Why Did Britain Vote to Leave the European Union and What Are the Implications for the Future Governance of the European Union?

Talks about the feasibility of the membership of Britain in the EU started long ago. The role of Great Britain in the European Union is significant; therefore, Brexit (short for British exit) is widely analyzed by a number of specialists. The main questions addressed are what have been the main reasons for Brexit and what will happen to both the United Kingdom itself and the EU if the country decides to actually exit the union. A group of initiators of withdrawal from the European Union dubbed their program with one word – Brexit, by analogy with how supporters of Greece’s exit from the EU gave life to the similar word. The country now is divided into supporters of the European course and Brexit. The last time referendum on cooperation between Britain and the European Union was held in 1975, and then 67% of the residents of the United Kingdom voted for the single European market. Over the past decades, sociologists have noted an approximately equal number of supporters of the European course and euroskeptics (Hunt and Wheeler). The latter want the country to leave the EU because of the European bureaucracy, low rates of economic growth in the European Union, and the need to coordinate national policies with Brussels (Hobolt 1270). Simply put, they consider that membership in the EU takes a part of their sovereignty, and in return does not give anything, only hindering development. Therefore, the majority of the British voted for Brexit because of the different issues, such as migration, which take too many resources and are a threat to the British as a social group, and this act may have a negative impact on the future governance of the European Union.

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Analysis of the Migration as the Main Reason for Brexit Through Two Theories

One of the main arguments the British have for leaving the European Union is the problem of migrants. The relation between the migration process and the reasons for the British to vote for Brexit can be analyzed with the help of two theories, namely ethnic competition theory and social identity theory. According to ethnic competition theory, the process of migration as part of EU politics is not beneficial for a country, as in that case considerable funds are used to support migrants, who also decrease the number of available job offers (Heisbourg 17). The question was particularly acute when Europe, mainly on the initiative of Germany, decided to shelter refugees from flaming Syria. However, the British feel hostile not only towards them but also towards migrants from Eastern European countries who have only recently become members of the EU.

Provoked by public discontent, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party Nigel Farage insisted that it was impossible for the UK as an EU member to control migration, and the flow of migrants who deprived the British of jobs, reduced their salaries, and increased crime rates, as well as the threat of terrorism. The influx of migrants leads not only to ideological strife; another problem is that the development of infrastructure in the country does not keep up with population growth (Heisbourg 19). For example, there is a growing shortage of places in kindergartens and schools, which causes irritation among the locals in relation to the newcomers (Lee). Therefore, applying ethnic competition theory, one can say that the withdrawal from the EU, according to Brexit supporters, would help regain control of labor law, health care and security. In that case, the life of the British would improve. In other words, according to ethnic competition theory, the country should use all the possible resources to support the well-being of its own citizens instead of using these resources for the process that is not beneficial for its citizens. As a result, the membership in the EU can be understood as the negative process for the Great Britain, and the migration is one of its main reasons.

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Generally, there are many problems that the British encounter due to migrants, and they are not only connected with the resources. The British believe that their neighbors are too generously give EU passports to visitors, which they soon use to move to the UK, where they can receive high benefits and remain unemployed (Lee). Among other issues, the original inhabitants of the UK have always had a special sensitivity in matters of national and cultural identity that are parts of social identity theory (Hunt and Wheeler). Today in Britain, the fact that immigrants refuse to share local traditions is becoming an urgent problem, and at the household level, conflicts arise on the basis of cultural and religious differences (Heisbourg 20). Therefore, applying social identity theory, one can suggest that the migrants are the threat to the British as a social group. In fact, the migrants are more interested in sharing their own traditions and behavioral models in the new countries instead of learning new ones. Thus, applying social identity theory, it becomes obvious that with the help of Brexit, Britain wants to save its own culture and the British as the main social group in the country.

The Other Reasons for Brexit

The historic vote on June 24 decided the fate of the UK: the country is aimed at leaving the EU. For such a decision voted almost 52% of the British, which is 16.7 million of people (Heisbourg 15). Therefore, have their own arguments and the motives the opponents of the EU integration have appear to be serious enough to influence the outcome of the referendum. One of the reasons is the cost of EU membership that countries are forced to pay. While in the community, Britain pays approximately 1.5 billion pounds per month, or 18 billion euros to the general budget per year (Lee). The main euroskeptic ex-mayor of London Boris Johnson claims that they are giving 50 million pounds sterling to Brussels every day, while revenues from the EU amount to 7 billion euros per year (Lee). Funds saved on EU membership should go to health care and education. Therefore, it is more rational to spend the money of the country on its own citizens, making their life better.

The other reason is the situation with the trade. Brexit supporters are confident that the competitiveness of British companies in the European market is declining. There, the role of the German business, which dominates many industries, is growing. In a strategic sense, it is more profitable for the British to protect their market even at the cost of losing positions in European markets. The withdrawal from the general legislation, according to euroskeptics, will contribute to trade with China, India, and America, and not only with Europe (Lee). It will help the British companies take their place on the global scale and increase their profit.

Legislation and the quantity and the quality of opportunities are also among the reasons of Brexit. The UK, although kept separate in the EU, is subject to union legislation. Leaving the organization will provide an opportunity to regain control over economic and social policies in the interests of the British. Besides, the UK does not have enough influence on the processes within the EU, and should return its former greatness (Lee). Many people believe that the British should decide their own destiny themselves, and not depend on the unclearly elected European bureaucrats, who are increasingly influenced by Germany. It seems that the British have already started to work towards this goal as the decision of approximately 16.7 million Britons may soon change the European and world structure (Lee). It happens because they do not want to lose the opportunities that they may have without the membership in the EU.

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The Division of Parties in Terms of Their Attitude Towards the Issue

Just as the opinions on Brexit differed among ordinary people, the attitudes to this issue among representatives of British parties were different as well. The issue escalated during the 2008 crisis, when European governments were forced to cut budget spending. In January 2013, Conservative Party leader David Cameron promised to initiate a referendum if Conservatives come to power (Hunt and Wheeler). In 2015, they came, and Cameron kept his word. The main proponents of Brexit were Nigel Farage from the United Kingdom Independence Party, part of the Conservatives, five cabinet members, and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson (Hunt and Wheeler). The latter today enjoys the broad support of the British as polls tip him as the prime minister.

The United Kingdom Independence Party supports Brexit because its members are euroskeptics who advocate for the protection of British rights from infringement by migrants. Despite the fact that the party calls itself libertarian, ideologically, the UKlP is closer to the right-wing forces (Hunt and Wheeler). The party was organized in 1991 and relied on the nationalists, and therefore, their motives can be easily understood through the application of ethnic competition, and social identity theories mentioned above. Thus, the party speaks in favor of tightening control over migration, and since in the 2015 parliamentary elections it took third place, it is rather influential (Hunt and Wheeler).

In the United Kingdom, the main advocates for the European Union are Prime Minister David Cameron and 16 cabinet ministers. The Conservative Party formally took a neutral stance, but the Labor Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, and the Party of Wales call for staying in Europe (Hobolt 1262). Listening to the criticism of Brexit supporters, Cameron promised to revise the EU treaty with Great Britain and form new rules for migration policy, social security, and financial regulation. The problems in these areas are obvious, but the Conservatives propose to solve them while remaining the part of a single European family (Hobolt 1268). The governments of Germany and France, as well as the Obama administration, openly urged the British not to leave the EU.

The Implications for the Future Governance of the European Union

In order to have access to the single EU market, all its members make contributions to the total budget. Recently, the British began to feel that they give a disproportionately great amount of money. With a light hand of Boris Johnson, the population become aware of the impressive figure – 55 million pounds given daily. However, a significant portion of these funds is returned to the UK in the form of subsidies and grants: for example, about 6 billion out of 17 billion of deductions are returned (Oliver 9-10). That is, the British pay about 35 million pounds a day for access to the single market. That is much, but the Germans pay even more – 45 million. If to recalculate the cost of EU membership per capita, one can see the UK in 8th place in Europe: while a Briton (including refund and subsidies) pays 170 euros per year, then, for example, a citizen of Sweden – 275 euros, and a citizen of the Netherlands – 250 Euro (MacShane 78). Thus, there are countries that pay more than Great Britain does, so the budget is not the only reason of Brexit; nevertheless, it makes a huge impact on the British economics.

The urgent question is whether the European market is so important for Britain. Today, the UK foreign trade turnover with the EU is 58% (Oliver 10). This figure is gradually decreasing, but it is still high. This means that the exit of the Kingdom from the European Union will not go smoothly: British exports will rise in price due to tariffs and other barriers that arise (that is, will become less competitive), and the price of imported products for the islanders will increase. British manufacturers will have to undergo licensing of their products for the EU or look for new distribution channels. Euroskeptics promise to quickly revise trade agreements and protect national producers in world markets (MacShane 98). Nevertheless, the state machine does not work anywhere in the world quickly, so shocks are inevitable.

If to speak about the implications of Brexit for the EU, it becomes obvious that it will have more negative consequences than positive. The exit of Great Britain has high chances to destabilize the European Union as according to Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate in economics, Brexit could be a signal that the EU economy needs restructuring (MacShane 113). What is more, it could rather exacerbate contradictions in Europe and give impetus to the already strong nationalist trends throughout the continent. In the internal policy of the EU, Brexit unequivocally will launch the process of weakening the organization. This concerns the financial relations of countries with the European bureaucracy of Brussels. Following the British economists, the “problem” countries that have taken austerity measures from Brussels can begin to blackmail the EU leadership by counting losses from transfers to the common European banking structures (MacShane 122). In anticipation of this, the European Commission at an emergency summit will try to level the “domino effect” after Brexit in order to fight panic in the financial markets and to prevent the triumph of euroskeptics, for instance, in Ireland and Portugal, whose economies are more closely connected than the British.

Another negative internal political effect of Brexit on the European Union is the resumption of political debate on the redistribution of powers between the “old” and “new” member countries, as well as the potential status of candidate countries for EU membership. In organizational terms, the rejection of the principle of equality of countries and the transformation of unequal partners into a multilevel institution is not excluded (MacShane 131). At the first level, there will be an economically stable and politically trustworthy “core” (the founding countries from Western Europe and the newcomers from the Baltic states together with Poland). On the second level will be the periphery deprived of the right to discuss the decisions of the “core”. It can be both “problematic” Greece, Ireland, and “intractable” Hungary and Cyprus. The third level will incorporate the eternally associated partners of the EU outside the bloc, which a priori have lower starting positions in relations with the organization; these will be Moldova and the Balkan states (MacShane 136). Therefore, different countries will make bigger or smaller impact on the EU functioning, which can be the reason of the quarrels.

The most obvious consequence of the referendum can be the collapse of the ideology of constant and steady development of integration. Instead of an infinite, irreversible, a priori beneficial for all member countries, the European Union has become an organization that does not have a messianic goal and has to prove its usefulness hourly. The system crisis of the European Union will inevitably entail a profound transformation of the institutional and political structure of the EU (Oliver 8). If Brexit takes place, only two options remain possible. However, in any of the cases, in order to stabilize its operation, the European Union must substantially transform itself since its modern political and institutional system does not meet the requirements of the time. In this sense, the words pronounced by the Prime Minister of France in June 2016 are very important, as he claimed that the time came to create another Europe (Oliver 9). After the British referendum, the range of possible course significantly narrowed, and on the agenda, in fact, there were only two options of the transformation of the EU.

The first one is partial deconstruction of the European Union. At the core of this strategy is the thesis that European integration has gone too far and that some “mistakes” of the past should be reconsidered (Oliver 4). For example, the expediency of the created management system in the euro zone (primarily those elements of centralization that have been implemented in recent years as a response to the debt crisis) is called into question (MacShane 112). One of the actions proposed is dismantling a number of sectoral policies that “intervene” too much in sensitive “national” spheres, for example, migration and social. Another action presupposes reducing the regulatory functions of the European Union in the free market (agricultural policy, consumer protection, etc.). Generally, even the rather skeptical countries of the Visegrad Four, following the summit of June 29, 2016, noted the need to strengthen not only the single internal market but also a number of EU economic policies (Oliver 5-6). One more issue that needs consideration is the freedom of movement and “internal and external security issues”.

The next point is connected with European Union core and periphery (flexible integration). The term “flexible integration” is used to describe the many mechanisms that allow interested EU member states to cooperate more closely among themselves within the framework of existing EU institutions and without interference from their Union partners (those who want and can go forward). Over the past twenty years, flexibility has evolved from a temporary, transitional phenomenon into a permanent and formalized mechanism with its elements being present in the most important fields of activity of the EU (MacShane 93). Even before the referendum in the UK, the need for a clearer design in the European Union of “core and periphery” emerged (Oliver 3). Mechanisms have been created to deepen the differences between participants and outsiders in the euro area (MacShane 68). At the same time, there was mentioned the relationship between the single currency and the political union. Several projects of advanced cooperation, including in the field of economics (European patent, tax on financial transactions), were established. The contours of the core became more visible: it includes a modernized euro zone including some countries of Central Europe (above all Poland) without some economically weak countries. Among the politicians who in recent years have noted the prospects for flexible integration, Angela Merkel, Nikolas Sarkozy, Francois Hollande, and Enrico Letta can be distinguished (MacShane 56). Already after the Brexit referendum, a number of experts noted that flexible integration could become the main scenario of the EU development, for example, P. Wahl writes about the development of flexibility due to integration in some areas and disintegration in others based on varying coalitions of participants (Van Ham 15-16). Therefore, the core and the periphery would be changed in this scenario.

The exit of the UK from the EU can significantly simplify the formation of a cohesive European Union core. Firstly, the country that traditionally opposed the integration aspirations of the German-French tandem is leaving. Secondly, the UK, relying on a special relationship with Washington, by the very fact of its presence in the EU, undermined the leadership of Germany (Van Ham 19). Thirdly, in all economic and political aspects, the eurozone becomes an absolutely dominant group within the EU. Now, the eurozone has every chance to transform itself into a stable core, which will set the vector of development of the European Union regardless of the views of the remaining EU states. Of course, this core will not be homogeneous; one can already see the emerging elements of control structures. The main control loop will remain the German-French axis, which will either remain in its present form or be transformed into a Germany-France-Italy triangle (Van Ham 8-9). Today, the main split within the EU is the split between the north and the south. In the triangle of large EU countries, Germany expresses the interests of the north, Italy – the south, and France occupies an intermediate position in all senses.


Generally, there are different thoughts about the British exit from the European Union. The different parties have their own vision of the future of Great Britain. As a consequence, they demonstrate different attitudes in the relation to Brexit as the United Kingdom Independence Party supports it, while Labor Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish nationalists do not. Nevertheless, the majority of citizens voted for Brexit due to a number of reasons. One of them is the situation with migration and its impact of it on the British as a social group. This issue can be discussed through the lens of two theories: ethnic competition and social identity theories. Generally, Brexit as the final decision of Great Britain will change the current situation in the EU and its functioning. The consequences of it will be mostly negative for the EU. Nevertheless, after Brexit, the EU is entering a period of turbulence, which can heal the political process in the union. Thus, the European Union may become more consolidated and work faster to promote its initiatives. This will occur not only through the efforts of Old Europe in the person of Germany or France but, above all, at the expense of the noticeably stronger voice of, for example, Poland.

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