Although May survived a no-confidence vote seeking to remove her government from power, it remains unclear what will happen next. The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019 at 11 pm UK time. With the Brexit due date quickly approaching, it seems unlikely that the British prime minister will get another chance to return to Brussels to seek a better deal. And while there are growing calls for an early general election or a second Brexit referendum to be held, these scenarios are currently not on the table either.
With no parliamentary majority for any solution, Britain remains in a deadlock. Meanwhile, Brexit frustrations continue to build on both sides of the channel.
On the Tilburg University campus, international students from Britain are following the latest developments with some concern. “I’m concerned about what may change after the leave date in March in terms of my study, as it is still very unclear,” says Global Law student Abigail, who is from the South-West of the United Kingdom. “I hope any changes for my study situation can be overcome, but with how much ease I will be able to finish my study is at the back of my mind.”
“With how much ease I’ll be able to finish my study is at the back of my mind”
Abigail is hoping for a soft Brexit deal. “I hope that an outcome can be reached and implemented that will minimize disruption to both the UK and the EU, building further on the current positive relationship.”
Economics student Brinley from Nottingham stays up to date daily, but he has stopped worrying too much about the Brexit situation. “I’ve sort of reached the point where I’m a bit apathetic about it. I find it really interesting to see so much history being made around us, but in terms of emotions I’ve become a bit detached from it,” he explains. “I guess I also hope that it shouldn’t affect me too much personally, as my family has secure jobs and I will be university-educated. I do worry a lot about the effects on the country, though.”
“I find it really interesting to see so much history being made around us”
Like Abigail, Brinley prefers a soft Brexit to a hard divorce, although he believes no Brexit at all would be even better. “I am hoping for Brexit not to happen, or at least a soft version. If I was an MP, I would have voted for the current deal. I don’t think it’s possible to get anything better with the red lines that May set out, and I certainly don’t think it’s possible to get anything better with the time left.”
Psychology student Livvy, whose abroad year at Tilburg University has just come to an end, believes a second Brexit poll would be the best scenario. “I hope there will be another referendum and the country decides to remain,” she says.
“I hope there will be another referendum and the country decides to remain”
She believes an early election and the formation of a new cabinet would only lead to more of the same. “The worst outcome would be if a new government were to come into power, as nearly all political parties are divided on this issue. Changing government would only lead to more confusion, division, and starting relationships with the EU completely fresh.”
No divorce agreement
For Brinley, the worst-case scenario would be a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, which would mean that the UK leaves with no divorce agreement. If the Brits would crash out of the EU without a deal, this would have far-reaching consequences for the country’s trade relationships and businesses, but potentially also for universities, students and scholars. In an open letter to members of parliament, 150 university leaders recently warned that a no-deal Brexit would constitute “one of the biggest threats ever faced” by British universities, resulting in “an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover.”
“A no-deal exit would definitely be the worst possible outcome,” Brinley says. “And although barely no one wants it to happen, it could happen automatically if we don’t have something agreed in the next few months.”
For the moment, nobody can truly say what the situation will be from the stroke of 11 pm on the 29th of March. Whatever happens, Abigail, Brinley and Livvy all hope that UK students will still have the same opportunities to study elsewhere in the European Union after the departure date, and that EU students will still be able to study at British universities. “Studying in the Netherlands has been a great experience for me,” Abigail says. “It would be great if post-Brexit both EU and British students would be able to access educational experiences with relative ease.”