Mark MacKinnon reports on British PM Boris Johnson’s move to suspend (prorogue) Parliament in the midst of a national furor over the lack of a deal with the European Union to guide Britain’s voted-for exit from the EU, scheduled for October 31st. In an associated article on September 11 — Scottish appeal court rules British PM Boris Johnson’s move to suspend Parliament unlawful — Paul Waldie reports on a Scottish court ruling that Mr. Johnson’s actions were illegal.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events

Key Question(s) to Explore:

  • In very general terms, what is Brexit all about?

New Terminology:

Brexit, prorogue, prorogation, stymying, referendum, 10 Downing Street.

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

It would have been difficult for many to avoid hearing news reports on Brexit, but young people may well not be dialled into news sources focused on this issue. A short form of British Exit, the term Brexit is based on Greece’s near-Grexit, a few years ago, when that country appeared ready to leave the European Union.

The subject and its context are breathtakingly complex and far too much for students to take on in any depth. In brief, after several increasingly-involved types of economic treaties among European nations, the current version of the EU is now 26 years old. Since then, border controls among member European nations have largely disappeared, such that anyone working in one country can readily move to another and take up work there.

The free movement of people is at the core of the Brexit issue. Refugees who enter or are accepted in one European country may then travel to any other and take up residence. They’ve done so in such large numbers that many countries, such as Hungary and Austria, are electing increasingly restrictive governments, with the goal of limiting the influx of newcomers.  This was clearly a factor three years ago, when a majority of UK citizens voted to leave the EU and once again take control of their borders. At the time, The EU informed the UK that there would be no going back, and that they must leave by October 31, 2019.

Those advocating Brexit, like the current Prime Minister, have attempted to reach an agreement with the EU that would soften the economic consequences of a “hard exit”, which many say would be severe. However, neither Mr. Johnson nor the previous Prime Minister, Elizabeth May, were able to pass a bill to this effect in their deeply divided Parliament. Mr. Johnson has now attempted to suspend Parliament prior to Oct 31st, while he continues to press an unreceptive EU for a deal.

Since the Brexit issue focuses on an attempt to de-Globalize one economy, after it has been enmeshed for decades, it speaks to the sentiments of many democracies, who are claiming globalization has not worked for them. Also, Canada remains in the Commonwealth, an image of the Queen in on our currency, and our governor general remains a representative of the Queen and our titular head of government. As such, students should be modestly informed about the doings of one of our modern founding European nations.

Students can benefit from a lesson that refreshes their knowledge of the United Kingdom, its relationship with continental Europe, and brings them up to date on that relationship.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Begin with a brief discussion about Brexit and the United Kingdom. These questions/prompts may help guide you. (Answers in parentheses for your benefit)

  • What is the United Kingdom? (A sovereign state, made up of four countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
  • If you are familiar with Great Britain — perhaps your family or ancestors lived there — tell us about what you know.
  • Why is English an official language of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Hong Kong, among other places? (All these are or were at one time part of the British Empire, occupied by British forces and governed from England)
  • Why do we talk of Great Britain and Europe as if they are separate? Isn’t Great Britain part of Europe? (The British have always tended to see themselves as separate from the continent, as it were, and not part of Europe, as such)
  • Show of hands, who has heard of Brexit? Tell us what you know. (Keep this short)

Next, show the 11-minute YouTube video, Brexit explained: what happens when the UK leaves the EU?

NOTE: This video is a year old, so a few points to know: The end date for leaving was moved to October 31, 2019; Parliament could not agree on a deal and Elizabeth May has stepped down as Prime Minister; she was succeeded by an avid advocate of Brexit, Boris Johnson, the controversial and flamboyant former Mayor of London.

After the video has concluded, discuss with your class.

Consider a homework assignment: Provide students with copies of the attached articles, as well as these links:

They are to write a short report that answers these questions:

  • Why do you think the British voted to leave the EU?
  • Do you think anti-immigration feelings played a part? Explain.
  • Given what you know now, how do you think this story will end?

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students discuss the issue after the videos; produce a written report.


Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can explain, in general terms, what Brexit is all about.

Confirming Activity:

  • Ask students to report on developments in Brexit as they appear in mainstream and social media.