Britain leaves the EU, UT students gain hands-on experience during Maymester

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A man lays down on the green in Parliament Square as the sun rises behind the Houses of Parliament in London, Friday, June 24, 2016. Britain voted to leave the European Union after a bitterly divisive referendum campaign, according to tallies of official results Friday.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Anthony Devlin
  • The citizens of United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a highly contested referendum Thursday.
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  • The nation was split over the potential of a British Exit from the EU, or Brexit, and the final vote count had the “Leave” camp with 52 percent of the vote and the “Remain” camp at 48 percent.
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  • UT students in the World Order and U.S./U.K. Special Relationship Maymester studied American-British relations and followed the campaigns during Britain’s referendum vote.
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  • The course, created by UT’s Clements Center for National Security in collaboration with the King's College London’s Department of War Studies, centered on the relationship between the United States and United Kingdom.
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  • “It was a mix of history, politics, and theory,” government senior Mrinalini Shah said.
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  • Shah said she hadn’t realized the Brexit issue was so contentious before she arrived in England. As part of the program, students had the opportunity to meet with Jo Cox, a British politician and Minister for Parliament for the Labour Party, who was murdered on June 16. Witnesses said the assailant yelled “Britain first,” or “Put Britain first,” during the attack.
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  • Government and political communication senior Ryan Pakebusch said Cox had spoken to him about the benefits of staying in the EU at a private dinner they attended during the course.
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  • “In our first week, I had the great privilege of sitting next to Jo Cox at dinner,” Pakebusch said. “She was a very outspoken member of the ‘Remain’ camp, as they are referred to, and her reasoning had very humanitarian sentiments.”
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  • Shah, who also attended the dinner, said Cox vigorously defended the idea that Britain should stay in the EU.
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  • “I had heard a lot about Brexit before but didn’t realize the gravity of this issue until that night,” Shah said. “It’s basically the equivalent to our national dialogue on Trump.”
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  • Pakebusch said the tone of the campaigns have been vitriolic.
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  • “Whether it’s the racist xenophobia of the 'Leave' camp or the fear mongering of the 'Remain' camp, it's left many voters thoroughly upset, confused and turned off,” Pakebusch said.
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  • The Brexit also had a direct correlation to their coursework, which discussed the impact it could have on the U.S./U.K. relationship.
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  • “The U.K.'s future in transatlantic relations is at stake in this referendum in terms of economics, trade and security,” Pakebusch said.
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  • Pakebusch said he believes the EU referendum will have a lasting effect on the U.K.’s leading role alongside the United States in the world dealing with international security.
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  • “The U.S. will continue to need multilateral support on helping Middle Eastern nations with stability and combating global insurgency,” Pakebusch said.
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  • While he acknowledged the referendum is far from simple and both sides had good arguments, Pakebusch said he questioned the rationale for taking it to a vote.
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  • “Besides all these political and economic reasons, you have to also acknowledge the idea of national identity and sovereignty,” Pakebusch said.“It's a very complicated issue, which makes you wonder why it would go to a referendum as average voters can hardly be expected to understand the nuances of the ‘in’ or ‘out’ vote.”
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  • Jenny McGinty, Plan II and International Relations junior, said she agreed with Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to put it up for a vote.
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  • “Britain's people have been left out of the decision to remain in the EU for so long,” McGinty said. “Supporters of the referendum are angry with how things are in Britain and think that leaving the EU is the best option, which I disagree with.”
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  • McGinty said it was very similar to the presidential election in the United States.
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  • “It's very reflective of our own election now in a way,” McGinty said. “With angry Americans voting for Trump because they see Trump as radical change that America needs.”
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  • Pakebusch said the class furthered his understanding of how the U.S./U.K. relationship has endured despite changes and divergence in each country.

“This is yet another change the U.K. can undergo and in the event of Brexit, it will be studied how each government interacts on the surface level and institutionally,” Pakebusch said.