“Brexit is a portmanteau of “British” and “exit”. It was derived by analogy from Grexit, referring to a hypothetical withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone (and possibly also the EU). The term Brexit may have first been used in reference to a possible UK withdrawal from the EU by Peter Wilding in a Euractiv blog post on 15 May 2012.”
On the 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, in what is known as ‘Brexit.’ Leading to the immediate resignation of David Cameron, the fall of the pound and political chaos, the face of politics in Britain was immediately changed forever. The referendum was arguably only offered as a result of UKIP, who prior to the referendum became the third biggest party in the country, despite their mere one seat in the House of Commons. Almost a year after the most important vote of many people’s lifetimes resulting in success for the Leave campaign, we are only just beginning the process of leaving the European Union.
The result of the referendum was extremely close, as just over a million people more voted to leave than remain – not even 2%. It is easy to see why the result was so divisive and why it is still so divisive, with calls for a second referendum from some Remain supporters, including the Liberal Democrats. The issue of the European Union highlighted divisions hidden in today’s society and ignored by mainstream politicians, issues that were only brought to light by the referendum. The silent majority, disenfranchised by politicians ignoring these issues, voted in unprecedented levels.
3 million more people took part in the referendum than in the general election a year prior, and a BBC study showed towns that strongly voted Leave, like Brambles and Thorntree, have a low proportion of degrees or qualifications, or a major influx in immigration from the European Union (causing tension as they are competing with the locals for low-paid work in farms and factories), like Waterlees Village. A YouGov study showed 70% of those with no qualifications above GCSE level voted to Leave, and 50% of those who have not got a university degree voted to Leave. The highly educated were more likely to vote to Remain, with the highest Remain vote in central Cambridge, a famed academic city. Additionally, more multi-cultural cities were more likely to vote to Remain, with most areas in London voting to Remain. 75% of university-aged voters voted to Remain, along with 60% of 25-34 year olds, but those over 50 consistently voted to Leave.
Finally, a Lord Ashcroft study shows Conservative Party supporters supporting Leave by 58% and UKIP supporters supporting Leave by 96%. Labour, consistently more often supported by younger voters and minorities voted to remain by 63% in contrast, highlighting a major shift in opinion between more conservative-minded and nationalist voters, more likely to be older, and younger, more liberal-minded voters. The referendum was considerably more divisive than the election, and its larger turnout and the interest shown by those not normally engaged with politics shows that Leave and Remain more accurately represented the interests of the public than the Conservative and Labour parties do, with the two sides representative of the differing beliefs in the way the country should interact with its neighbours and take part in the world, but also representing a deep-rooted anger and rebellion in those who would traditionally support the interests of the Labour Party – the workers, and conservative-minded people who would traditionally support the interests of the Conservative Party.
On the 5th July 1975, almost 42 years ago, 67% of people voted to remain in what was then known as the European Communities, a fundamentally economic union. The assault on our membership in what is now known as the European Union was launched, conducted and supported by many of those who had took part in this referendum, many years ago, and without their anger towards it, UKIP would never have grown in the way they have and the referendum would never have taken place. To understand their anger, and my own, you need to fully understand the progression that has taken place in the 41 years leading up to the referendum. The European Communities consisted of three organisations: the European Coal and Steel Community; European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community. The losing Leave campaign of 1975 argued that membership of this union would erode the sovereignty of our nation, allowing laws to be made in Europe and turning Britain into a “mere province”. Many who had once supported Remain were inclined to believe they had been wronged in the last referendum regarding membership in what is now known as the European Union. 4,514 laws passed since 1993 implemented EU obligations, 13% of laws passed, but many laws can be implemented through changes in rules rather than new legislation, meaning this figure is up to 63%. 1993 was the year of the Maastricht Treaty, forming the European Union. Instead of simply being an economic union, it became much more, with co-operation on defence and law enforcement, leading to the European Arrest Warrant in 2004.
As of 1993 12 states were involved, which has increased to 28 since. The Single Market was most notably established, guaranteeing the free movement of goods, capital, service and people – the “four freedoms”. In 2007, the Lisbon Treaty founded the European Union, moving from unanimity to a majority of 55% in order to change legislation, and introducing a legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, recognising that the European Union had become a big enough organisation to legally leave, under Article 50. The successful Leave campaign of 2016 achieved just that, arguing that we had indeed become a “mere province” inside of the European Union, ending an era of majority support for it.
The pursuit of sovereignty sought by many of those who had seen the European political union grow was a very successful message with the silent majority, yet a multitude of other issues plague the European Union. To understand these issues, it is important to look across Europe as well as simply within Britain. Whilst business-minded people were generally in favour of remaining, arguing in favour of the economic benefits of being in the European Union – just like in 1975. However, other European states are deeply struggling economically. Greece has a 24.5% unemployment rate, and Spain has a 21.4% unemployment rate; in comparison the United Kingdom has a 4.8% unemployment rate. Youth unemployment, which is at 13.1% in the United Kingdom, is over 40% in Greece and Spain, as well as Italy.
The economic crises in these nations, especially Greece which has needed three bailouts, highlights the weakness of the Euro, which the British public has been thoroughly against for years. The Euro is struggling and despite our better unemployment rates outside of the Euro, we still spend a considerable amount of money to partake in the single market – a net £8.5 billion in 2015, deducting the £4 billion the European Union invest in farmers, poorer regions of the United Kingdom and research grants. Outside of the European Union, we would have almost £10 billion a year free. Whilst being in the single market costs us a large amount of money, it allows us to trade without tariffs. Iceland and Norway, outside of the European Union and inside the customs union can too, but they have to accept the “four freedoms”, which includes the free movement of people. However, they are able to opt out of some legislation, like fishing quotas. The Independent reported that the cost to exporters, in extra tariffs, would be at least £4.5 billion. However, as a sovereign nation we will be able to trade as an independent nation, with Donald Trump stating that he is willing to make a strongly important trade deal with the United Kingdom once we have left the European Union.
Whilst sovereignty was greatly important for Leave voters, and the economy was greatly important for Remain voters, the most divisive issue of the referendum was immigration. A YouGov study in 2014 states that 49% of people believe immigration should be reduced, and 21% believe it should be stopped completely. This opposition to the free movement of people was strongly highlighted in the referendum, and those who are struggling to find work or unhappy with growing tensions helped shift the referendum in favour of Leave, and is a big reason why Theresa May is seeking a so-called “hard Brexit”, a future outside of the single market. The return of powers regarding immigration to this country is a key issue in negotiations as it was in the referendum, and with net migration figures of 184 thousand per year from within the EU, many believe mass immigration hurts public services and the poor, whilst others believe handing over powers regarding immigration erodes our sovereignty.
European co-operation has correlated with an increase in the standard of living across Europe, allowing the globalisation of our continent, but it has also had a harmful effect on what we are. Our membership of the European Union has resulted in the termination of many of our powers, as well as undermining the court system and very democracy we proudly boast about. Leaving the European Union will result in a loss of numerous benefits, but will allow us to trade on a global scale. We will not lose our influence, nor will we lose our friendship with our neighbours. We will save money spent on membership in the European Union allowing us to invest in the groups hit hardest by leaving it, as well as paving the way to a more sustainable level of population growth and winning back everything that we have lost as a nation. A majority of over 17 million people chose this future loud and clearly and I truly believe that they have chosen the correct future for this country.