Speaker: Dr. Christopher Burdett
About the Speaker:
Dr. Chris Burdett is currently assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, specializing in European government and politics, politics of the European Union, and political theory. His teaching and research interests include post-Cold War security cooperation in Europe, particularly security and defense cooperation in the European Union, as well as themes related to education, identity construction, and international politics.
Dr. Burdett received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, with concentrations in International Relations and Political Theory. He holds an M.A. in European Affairs and International Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in Government from the College of William and Mary. He has also completed programs at the SAIS-Bologna Center and the Free University of Brussels. Prior to arriving at VCU, Dr. Burdett held research positions at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and The Carter Center, and twice served on the staff of Pat Cox, Member and former president of the European Parliament.
Dr. Burdett covered a range of topics, including the history of Brexit, power transitions in Britain, and dialogues between the European Union and Britain over that past five years.
The idea of forming the E.U. was born when Europe and the USA were looking for more significant cooperation between Western nations in the 1930s. Vincent Churchill passionately led the argument for having more interactive dialogues and relations among European countries and the USA. The Second World War generated momentum, making the E.U. a practical and relevant scheme. Saving Western democracy, creating a peaceful world, confronting the Soviet Union’s security threat, and forming unity among nations in Europe were the rationales behind Churchill’s desire to pursue the European Union.
In 1979, Margret Thatcher, the Conservative party Prime Minister, wanted to protect Britain’s dominance over the EU community. Britain was interested in forming a common union with Europe but was not fully absorbed. In short, the British people and their government have had some suspicion and indifference toward being part of the European Union from the beginning.
Dr. Burdett reemphasized that Britain, as an island nation, never whole-heartedly committed to EU norms and wanted to protect cultural superiority to keep British sovereignty. This undercurrent public view finally culminated and gave birth to Brexit. He went on to explain the events that took place leading to Brexit between the EU and the UK and the political dynamics of the British parliament. The referendum that took place in June 2016 was the turning point of the Brexit process. The results ended up with 52% in favor of leaving the E.U., while 48% voted to remain a member. These results revealed that most rural electorates favored leaving the E.U., while most urban folks opted to stay.
After Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down in October 2016, the conservative party led by Theresa May formally notified the E.U. of the country’s intention to withdraw on March 29th, 2017 – which officially began the Brexit process. After struggling to get the Parliament’s necessary votes to proceed with a deal to leave the E.U., Theresa May resigned as the PM in July 2019, paving the way for a new snap election. The general election in November 2019 provided a clear mandate for Boris Johnson. He was determined to leave the E.U. – with or without a deal.
On October 17th, 2019, the UK and the EU reached an agreement on the conditions for the UK’s departure from the EU and on a transition period lasting until December 31st, 2020. The idea behind the transition period was to give both sides breathing room to negotiate their future relationship. Whatever the outcome of negotiations, the changes will affect many areas of life – including trade and immigration. Brexit will remain a fascinating, puzzling, and remarkable historical fact that forever changed European and UK politics.
To conclude, Dr. Burdett answered several informative questions during the Q&A session.