Whenever I introduce myself as a politics student in England, the first question people ask after hearing my accent is typically “what do you think about Trump?”
If they’re English, I almost always ask “what do you think about Brexit?” in response.
The year of Brexit and the start of the Trump era — 2016 — was a watershed year in global politics.
Even though nearly three years have passed, Brexit remains the center of news coverage and daily discussions in the U.K. The same is true of the 2016 election and the resulting Trump presidency in the U.S.
You can attribute this prominence to two factors: loose ends and looming deadlines.
In Brexit, the most significant loose end is the question of how the U.K. will actually leave the E.U. Based on how things have been going, this probably won’t be tied up quickly or easily.
The primary effort to solidify Britain’s exit plan in 2019 was Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Brexit Deal” between the U.K. and the E.U. In order for the plan to go into effect, May had to present it before Parliament.
To say it didn’t go well is the understatement of the century.
May presented the deal to Parliament for the first time in January and it was the biggest defeat experienced by any U.K. government in the modern parliamentary era. All three times the plan has been presented to Parliament, it’s been rejected. May’s most recent (failed) attempt to pass the deal even included the promise that she would resign if Parliament accepted her deal.
With the failure of May’s Brexit deal, the way forward is the key topic concerning Brexit. The three most common proposals are: continuing forward without a deal (known as a ‘no deal’ Brexit), abandoning Brexit altogether or potentially holding a second referendum.
Every path has its problems, and nothing will satisfy the entire population.
The hope of Brexit supporters and the fear of those who voted to remain is that a “no deal” Brexit will occur. As the departure of a member state is unprecedented in the E.U., the impact and magnitude of a no deal Brexit cannot be determined.
In March, hundreds of thousands of people attended a London protest against Brexit. A petition to revoke Article 50 and remain in the E.U. already has over six million signatures. However, if Brexit is abandoned altogether as a result of these efforts, many Brexit supporters will ask questions about the democratic nature of a country that listens to the voice of dissenters in favor of voters who were in the (slim) majority following the referendum.
Even if there were to be a second referendum, it’s unclear what the options would even be. Would a second referendum only include leave and remain, or would it also involve May’s deal as an option?
Another concern questions who would be allowed to vote. Many young British citizens advocate lowering the voting age to 16, as they are impacted by Brexit but were unable to vote in the 2016 referendum because of the voting limit at 18.
Across the pond, the most substantial loose end from the 2016 election is the ongoing saga of the Mueller report. After the indictment of several prominent figures associated with the Trump campaign — including Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and George Papadopoulos — and the conclusion of the investigation, we still haven’t seen the end of Robert Mueller. Despite Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the report and the president’s (premature) assertions that he has been completely exonerated, nothing can be known for sure unless the full report is issued to the public.
Brexit and Trump retain prominence in their respective societies because both face imminent deadlines. The Brexit deadline was originally March 29, but it has been postponed to April 11. With the 2020 elections on the horizon, the Trump administration has just over a year to campaign and earn the support of the American public.
As growing urgency and uncertainty make them all the more relevant, it’s a decent guess that any political conversation for the rest of 2019 will contain the word “Brexit” in the U.K. and “Trump” in the U.S.
Discourse in both countries remains haunted by the seismic events of 2016.
Emily Klein is a staff writer.