On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom held the EU Membership Referendum to ask the people if they wanted the country to either remain a member of or leave the European Union. 51.89 percent voted to leave while 48.11 percent voted to remain. Since then, the term “British exit” or Brexit has been widely used to reference the impending withdrawal of the U.K. from the EU.
But what exactly are the reasons for Brexit? Why did a considerable number of people in the U.K. want to leave the European Union?
The Major Arguments or Reasons for Brexit
Economic Reasons for Brexit: EU is an Ineffective Economic Body
One of the major arguments for Brexit is the supposed economic inefficiency of the European Union. In their Forbes article, financial writer John Mauldin and intelligence and international geopolitics expert George Friedman mentioned that those who supported Brexit believed that the EU is a dysfunctional economic entity. These individuals often cite the difference between the socioeconomic status of people in southern Europe and those who live in Germany and France as one of their examples.
The Eurozone Crisis is another example. When the sovereign debt crisis hit Europe and EU member-countries, a number of economists believed the European Central Bank did not respond effectively through measures that could ease out the difficulties of banking institutions. In the United Kingdom, an interview with former chancellor Alistair Darling by The Guardian noted that the banking crisis had left the people traumatized while becoming worrisome about the transmissible effect of economic crises transpiring across a single economic block such as the EU.
Cut backs in budget by the U.K. government during the Eurozone Crisis also fueled anti-EU sentiments. In his working paper for the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, economist Thiemo Fetzer established a correlation between austerity measures and public agreement to leave EU. Results revealed that cuts in welfare benefits contributed to economic grievances and greater political dissatisfaction, thus prompting people to vote for EU membership withdrawal.
Concerns over the global economic authority of China supposedly demonstrate further the perceived incompetence of the EU. Researchers A. Riley and F. Ghilèse noted that the intergovernmental organization has been reluctant to challenge the unwillingness of the Chinese to comply with standards set forth by the World Trade Organizations. The trade advantages enjoyed by China have affected industries and employment in countries such as the U.K.
There has also been a notion that the U.K. had shelled out too much financial contribution to the EU without receiving substantial benefits in return. There is some truth to this claim. For example, the country made an estimated gross contribution of GBP 13.00 billion to the EU while receiving GBP 4.1 billion in funding for its public sector expenditures in 2017. However, as explained in a briefing published by the House of Commons Library, EU has a correction mechanism to rebalance excessive contributions. U.K. receives rebates or reimbursements based on the contributions it made and the expenditures it received.
Of course, those who oppose Brexit have warned about its economic consequences. They believe that EU membership has allowed the U.K. to enjoy free trade agreements and the free exchange of other resources and capabilities that are beneficial to the local economy. An abrupt hard exist with no clear agreements with the EU could lead to trade barriers and lost of other economic benefits currently enjoyed by the United Kingdom.
Sovereignty as Reason for Brexit: Concerns Over the Independence of UK
Another argument or reason for Brexit revolves around concerns about the U.K. losing its sovereignty to the standards and policies of the European Union. Take note that nationalism and populism are reemerging phenomenon across the world. The separate papers by D. Autor et al., C. Dippel, S. Heblich, and R. Gold, and I. Colatone and P. Stanig that backlash against globalization and integration have been growing not only at the political sphere but also within the realms of local communities. A number of people have grown distrustful of intergovernmental organizations, as well as international and global economic institutions.
The concept of Euroscepticism that first emerged in the late 1990s and spread further during the late 2000s demonstrates anti-integration sentiments in Europe. The concept centers on the criticism of the European Union due to several notions that integration undermines the sovereignty of nations and states. Skeptics have argued further that the EU lacks democratic integrity and transparency while being too elitist and bureaucratic. Note that although Euroscepticism is found across the entire political spectrum, left-wing skeptics focus more on economic issues while the right-wing ones focus on nationalism and security.
With regard to the United Kingdom, the country has an established history of asserting its sovereignty despite its existing EU membership. For example, there was a referendum in June 1975 that asked the U.K. population if they want the country to remain part of the European Economic Community. Although it resulted in the “remain” vote winning, opposition to European integration remained and grew further. The refusal of the country to adopt the single Euro currency and to join the single border-free Schengen area demonstrates attempts to assert independence from any form of intergovernmental and economic integration.
The establishment of the UK Independent Part or UKIP in 1993 further marked existing anti-EU politics in the country. The party is a right-wing Eurosceptic party with a primary goal of advancing the exit of UK from the European Union. To illustrate how anti-EU sentiments pervaded the country, UKIP clinched significant traction in local elections and European Parliament elections. It became the third largest party in the 2004 EP elections while coming in second in the 2009 EP election and first in the 2014 EP election.
With political power and public popularity, UKIP managed to pressure the Conservative Party, led by then Prime Minister David Cameron, to adopt an anti-EU stance. For example, the Conservative Party moved from the center-right bloc in the EP to join right-wing parties in 2009 while in 2010, it rolled out a manifesto announcing its plans to get back authority over political rights, the justice system, and social and employment legislation to the UK. Cameron announced further in 2013 that it would renegotiation the terms of EU membership and after winning the election in 2015, he called a referendum that marked the start of Brexit.
Nigel Farage, a British politician and a member of the European Parliament as well as the UKIP explained that bureaucracy in the EU is one of the reasons why U.K. left. He described this bureaucracy as having two ineffective governments with one functioning at the national level and the other at the EU level. Furthermore, he noted that EU threatens the sovereignty of U.K. and other member-countries simply because faceless bureaucrats make laws and decisions for nations and states they do not even live in. Even the EU Parliament cannot make its own laws because the actual power resides with the unelected and irremovable members of the European Commission. He describes Brexit as a statement of national sovereignty.
Security Reasons for Brexit: Issues Regarding Threats From Immigration
National security concerns, as well as security with regard to economic stability and labor availability for the local UK population, have also been regarded as reasons for Brexit or one of the decisive collective factors why people in the country voted to leave the European Union.
Although several security and intelligence analysts have warned about the risks to national security attached to Brexit, a portion of the U.K. population believed that easy migration due to being a member of EU has led to the arrival of terrorists in the country, as well as the radicalization of both the locals and migrants.
Researchers D. Abrams and G. A. Travaglino tested the aversion implication hypothesis in the context of immigration, political trust, and Brexit. Findings revealed that the voters were most likely to vote for withdrawal from the EU due to concerns over high immigration levels combined with a low level of political trust. Essentially, there was a threat from immigration and lack of confidence in politicians, thus promoting the voting public to reject the political status quo or in other words, to choose to leave EU.
An article by A. Riley and F. Ghilèse, researchers at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, explained further that the free movement policy enacted in 2003 under then Prime Minister Tony Blair followed by the Eurozone Crisis in 2009 led to large arrivals of people from distressed parts of Europe, including Ireland and southern Europe, to the U.K. The country provided migrants from troubled European countries with employment opportunities. However, this phenomenon did not sit well with a portion of the local population.
There has been a popular notion across the U.K. population that migrants have provided jobs despite existing problems with unemployment and poverty in the country. Migrants from other EU countries can easily get jobs in the U.K. for two main reasons: first, a considerable number of them can also speak English and second, several employers prefer hiring migrants because they have lower expectations about employment compensation and package.
Adding to migrants from European countries are the concerns over migrants and refugees coming from countries in the Near East and the Middle East. These people had fled their home countries due to political instability. Germany has allowed these individuals to seek asylum and citizenship while also pressuring other EU member-countries to follow its lead. Nevertheless, there have been concerns that these EU-bound migrants would find their way in the U.K. in one way or another, thus raising issues regarding limited job availability and to the extreme, concerns over the unguarded arrival of religious radicals.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Abrams, D. and Travaglino, G. A. 2018. “Immigration, Political Trust, and Brexit—Testing an Aversion Amplification Hypothesis.” The British Journal of Social Psychology. 57(2): 310-326. DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12233
- Colatone, I. and Stanig, P. 2018. “Global Competition and Brexit.” American Political Science Review. 112(2): 201-201. DOI: 10.1017/S0003055417000685
- Dippel, C., Heblich, S., and Gold, R. 2015. Globalization and Its Discontent: Trade Shocks and Voting Behavior. National bureau of Economic Research. DOI: 10.3386/w21812
- Fetzer, T. 2018. Did Austerity Causes Brexit? Working Paper Series No. 381. Coventry: Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy. Available via PDF
- Keep, M. 2018. “The UK’s Contribution to the EU Budget.” House of Commons Library. Available online
- Mauldin, J. and Friedman, G. 5 July 2016. “3 Reasons Brits Voted for Brexit.” Forbes. Available online
- Riley, A. and Ghilès, F. 2016. Brexit: Causes and Consequences. Barcelona Center for International Affairs. E-ISSN: 2013-4428
- PragerU. 2018. “Brexit: Why Britain Left the European Union.” PragerU. Available on YouTube
- Treanor, Jill. 13 September 2017. “Darling: Brexit Would Not Have Happened Without Banking Crisis.” The Guardian. Available online