Brexit, the exit of Britain from the EU, caught many people by surprise after a 52 to 48 percent vote determined the decision to leave on Thursday. The vote was a result of a record turnout of 71.8 percent. Over 30 million votes were cast according to the BBC. On Friday, stock markets throughout the world plunged. Many people around the world are wondering what was behind this decision.
Brexit caught the world off guard. Though it should have been common knowledge the referendum was coming up, outside the UK, other news seemed to be weighing heavier. Even inside Britain, most citizens saw the argument to leave as a cause not so widely championed. Thursday, those who doubted Brexit could happen were proven wrong. Why did British people vote to end the European Union?
The national sovereignty of Britain was the Number 1 issue in the minds of British exit voters, according to Vox. The conservative and liberal movements, generally opposing one another, both had increasing reservations as power shifted away from individual nations to EU rules that would override national laws.
Brexit was in opposition to a move away from democracy and nationalism. British people wanted to be ruled by their own British government, not a central European authority. They wanted leaders they voted for so that they had choices in government. They resented it when leaders they elected could be rendered powerless on an issue, upon the decision of the EU. The British people did not want to be governed by an unelected international body.
National sovereignty was the greatest overarching reason, as most other issues were offshoots of the loss of self-government to a system of non-elected bureaucrats governing all European nations. Elements on both sides of the British political spectrum complained about over-regulation from the EU. Mostly, they object to losing the right of their own government to make these decisions.
Brexit proponent Boris Johnson, who formerly served as Mayor of London, explained his opposition to Vox by describing extreme over-regulation. This is his far-right argument against European Union regulations.
“Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a teabag, or that children under eight cannot blow up balloons, or the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners. Sometimes they can be truly infuriating – like the time I discovered, in 2013, that there was nothing we could do to bring in better-designed cab windows for trucks, to stop cyclists being crushed. It had to be done at a European level, and the French were opposed.”
National sovereignty and even the right of individual people to make benign choices in their own homes was allegedly threatened, according to Boris Johnson.
Another Brexit proponent of the conservative persuasion, Justice Minister Michael Gove, expressed the cost of excessive regulations in monetary terms. The British economy pays dearly for all this regulation, according to Gove, who cites a substantial figure based on his own calculations.
“£600 million every week. [$880 million]”
Brexit supporters on the left believe the European Union’s policies and structure lend even more power to the already powerful corporate elites. They also suspect the EU restricts the success of the British left movement, according to Vox. Journalist Paul Mason stated the leftwing argument in the Guardian, even though he remains passionately neutral on the Brexit vote.
“The leftwing case for Brexit is strategic and clear. The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime.”
Mason’s Brexit explanation continues as he maintains that EU treaties force policies on their member states that are non-negotiable laws that infringe on national sovereignty and democracy. The British government could not contest any regulation handed down by the European Union. Even if the people and government of Great Britain determined that a regulation was extremely detrimental, they were powerless to go against it. As Mason points out, even under a regime of liberal British officials at all levels, the EU’s economic conservatism would override their agenda.
“Its central bank is committed, by treaty, to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. State aid to stricken industries is prohibited. The austerity we deride in Britain as a political choice is, in fact, written into the EU treaty as a non-negotiable obligation. So are the economic principles of the Thatcher era. A Corbyn-led Labour government would have to implement its manifesto in defiance of EU law.”
Brexit supporters have a host of reasons for leaving. Other commonly cited objections include the forced transition to the Euro as currency instead of the British Pound by 2020. Exchanging a historic and strong currency for a new and weakened one seemed a poor trade to the British. They also resent having to pay an annual contribution to the EU that amounts to approximately £13 billion ($19 billion) per year, according to Vox.
National sovereignty, nationalism, and a right to govern themselves and elect their own leaders echoes in all these reasons. The British could define the cost of belonging to the European Union as being taxed without representation, just as America’s founding fathers complained. They would also give up their own strong currency, losing a part of their national identity, as well as economic independence and the security of a strong and historically powerful currency.
Brexit supporters also oppose the massive immigration proposed by the EU. This is especially important to them in the face of unemployment, underemployment, and recession. There are not enough jobs to go around as it is, and new immigrants compete with native Brits for jobs. The right to control their own immigration policies based on conditions within their own country also amounts to a national sovereignty issue.
Brexit supporters believe they are defending British national sovereignty against a form of government that dictates policies without giving them representation.
[Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images]