Brexit: Causes and Reactions to the Vote to Leave the EU

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12th Feb 2019 Politics Reference this

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United Kingdom’s Exit from the European Union

Abstract

This paper discusses the recent decision and vote in the United Kingdom (UK) to break from the European Union (EU) after being a member for over 40 years.  Many factors went into the people’s decision to leave the EU and even then, the vote to leave was very close, with the majority winning by a relatively slim number.  Those who voted to leave think it is the correct move for the UK, just as those who voted against the separation think there could be negative effects. Even though the majority of voters voted to leave the EU, it will still take years before the process can be completed due to legal aspects that must be adhered too.  This does not include that fact that no country has ever left the EU, so there are some areas of uncertainty as well.  Even then, there is still a possibility that the British Prime Minister may over rule the vote and decide to remain in the EU, even if against voters’ wishes.

United Kingdom Exit from the European Union

When it comes to politics, everyone has their own opinion on what is best and what is not.  To each individual, they feel that their views are correct, and often times the other side is incorrect in their way of thinking.  Now imagine taking that to a much larger scale and instead of just having a difference of opinion in politics and what political party should run a country for the coming years, include the actual fate of a country.  This is exactly what the United Kingdom (UK) did in June 2016.  They held a vote for what direction the UK would take for the years to come.  This vote was to determine whether or not to remain a part of the European Union (EU), which they had been a member of for over 40 years.  As with any major decision that impacts a country, there are those that feel the move to break away was the right decision and the UK will be better off, since they will not have to abide by the rules that have been imposed by the EU.  Just as there are those that feel that leaving the EU is a major mistake and feel that the break from the EU will be disastrous.  This exiting of the United Kingdom has been called Brexit, which is essentially short for Britain and exit.  

Being part of the EU has many advantages for those living in the UK.  It is not just financially advantageous or beneficial to have strength in number to being a member a of the EU.  According to Occupytheory.org (2014), six advantages of being a member of the EU are:

  1. Low prices of goods – there exists a ‘Single Market’ for all member countries wherein products are low-priced and there are no charges when it comes to custom tax; custom tax is usually charged when goods are transported or sold between states/countries but this is not applied among member countries.
  2. Citizens are free to move from one member country to another – citizens can freely travel, study, work, or live in any European country of their choice.
  3. More jobs are generated – more or less than 3.5 million jobs have been generated over the years.
  4. Development of deprived regions – some member countries of the EU are economically deprived and through the ‘European Structural Funds’, deprived regions are developed.
  5. Louder voice – the EU is able to ensure that all their concerns are taken seriously and heard internationally since it speaks in behalf of millions of people.
  6. Workers are protected – this is made possible through the European Working Time Directive; the directive includes regulations regarding holidays, working hours, breaks, etc.

Essentially, the EU is what is known as a single market.  What that means is that members of the EU have free roam of all EU nations.  They can free travel between countries without having to have a passport or other travel documents required by people from outside the EU.  It also allows for people to more easily work and live outside of their home country.  It also helped with trade among EU nations as they did not have to pay tariffs for trade amongst each other.

Just as there are advantages of being a member of the EU, there are also disadvantages.  According to Tejvan Pettinger (n.d.), six disadvantages of being a member of the EU are:

  1. Cost.  The costs of EU members to the UK is £15bn gross (0.06% of GDP) – or £6.883 billion net.
  2. Inefficient policies.  A large percentage (40%) of UE spending goes on Common Agricultural Policy.
  3. Problems of the Euro.   Members of the EU doesn’t necessarily mean membership of the EURO.
  4. Pressure towards austerity.  Since 2008, many southern European countries have faced pressure from the EU to pursue austerity – spending cuts to meet budget deficit targets, but in the middle of a recession these austerity measures have contributed to prolonged economic stagnation.
  5. Net migration.  Free movement of labour has caused problems of overcrowding in UK cities.
  6. More bureaucracy less democracy.  It is argued that the EU has created extra layers of bureaucracy whilst taking away decision making process further from local communities.

When it came time for the referendum, or vote, for whether or not to stay within the EU, nearly 30 million people voted, which equated to an approximate 71.8% voter turnout.  Once the votes were in, the margin of victor was relatively small.  The percentage of votes to Leave was 51.9% and percentage of votes to stay was 48.1%, which means that the Leave vote only won by only 3.8 percent.  It was not just Great Britain that was voting and would be impacted by the UK leaving the EU, due to the UK being made up of three other countries as well:  Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  With the exception of the vote in Scotland, votes from the other three countries taking part in the UK vote were fairly close.  The over breakdown was “England voted for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%.  Wales also voted for Brexit, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%.  Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU.  Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave.”  (Hunt & Wheeler, 2017).    

Considering the vote, why did the vote to leave the EU come about in the first place?  For years, the UK Independence Party has campaigned to leave the EU.  They felt that the UK was being held back by the EU due to the rules and restrictions that were placed on businesses.  There was also the matter of the amount of money that the UK paid annually to be a member of the EU.  They were paying billions of pounds each year, but they did not feel that they were getting enough in return for what they paid.  Border control was another issue that was used as part of the Leave campaign.  Due to EU borders rules, the UK was limited on what they could do in regards to controlling their border and the amount of immigration.  Since members of the EU had open borders to other EU nations, people from poorer countries wanted to move to richer countries to live and work, thus creating a influx of people.  There was also concern that this influx of people was taking needed resources and jobs from those already living in the UK.  This in turn took away jobs and added to the welfare system.  The members of the Independence Party and their supporters are not opposed to immigration, that just wanted to be able to control the numbers and who came into the country and they were unable to do that under EU rules.  When it came to the Leave campaign the Independence Party had support from other public officials.  They had approximately half of the Conservative Party Members of Parliament (MP) and some of the Labour Party MPs.  One other group that was significant was the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) out of Northern Ireland.  Although Northern Ireland voted to Remain, the DUP most likely helped to keep the vote closer then it could have been, similar to how the vote went in Scotland.  There was also a concern that the EU was trying to create more a single country, similar to the Untied States of America.  This would then take away individual countries identities, as they would be unified.  “One of the major sticking points in the conversation has been immigration concerns, as some Brits worry that the country’s employment market and social services will drown under the weight of too many new residents. There’s also the worry that upper-crust elites and Brussels bureaucrats are pushing for a continental identity that diminishes the U.K.’s own sense of self.”  (Rosenfeld, 2016).

When it came for the campaign to stay in the EU, there was no real added bonus, besides remaining a member of the EU.  The argument was that being a member of the EU helped economically due to single market trade.  They tried to battle to immigration fears by saying that the people that were immigrating to the UK where helping and were not creating a burden, since they came to work which in turn helped the economy.  The strongest argument to Remain was that they are more powerful in numbers.  The UK on its own does not have as big a voice, since they would be a single entity, as opposed to being one of 27 other countries who could stand together as one, thus making them more powerful due to numbers and economics.

Although the exact numbers are not known on what demographic voted the most and whether or not they voted for Leave or Remain, there is an idea due to polling that was conducted after the referendum.  “The results found that 64% of those young people who were registered did vote, rising to 65% among 25-to-39-year-olds and 66% among those aged between 40 and 54. It increased to 74% among the 55-to-64 age group and 90% for those aged 65 and over. It is thought that more than 70% of young voters chose to remain in the EU.”  (Helm, 2017).  What this shows is that the highest voter percentage turnout was from the older generation, increasing with each age group.  What was the most surprising though is the high number of voter turnout for young voters, with young voters being between the age of 18-24.  There was even some speculation as to what would have happened if 16-17 year olds had been allowed to vote due to that being a possible 1.6 million additional voters, which could have made the referendum a lot closer.  Even with these numbers, there is no way to know if it would have been enough to sway the vote to Remain.

Since the outcome of the referendum has been determined and the UK will leave the EU, what are the steps for this to take place since it is not as easy as just not being part of the EU one day?  The uncertainty of it all is that this has never been done, due to  Article 50 only came into existence in 2009.  Article 50 is what created a way for a member country of the EU to leave. To start, it will take at least two years for everything to be negotiated for its withdrawal from the EU.  During this time the UK will still abide by EU rules, but they will not be able to take part in any decision-making process.  According to Hunt & Wheeler (2017), as posted on BBC News, the following are the steps needed for the UK to leave the EU, to include a legal challenge to invoke Article 50:

  1. November 2016:  Legal challenge to government’s right to invoke Article 50 without consulting Parliament succeeds.  MPs approve bill in March 2017.
  2. Two year time limit begins.
  3. 29 March 2017:  UK invokes Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
  4. Remaining 27 EU countries meet 29 April to discuss withdrawal.
  5. Negotiations begin between UK and EU.
  6. Draft deal put to European Council (27 members).
  7. Needs approval from at least 20 countries with 65% of the population.
  8. Ratification by European Parliament
  9. UK introduces Great Repeal Bill to revoke the 1972 European Communities Act.
  10. After two years, negotiations can be extended if all 27 countries agree but if not EU treaties cease to apply to the UK.
  11. The UK leaves the European Union
  12. Great Repeal Act comes into force, copying EU laws into UK law, to give time for UK to amend or repeal them.

Besides the political and bureaucratic process that has to be completed by the politicians, as well as questions they need answered, there are still questions from the voter as to what happens next and these questions will need to be answered during the two year exit process.   Some people are worried about the safety of their products, but this is unlikely to change due to creating two items.  Others are worried about their health care and if they will be able to continue with their health care if they live abroad.  That in of itself is another question.  What happens to the people from the UK that already are living or working in another EU country or those from another country working in the UK.  For UK citizens working outside of the UK and non UK citizens working in the UK, most likely nothing will change.  They will be able to continue working where they are.  For those planning on retiring outside of the UK, that could be another question and will have to be part of the decision making process for all those involved within the UK government and the EU, since this type of movement was under the freedom of movement that was allowed as a member of the EU.  People are concerned about the housing market being impacted.  There has been a slight decrease in the housing market from June to December 2016.  Business owners are worried about having to pay tariffs once Brexit takes effect, since they have not had to pay tariffs as part of the EU.  This is another situation that will have to be negotiated during the exit process between the UK and the EU.  “People are also worried about the economy itself. The U.K.’s Treasury itself reported that its analysis showed the nation “would be permanently poorer” if it left the EU and adopted any of a number of likely alternatives. Productivity and GDP per person would be lower in all these alternative scenarios, as the costs would substantially outweigh any potential benefit of leaving the EU” (Rosenfeld, 2016).  Some people even think that the economy will become weaker due to reduced contributions from immigrants.  The Internationla Monetary Fund, along with the Bank of England, have said that there could be long term economic impacts.

Besides the EU, it is possible that the financial impact to be felt globally. “In Europe, the EU could run into economic trouble for a couple of reasons. The lengthy and as-yet ambiguous exit negotiations could cripple investment, as mentioned above, but they could also lead to more exits.”  (Rosenfeld, 2016).  With the EU being a single market when it comes to trade, it has been advantageous for businesses due to no tariffs when crossing European country lines.  However, businesses are concerned that due to the UK’s exit, they channels of free trade could go away, thus making it more expensive to ship goods in and out of the UK.  This may make companies want to leave the UK for other European countries who still are in the single market.  This could impact billions of dollars.  Brexit could also end up impacting the U.S.  “In the U.S., billions, if not trillions, of dollars could be called into question by a British exit: In 2014, American direct investment into the EU totaled about 1.81 trillion euros, and about 1.99 trillion euros flowed in the opposite direction, according to the European Commission.”  (Rosenfeld, 2016).  It is not just Europe and the U.S. that have these fears, but multiple other global companies that do business with the UK and the EU.  Just like with the stock market, when something bad happens in one country, it can be felt in various forms across the globe, due to the would be more globalized and working together.  With many of those that voted to Leave, they are not concerned with global corporations or investors in these companies that are looking at the bottom line, not what people think is best for their country.

Based on how a member of the UK voted, Leave or Remain, it is fairly easy to determine what they thought about Brexit itself.  However, with the UK exiting the EU and the potential impact it can have on other EU countries, gauging how they feel could either help or hinder the transition and negotiation process due to emotions.   “A 16-country poll by Ipsos Mori showed that almost half — 48 per cent — of respondents from Sweden said they were dismayed by the UK’s decision. It was a different story in France, where only a quarter of respondents said they were sad about Brexit.” (Mertens, 2016).  The US and Russia were also polled on their feelings of the UK leaving the EU.  Of those polled, in the US, approximately 20% said they were dismayed and the UK’s decision.  In Russia, only about 6% of Russians polled were dismayed, with 54% thinking that the UK deciding to part ways with the EU was a good idea and in their own best interest.  However, “a majority of respondents in most countries felt that Brexit would be bad for the UK economy.  Japan was especially gloomy, with more than two-thirds of respondents expecting Britain to experience an economic downturn.” (Mertens, 2016).  Polls that were conducted can give a general idea of what the common people thought of Brexit, but there were also mixed and neutral thoughts from world leaders.  The following quotes from world leaders, as posted on BBC news Brexit: World reaction as UK votes to leave EU (2016), are just a few of the world leader reactions.

“This is a painful choice and it is deeply regrettable both for the UK and Europe. But this choice is theirs and we must respect it, accepting all the consequences.”

Francois Hollande, French President

“We take note of the British people’s decision with regret. There is no doubt that this is a blow to Europe and to the European unification process.”

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

“The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision. The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom’s membership in Nato remains a vital cornerstone of US foreign, security, and economic policy.” 

Barack Obama, US President

“Victory for freedom! The British people have given to Europeans and to all the people of the world a shining lesson in democracy.

Geert Wilders, Dutch Freedom Party leader

“It’s an explosive shock. At stake is the break-up pure and simple of the union. 

“Now is the time to invent another Europe.”

Manuel Valls, French Prime Minister

Depending on who one asks, there is a difference of opinions on whether or not the UK can survive Brexit.  Tom Campbell (2017) quoted the research director at the Centre for London as saying “Brown agrees that London will retain its dominance – even if terms are less favourable: “London has an unrivalled agglomeration of financial and other service firms. Some may relocate, some may choose to expand elsewhere, but many will remain in London.”  Just as Richard Brown thinks that the UK will be ok after Brexit, others still hold a different opinion and feel that Brexit will be detrimental for the UK.  Direcctor of World Cities Cultural Forum, Paul Owens, is one of these peole that feels Brexit was bad.  He stated “There’s no doubt the decision to leave the EU poses a threat to London’s creative economy. The sector has prospered on diversity, free movement of artistic talent and international supply chains. London’s cultural assets are considerable, but it is likely to be diminished over the next decade unless there is a suitable policy response.” (Campbell, 2017).  Ashoka Mody is another believer that the UK will survive Brexit and even points out that much of the UK’s trade is outside of the EU.  “Following Brexit, productive British trade with the European Union will survive just fine wherever it is based on long-lasting economic gains and social relationships. At the same time, the shift toward trade with the faster-growing United States and Asia will continue.” and “Almost all new British trade is being created outside of Europe.” (Mody, 2016).  So even if members of the EU are initially upset with the UK and make trade difficult initially, the UK still has other sources of economic stability.  Another aspect of why the UK will survive is literally about money. “As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman points out, the U.K. has a significant advantage compared to other nations:  they have the British pound.” (Tepper, 2016).  Even with some people thinking that the UK leaving the EU could ending up irreversibly harming the UK, there are still others that have a good understanding of what is going on and understand that although there may be some set backs, thing will not be as bad as some would like things to appear at face value.

There are also those that look at whether or not the EU will be able to survive the UK’s departure.  Realistically, those that think the EU can’t not survive without the UK, do not know history, since the UK was not initially part of the EU.  Plus, there multiple other counties that want to the EU.  A potential issue with the countries that want to join, and may be the reason they have not been allowed to join yet, is these countries are poorer countries.  Due to this they would most likely not provide as many resources to into the EU as they would receive.  This is part of the reason the UK voted to Leave, paying more into the EU then they received back.  “The EU can certainly survive without Britain – but it cannot survive without buy-in from the public. Without a substantial change in how the EU communicates to the people in member countries, there will be a much greater threat to the EU than Brexit – and that threat is the EU itself.” (Can the EU survive after Brexit?, 2017). 

Even though the some people do not feel that the future of the UK is a bleak as others would have people believe, they still have an up hill battle ahead of him.  Especially when it comes to to having to renegotiate trade deals within the EU, since the other 27 countries that the UK just divorced are likely to not be overly happy about their departure.  With the EU being the more powerful entity, they may have an upper hand when it comes to the negotiating table.  In an opinion poll that was conducted in 2016, French, German, Swedish, and Finnish feel that when it comes to post-Brexit negotiations, the UK should not receive any favors.  “Germans and the French were the most opposed to offering Britain a “generous deal” that pays tribute to Britain’s role as a neighbour and “important trading partner”, according to the YouGov survey. 

In both countries, 53 per cent of respondents said it should not expect any favours, compared to 27 per cent who said the EU should offer Britain a “generous deal”.” (Sims, 2016).  One the flip side of that, people are willing to take a softer stance if the UK is still willing to continue with the free movement of workers and to keep with the pre-Brexit agreements about letting EU citizens to work and live in the EU.  Although that could potentially alleviate some of the Brexit negotiation headaches, at the same time it goes against one of the big reasons that many people wanted to vote Leave.  That is the free movement of people into the UK and not have control of their own border.

No matter how it is looked at, the topic of the UK wanting to leave the EU is a hot topic item.  People on both sides of the fence have strong opinions of whether to Leave or Remain, and rightly so considering the referendum was and probably will be one of the most impactful decisions they will see in their life.  It is also hard to say which side is correct in their way of thinking.  One could look at it as the older more experienced generation, choose to leave due to what they have seen and experienced in their life time and tend to have more of a nationalistic point of view.  Just as the younger generation tended to vote to remain, although they do not have as much life experience or have seen as much, they tend to have more of an open mindset of how things should be.  When it came to the vote to leave and the two sides were campaigning for what they thought was right, there seemed to be two main reasons.  The first was the immigration issue and not having conrol of their own borders.  Whether or not the huge influx of immigrants actually took many jobs or economically taxed the UK systems, could be a matter of opinion, depending on how the numbers were spun and ones point of view.  Some even cited the immigration issue as a threat to society due to not border control, so extremists could more easily travel and hide within EU contries.  The other main topic was that many people felt that the EU was holding the UK back due to their rules and regulations.  They felt that it restricted business and did not allow them to thrive they way they felt they could.

No matter what the reason, a big concern for many people is whether or not the UK can survive Brexit.  The answer is yes.  Will they be as strong or globally powerful as they were when part of the EU, that is yet to be seen as only time will tell.  However, the UK is still an economic power with many resources and the UK failing would spell global disaster.  So even with the EU being upset up what is going on, it is not in their best interest for the UK to fail.  This does not mean that it will be an easy road for the UK during the two years leading up to their actually departure date.  There are a multitude of negotations that much be completed, with the UK possibly having to not get as good of deals as they would prefer.  There are also many laws within the UK that will need to be looked at and either used, amended, or be thrown out based on what is in their best interest.  All in all, the situation is overcomeable and there will not be any major catastrophic outcomes that topples a government, although some would believe that is the case.  However, a very real possibility, based on how the transition for the UK goes from being a member of the EU to not being a member of the EU, is if other EU countries will follow suit.  As it is very possibily that the UK could be paving the way for others to follow.  After all, Article 50 came about in 2009 and it only took eight years for an EU member country to use it.  Whose to say that once this divorce of the UK and EU is done, someone else doesn’t follow suit.  That is the EU’s biggest fear.

References

Advantages and Disadvantages of the European Union. (2014, October 09). Retrieved April 22, 2017, from https://occupytheory.org/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-the-european-union/

Brexit: World reaction as UK votes to leave EU. (2016, June 24). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics.eu.referendum-36614643

Campbell, T. (2017, January 23). Can post-Brexit London survive as Europe’s cultural and financial capital? Retrieved April 24, 2017,  from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/23/post-brexit-london-economic-self-sabotage

Can the EU survive after Brexit? (2017, March 23). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/can-the-eu-survive-after-brexit

Helm, T. (2016, July 10). EU referendum: youth turnout almost twice as high as first though. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/09/young-people-referendum-turnout-brexit-twice-as-high

Hunt, A., & Wheeler, B. (2017, March 30). Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32820887

Mertens, R. (2016, August 5). This is what European countries think about Brexit. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/08/this-is-what-european-countries-think-about-brexit

Mody, A. (2016, July 04). Don’t Panic. Britain’s economy can survie just fine outside the European Union. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/don’t-panic-britains-economy-can-survive-just-fine-outside-the-european-union-a7118736.html

Pettinger, T. (n.d.). Disadvantages of EU Membership. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from http://www.economicshelp.org/europe/disadvantages-eu/

Rosenfeld, E. (2016, June 24). Brexit 101: What just happened, and why it’s import for regular Americans. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from http://www.cnbc.com/2016/06/21/uk-brexit-what-you-need-to-know.html

Sims, A. (2016, July 08). Four European countries reject ‘generous’ Brexit deal with UK, poll finds. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/four-european-countries-reject-generous-brexit-deal-with-uk-poll-finds-a7128001.html

Tepper, T. (2016, June 29). Why Brexit Won’t Destroy The UK Economy | Money. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://time.com/money/4383549/british-pound-brexit-european-union/

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