European Horizons, an organization that is part of an international, student-run think tank, hosted a discussion called “The Brexit Mess” on Thursday. The group, which started on campus in 2016, organizes discussions and brings in speakers with the aim of broadening student engagement with issues in Europe. The group attempted to sort through issues with Brexit and to reflect on Great Britain’s current status with regards to the European Union.
European Horizons President senior Jonathan Wagner, who led the discussion, said that he believed the event was a success.
“We prefer a less crowded, more intimate environment for our biweekly discussion sessions and, as long as we manage to have an insightful and engaging discussion, I’m happy to declare the event a success,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Wagner went on to explain that the presence of two students from the U.K. enhanced discussion because it is useful to hear perspectives from students more directly affected by the issues in discussion rather than just reading about the issues online.
In an email to The News-Letter, European Horizons Vice President John Poulos and Officer of Research Sabrina Sussman also noted the presence of a variety of perspectives and opinions and the extent to which this improved discussion on an issue as complex as Brexit.
Sussman said that she thought the discussion was thoughtful and that the group was excited to hear from individuals affected by the vote. Although Poulos explained that his opinions on the matter have not changed since the discussion session, he’s gained a better perspective on how others view Brexit.
“It was interesting to see how people who haven’t been following Brexit as closely view the issue as a whole, just as it was interesting to hear the opinions of U.K. citizens on the matter,” he wrote.
One such student was Emily Brothwood, an exchange student from King’s College London, who attended the event because she wanted to hear an American view on Brexit. She commented that by being in the U.S. rather than at home in the U.K., she has been out of the loop of conversation. Although she tends to avoid discussing Brexit, she nonetheless said that it was nice to have a space to have the conversation.
“I usually do not want to talk about Brexit with Americans because it’s all that has been spoken about at home so being here has been a nice escape,” she wrote.
Brothwood noted that her views on Brexit have changed since attending the event.
“Just talking about [Brexit] makes me understand it a bit better and hearing from members of European Horizons who know so much on the topic allowed me to understand far better the very difficult situation that my government find themselves in,” she wrote.
Wagner’s opinions on the matter also changed, although not in terms of Brexit itself, but rather on the U.K.’s current Prime Minister Theresa May. A large portion of the discussion focused on May and her approach to the situation over the last three years. There was a general regard that people were once hopeful for her leadership but that her strategy had failed from the beginning of her time as prime minister. However, both Wagner and Poulos appeared more sympathetic to her position.
“I think I unconsciously projected some of my disapproval for Brexit and for the Tories in general onto Theresa May personally, which is unfair. That being said, I still believe that she has played her hand (as awful as it may be) poorly,” Wagner wrote.
Poulos noted that, while he doesn’t necessarily agree with May’s views on Brexit or the way that she is currently handling and has handled Brexit, he doesn’t envy her position.
“To hold the conviction that you must deliver on the initial referendum when no one can agree on how to leave the EU [European Union] is like hitting your own head against a brick wall. May and her government’s handling of Brexit has been a complete mess but that would likely have been the case regardless of who was in Downing Street,” he wrote.
A big question that was posed during the discussion was the possibility of a second referendum and what that might entail for the British government. The group discussed whether more voting would be useful for the country, as well as how this would specifically have to be framed going forward.
Some students posed that the idea of another referendum would have to be framed in a way to make it seem as though it wasn’t a referendum but rather a vote on policies. Others raised the point that the first referendum was intended to be an advisory vote and not actually legally binding and that it would make sense to see whether the British public still stand with the votes they cast in 2016.