On June 23, 2016, the British public voted to leave the European Union, by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent, ending a partnership that stretched back over four decades. Three years after that point, the exact nature of the UK's future relationship with the EU is no clearer than it was in the summer of 2016. As time and patience run out, it appears that in the short term the country could be headed for a no-deal Brexit, which would see the UK end its relationship with no agreements in place at all. In the long term, questions remain over what the UK can do to replace its EU membership. The UK might be a natural trading partner for Trump's United States, or perhaps the country could introduce freedom of movement with Commonwealth nations such as Australia or New Zealand. If the 'Global Britain' envisioned by the architects of Brexit doesn't take off, is there a chance Britain could even return to the European Union?
Although Brexit has brought these questions to the forefront, they are not new ones. Ever since 1945, Britain has struggled to completely define what its relationship with Europe should look like. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Winston Churchill suggested it was one of three interrelated circles, the other two being the British Commonwealth and the United States. At various times, and for various reasons, the British establishment has gravitated towards one of these areas, usually at the expense of the other. After Britain joined the European Community in 1973, and confirmed its decision in a referendum in 1975, Britain has economically been closer to Europe than it has to the US or the Commonwealth. In 2018, for example, 51.4 percent of its exports went to Europe compared to 15.7 percent for the US and 8 percent for the Commonwealth. Almost 60 percent of all imports came from Europe, with the US market accounting for 8.6 percent, and Commonwealth imports just 6.4 percent. Current trading patterns will probably have to change significantly if Britain hopes to make a success of Brexit.
Even if a return to the European Union makes sense from an economic point of view in the future, it would also need the support of the British population. As of 2019, there has been no significant change in how people would vote in a potential second referendum with only a slight plurality saying they would vote to remain.
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