Why Americans Should Care About Today's Brexit Vote

On Saturday, British lawmakers are gathering to discuss and vote on a new Brexit deal that was negotiated between the European Union and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The British House of Commons will vote on amendments to the deal, and ultimately decide if Johnson has done enough to negotiate the United Kingdom's exit from the EU by the October 31st deadline.

If the House of Commons votes to add amendments—or votes to reject the deal— this could delay the process. If a deal cannot be reached by the deadline, lawmakers could vote to leave the EU without a deal or force Johnson to request an extension from the EU.

Negotiations ended Thursday with a deal relatively similar to that brokered last year by former Prime Minister Theresa May. One of the most substantial differences is the question of Northern Ireland, which has been a point of contention throughout the Brexit process.

Although the three-year back-and-forth between the EU and the U.K. seems like a European problem, it could have implications for the U.S. in a number of ways. The U.S. has strong ties to Europe through trade and other multilateral institutions such as NATO, but President Donald Trump has been supportive of creating strong bonds with a post-Brexit U.K., especially on trade.

The vote on Saturday will be in key in deciding how Brexit happens, and how it will affect the U.S.


The U.S. currently runs a small trade surplus with the U.K. amounting to nearly $3 billion for the first nine months of 2019. President Trump has said that he supports a trade deal with post-Brexit U.K. But some argue that it would be unlikely that a trade deal with the U.K. would have much of an effect on the U.S., since the U.K. is relatively small trading partner.

The U.S. and the U.K. have already begun discussions about what a trade agreement would look like, but they are not appearing to be as smooth as some originally thought.

Boris Johnson UK PM EU
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK) Boris Johnson gives a press conference at European Parliament on October 17, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium. Jean Catuffe/Getty

Vice President Mike Pence met with Johnson in early September to discuss a deal as soon as the U.K. officially left the EU, but there were a few sticking points, including national health and chlorinated chicken.

"The deal is insulting," said Sherman Robinson, a nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics based in Washington, D.C. "But the U.K. doesn't have a lot of negotiating power."

According to AP analysis, the Irish border could end up being a sticking point for a potential trade deal between the two countries.

"If the border stays open, a U.S.-U.K. trade deal won't work. That is because an open border would allow goods from the remaining 27 EU countries to slip into Britain via the Republic of Ireland. Those goods could then be exported to the United States under the favorable terms of what is supposed to be an exclusive deal between the U.K. and the U.S," wrote Paul Wiseman for the Associated Press.

The new deal has created a complicated system that would allow Johnson to argue the U.K. is no longer part of the EU customs union, while avoiding a hard border in the U.K. There is also a provision that calls for Northern Ireland's parliament to approve the arrangement.

International Security

The U.K. has long been a facilitator of relations between the U.S. and the EU, but Britain's exit will mean that the U.S. will need to work directly with the EU.

In an article for the London-based policy institute Chatham House, Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri argued that this could mean a stronger focus on NATO, despite Trump's questions on the efficacy of NATO.

On issues such as Iran, Britain may be caught in the middle between U.S. and EU interests. In May 2018, the U.S. pulled out the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was meant stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But the EU remained committed.

According to the media outlet The Conversation: "The U.K. now finds itself in a difficult position between not wanting to completely renounce its commitment to the JCPOA and its post-Brexit security interests with the EU, while also looking for partners that will actually deliver on its requirement to bulk-up protection of shipping in the straits."

When and how Brexit is decided could have implications for the relationship between the U.K. and the EU, and therefore how willing Britain is to go against EU interests to side with the U.S. on key security issues.

Right-Wing Parties

The success or failure of the Brexit vote, although a reflection of internal U.K. politics, could provide a litmus test for strongly right-wing and conservative political parties around the world, including the U.S.

The Brexit referendum was strongly based on key issues including the economy, sovereignty and immigration. Supporters of Brexit wanted the ability to broker their own trade agreements and have more say in economic decisions that affect their country.

Related to that was sovereignty, with many Brexiters taking umbrage to the fact that the U.K. was obliged to follow EU decisions, especially in court.

Some of those decisions related to accepting refugees and migrants. Many Brexiters argued that they wanted more say in deciding how many migrants and from what areas were able to enter the country.

Many of these stances are similar to those taken by Trump and his supporters, as well as other political parties across Europe and the world. The success or failure of a brokered deal with the EU could provide some insight into the strength and staying power of these stances.


Though U.S. travelers will still be able to enter both Europe and Britain without a visa, it is possible the Brexit could cause prices for flights to increase. Many European airlines provide flights between the U.K. and the U.S., but would need to get a waiver from the U.S. to add more flights, according to a Newsweek article from earlier this year. This could mean that travelers are hit with high prices and less options.

A no-deal Brexit could impact flights connecting London to Europe, and greatly inconvenience travelers looking to use the U.K. as a jumping off point for a longer European vacation.

A major sticking point throughout the Brexit process has been Northern Ireland. Many have argued that a hard border between Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.) and Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) could create tensions harkening back to the violence of the '80s and '90s.

Voting on Saturday will be important on deciding the way forward on this matter, and it may have implications for U.S. travelers visiting Ireland, especially those looking to seamlessly cross the border to see all of Ireland.