Faculty Forum - Featured Post Posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2016

‘Brexit’: A Brief Overview

Shyama Venkateswar Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College and Director, Public Policy Program, Roosevelt House

The results of the U.K.’s ‘Brexit’ referendum on June 23, 2016 to decide whether the country should leave or remain in the European Union left David Cameron, who recently stepped down as Conservative party leader, U.S. President Barack Obama, and people across the globe in a state of shock. Support for ‘Leave’ won by 52 percent to Remain’s 48 percent, with parts of England like the West Midlands (60 percent) and Yorkshire (58 percent) overwhelmingly supporting ‘Brexit.’

The socioeconomic, political, demographic, and geographic reasons behind the vote to leave are complex. A more globalized economy has come with contracting jobs, the decline of traditional occupations in manufacturing, shipyards and coalmines that had historically defined the country’s ‘working class,’ and slashes to welfare benefits that began as part of neoliberal reforms by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and which have accelerated in recent decades.

These economic developments – exacerbated by the sluggish recovery from the global recession in 2008 – laid the foundations for the Brexit vote. Those who voted against remaining in the European Union expressed their anxieties about a perceived loss of their identity while delivering a vote of no-confidence in the ruling Conservative Party’s leader to bring the country out of the economic decline and also rebuking the Labour Party’s line to remain in the E.U. In addition to economic anxieties, there were also social and cultural factors that influenced the vote. Those voting in favor of ‘Brexit’ turned their support to Eurosceptic and right-wing populist parties like the U.K. Independence Party, which successfully used scare-mongering tactics about immigrants taking away jobs and depressing wages. Also, leading ‘Leave’ figures such as Nigel Farage made misleading claims that payments to the European Union would be better spent to fund the National Health Service. Additionally, the over 1 million refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa seeking asylum in European countries were portrayed as placing an unfair financial burden on already struggling economies.

To understand the realities of the ‘Brexit’ vote and the roots of the discontentment that led the majority to demand that the U.K. delink itself from the political and economic ties to the European Union, Roosevelt House invited experts from Hunter College to provide short commentaries on the referendum and its outcome. The following economic, historical, and political analyses from Roosevelt House Faculty Associates will shed further light on the current crisis within the European Union.


Shyama Venkateswar is Director of the Public Policy Program at Roosevelt House and Distinguished Lecturer at Hunter College. In this capacity, she leads the Public Policy Program’s undergraduate curriculum, teaches the senior Capstone Seminar, co-manages faculty initiatives, works closely with city & state agencies for student internships, manages adjuncts, and directs a scholars program funded by the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women. She is a regular columnist for Roosevelt House’s website on a variety of national and global policy issues on conflict resolution, food security, women’s leadership, criminal justice reform, among others. She has almost twenty years of experience in research, policy and advocacy focusing on social justice issues, both in the U.S. and globally. Before coming to Hunter College, she worked at the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), where she served as Director of Research & Programs, and helped provide the vision and strategic direction for the Council’s policy agenda on economic security for low-income women, diversity in higher education and the corporate arena, women’s leadership, and ending global violence against women. She is co-author of two NCRW reports, Caring for Our Nation’s Future; and The Challenge and the Charge: Strategies for Retaining and Advancing Women of Color in addition to numerous commentary and opinion pieces on poverty, job creation, peace-building, and immigrant rights published in The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Asia Times, The Indian Express, and the Chicago Sun-Times. She has given Congressional briefings, and presented her research findings to academic, policy, advocacy and corporate audiences. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University and is a graduate of Smith College.