of a "no" vote on the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained unprecedented support. The party's leader, Nicola Sturgeon, opposes a UK-wide referendum on EU membership, saying that Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland should vote separately, and that a unanimous "out" vote should be required for Britain to leave the EU.

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