Political science professor reflects on how Brexit began — and how it might end

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The March 29 deadline for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is quickly approaching, but there are still many details left to be decided about how Brexit will end, and what it means for the U.K.’s citizens.

Sona Golder, Penn State professor of political science, discusses Brexit’s history and what its future might look like on this week’s episode of the Democracy Works podcast, produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy and WPSU Penn State.

The decision to leave the EU was made by a narrow majority of U.K. residents through a referendum vote in 2016, following a campaign on both sides of the issue. The campaign to leave focused on “taking back” the country, said Golder, who added that playing to nostalgia helped to sway people in rural parts of the U.K., who felt that the EU was putting them at a disadvantage.

"I think you have a lot of people who just feel left behind,” Golder said. “And they feel like their leaders, the traditional leaders who were in government, and on both sides of the aisle are just, they're not helping them."

Golder said that former British Prime Minister David Cameron called the for the Brexit vote without thinking it would actually pass. The successful “leave” vote came without a plan for the U.K. to actually exit the EU — something that Parliament has not been able to resolve since.

The separation date is currently set as March 29. Options on the table include extending the withdrawal date and holding a second referendum vote with the hope of securing enough support to remain in the EU. While there are still a few holdouts, Golder said they will become more likely to compromise as the deadline approaches.

"Some members of Parliament still don't want to leave. They're hoping that somehow a new referendum could either be called or that it would just be voted in Parliament that they're not going to leave,” Golder said. “All of this politicking has made it difficult for Theresa May to move forward with any type of deal.”

Listen to the Democracy Works podcast at or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Last Updated March 11, 2019