Brexit – the United Kingdoms separation from the European Union
Brexit – the United Kingdom's separation from the European Union – has taken the world by storm, with many eager to see Britain's development under Theresa May. However, ever since the referendum, Brexit talks have stalled, with negotiations progressing slowly. The European Union disagrees with the separation and spurred discontent within several of the United Kingdom's countries – most notably Scotland, which is already planning a second referendum for its separation from the United Kingdom. Immediately following Brexit, many believed anti-immigration sentiment was the prime reason behind the referendum results, with certain voters "feeling they had very little control over immigration, coupled with a more general mistrust of politicians and officials" (Walker, "Worries on Immigration"). Though this is widely believed, to what extent has anti-immigration sentiment and nationalism actually affected Brexit and its subsequent policymaking? Through the examination of current statistical data, we can surmise that anti-immigration sentiment and nationalism has had a tangible, if not significant, effect on Brexit, yet this has not successfully influenced policy making within Britain.
To understand the magnitude of said nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment within the United Kingdom, we must examine the historical background behind the European Union and the origins of Britain's nationalism. The European Union has been a hallmark of the globe for many years. Founded in 1993 and incorporating most Central European and West European countries. The European Union has formed one of the world's strongest economies and created the well-known Schengen Zone, allowing free trade and tourism to flourish within the Eurozone. For many, the European Union is a positive influence that many wish they could emulate, such as with ASEAN in Asian territories.
However, not all is well within European Union. At the turn of 2010, the European Union faced an economic crisis aptly named the European debt crisis. Several member states could not pay off government debt and thus the Eurozone was thrust into an economic crisis due to their shared currency: the Euro (Eichler, "European Debt Crisis"). The European debt crisis has had many question the effectiveness and efficiency of the European Union, with some worrying member states might decide the separate themselves from the bloc, despite the potential economic backlash.
For the United Kingdom, this signaled a rise in Euroscepticism: the mistrust in the European Union. Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom had already gained traction through the leadership of nationalists such as Margaret Thatcher: "Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of the most important Eurosceptic voices in the United Kingdom. She always refused the progress of European integration, and became a vocal and prominent hard Eurosceptic Prime Minister" (Sutcliffe 7). This has made it "difficult to accept the integration [into the European Union] for the United Kingdom" (Daddow 212).
Ultimately, this growing Euroscepticism came to a head, forcing former Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union. On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom had controversially voted to leave the European Union, marking the beginning of the infamous Brexit proceedings.
The decision to leave the European Union shook the world, with many expecting the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. David Cameron even stepped down from his role as Prime Minister, his role filled by current Prime Minister Theresa May. As of December 2017, the United Kingdom is still negotiating conditions with the European Union regarding the eventual separation.
The reasoning behind Britain's near-constant Euroscepticism stems from an even earlier period of time, stretching back to the British Empire. The British Empire had largely spread through colonization of politically unclaimed territory, forming the Thirteen Colonies in America and spreading into then-uncharted territory such as Australia and New Zealand. However, following the collapse of the American colonies through the formation of the United States of America, the British turned to imperialism to further their territorial and economic objectives.
What followed was what some historians call Britain's Imperial Century, most notably in India and Southeast Asia (Hyam 1). The East India Company, an English company formed to establish trade between Britain and Asian territories, was the main actor in Britain's growth in Asia, supported by the British Empire's Royal Navy. The British Empire quickly proliferated, gaining sovereign control of India and a blossoming opium trade in China.
The growth of the British Empire, however, was in constant contention with other European powers, primarily France and the Russian Empire. France had waged war over territory and sovereignty in America, as well as threatened to directly invade Britain during Napoleon's overwhelming victories in his European campaign. This was followed by the Crimean War of 1854-56 between the Russian Empire and a coalition made up of the British Empire and France. Sparked by the Russian Empire's growing imperialism and "fears in Britain of an overland invasion of India," Britain and France scored a resounding victory over the Russian Empire (James 181).
However, despite the setbacks faced by the British Empire, it was largely considered one of the most impressive empires ever formed, claiming control over more geographic landmass than any other faction in recorded history. For a century, the British Empire was considered the foremost global power, much akin to the modern-day United States. The resounding success of the British Empire, only deposed by World War One and World War Two in succession, has paved the way for what some scholars call British Exceptionalism: the idea that Britain is special above all other nations and states.
Corbett has identified an interesting trend in the sociopolitical identity of Brexit voters. English citizens who favoured Brexit's Vote Leave campaign – the organization that successfully campaigned for Leave during the Brexit referendum – had a tendency to identify themselves with being English. A similar progression was observed in Scottish Leave voters – those who voted to leave the European Union during the referendum. Scottish Leave voters had a tendency to identify as British. Following these findings, Corbett makes the claim that Leave voters generally saw Brexit as a return to "the golden era of British exceptionalism" (11).
Partnered with Euroscepticism, it is argued that British exceptionalists see Brexit as a form of revolt for the masses. The working-class of the United Kingdom have, allegedly, had their opinions and preferences relegated below the priorities of the social elite: academics, politicians, and upper-class members. This is a result of a political leader's tendency to "be of higher social status, unusually well educated, or upwardly mobile individuals from the lower classes" (Powell et al. 107). Government officials have difficulty relating to those in the working class.
A prominent example of this claim is the Luddite destruction of industrial technology for fears of losing their jobs. Though many disagree with the actions taken by the Luddites, it serves as an example of unchecked concern from the working-class, resulting in damaging public unrest.
The referendum for leaving the European Union, in a similar vein, is seen by some as a kind of revolution. Many academics and upper-classmen advocated against Brexit, their fears centralized behind the organization Britain Stronger in Europe – the main advocacy group for the referendum's Remain vote. British exceptionalism, in this sense, is expressed by the working-class as public disagreement with their lack of representation. The citizens who are classified under lower levels of social strata, alongside citizens who see Britain as a country with inherent political superiority (exceptionalists and nationalists), are finally able to have their opinions heard by the British government.
The effect this had on Brexit voters was significant. Voter turnout as of 2005 generally hovered around 60 percent for all kinds of referenda. Political participation within the United Kingdom had dropped off due to dissatisfaction in the effect citizens had in government proceedings; British citizens faced a sudden growth in political apathy.
This growing political apathy started taking hold during Tony Blair's term as Prime Minister. At the time, Tony Blair was the Labour Party's leading representative and thus was expected to embody the ideals of the Labour Party. Within the United Kingdom, it as a given that "British members of Parliament vote strictly along party lines" for fear of losing political support (Powell et al. 106). However, during his tenure, he strayed away from the Labour Party's beliefs, instead adopting a more centrist approach. Research into his term has found that "Tony Blair's abandonment of traditional Labour policies and his move towards the centre reduced the number of policy positions on which the Labour and Conservative parties differed" (Forster and Stone, "Tony Blair").
By blurring the lines that differed the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, Tony Blair developed a sense of indifference among voters, exacerbating the issues of working-class representation. The majority of Labour Party supporters, who were mainly made up of lower-income voters at the time, had their promises and beliefs disregarded by Tony Blair's unpopular conversion to centrist ideologies. The youth supporters of the Conservative Party were also hit by degrading political confidence. Research by the Sussex European Institute claims, "people don't vote when they can see little or no difference between the political parties" (Forster and Stone, "Tony Blair"). It was not until after Tony Blair's term in office before voter turnout and citizen political participation started to recover.
Though voter turnout saw a small rise after Tony Blair left office, it did not see any significant growth until the referendum for the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union. Preceding the referendum, voter turnout was approximately 65 percent, increasing significantly after the low 59 percent turnout during Tony Blair's time in office. However, turnout numbers rose remarkably to 72.2 percent during the referendum for separation from the European Union. This result was extremely close to "the highwater mark for participation in recent general elections," which was a turnout of 72.3 percent (Henderson, "Huge Turnout").
The fact that the British population was so eager to return to political participation once they felt their opinions were heard is a testament to the potential for Brexit to act as a kind of social revolution. The many citizens of Britain – the traditional working-class Labour Party supporters in particular, who felt as if they were treated disrespectfully are now able to voice their opinions through the referendum, and to great effect as we now know.
This is backed up by voter demographics themselves. Data from voters of the referendum for separation from the European Union show that a specific demographic was particularly interested in seeing the United Kingdom leave the European Union. These voters are those who hold less academic qualifications and are of older age – specifically above the age of forty. Rosenbaum finds that "local results were strongly associated with the educational attainment of voters - populations with lower qualifications were significantly more likely to vote Leave" ("Local Voting Figures"). The age of voters also affected the result voting results exponentially; however, not to the same extent that academic qualifications affected the voting results.
As previously stated, the voters most slighted by Tony Blair's switch to centrist ideals – thus facing political apathy – were those who traditionally supported the Labour Party: working-class citizens. Working-class citizens tend to hold less academic qualifications, wading into the waters of professional work immediately after completing a compulsory level of education (Cooper 83). This is also in line with the main voter demographic for Brexit's Leave vote. The correlation between the two factors is indisputable, as specifically this voter demographic likely saw Brexit as a way to voice their increasingly ignored opinion. In terms of British Exceptionalism and immigration, this demographic, who so happened to be older, chose Leave as a way to realign themselves with the Euroscepticism and strong British identity that was ever so prevalent during their youth, as well as in figures such as Margaret Thatcher. By leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom can return to the values that made Britain so great and reject the cultural shift that is currently happening in the wake of Britain's high immigration levels.
Social reform is but a single factor that affects voter opinions, however. Looking into the issues that surround both the United Kingdom and Brexit, we find that many believe the primary cause of the result of the referendum for separation from the European Union is immigration. Though social reform has played a huge role in the referendum's outcome, analyzing the results from a more economic perspective leads to a different set of factors that potentially affected the referendum. As previously discussed, the majority of Leave voters are over the age of forty and hold less academic qualifications. Due to the living situation of this demographic, such voters are also the most threatened by rising immigration.
According to The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, the United Kingdom receives approximately 200,000 thousand to 300,000 immigrants per annum, 13.5 percent of the entire population is foreign-born, and 8.9 percent of the United Kingdom is made up of foreign citizens (Vargas-Silva and Rienzo, "Foreign-Born Population). That results in a 22.4 percent of the United Kingdom's population who have their roots in foreign cultures and norms, a number that continues to grow due to an influx of immigrants.
The sizeable number of immigrants and foreign-born citizens has led to an ever-tightening job market within the United Kingdom. For those above the age of forty who hold less academic qualifications, this is an incredibly worrying trend. Unable to work manual labour jobs due to their age and outclassed by those with greater academic qualifications mean their potential sources of income are gradually diminishing, and this can be attributed, to a significant extent, to the immigration levels of the United Kingdom.
Immigration within the United Kingdom itself is a product of the United Kingdom's socioeconomic status, with many viewing the United Kingdom as a chance for a better job and a better life. David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, even declared that "you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean [into the United Kingdom], seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it's got a growing economy, it's an incredible place to live" (Elgot and Taylor, "Calais Crisis"). The prosperity of the United Kingdom both socially and economically is arguably the leading factor in its current immigration statistics.
However, many within and without the United Kingdom see the immigration statistics as a product of the United Kingdom's status as a member state of the European Union, rather than solely as a product of the United Kingdom's socioeconomic prosperity. Due to rules within the European Union, members of the European Union, the European Economic Area, and Switzerland do not need a visa to both live and work within the United Kingdom; citizens of the European Union merely need to provide their passport and identifying documents. The relatively lenient requirements for immigration into the United Kingdom, specifically for European Union citizens, means British citizens who identify with anti-immigration sentiment are quick to set their sights on the European Union.
If we examine the immigration statistics of the United Kingdom, we find that the largest number of immigrants, in terms of nationality, arrive from Poland, followed by India and then Ireland. If we take an even broader look at immigration statistics, we find that most immigrants into the United Kingdom come from European countries; Portugal, Lithuania, Romania, France, and Spain all contribute significantly to the immigration inflow of the United Kingdom, with Pakistan and India being the only non-European countries among the top ten sender countries (Vargas-Silva and Rienzo, "Top Ten Sender Countries"). All statistics are provided by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.
Thus, when nationalists and those who identify with anti-immigration sentiment claim that the European Union is the cause of high immigration levels, they are correct to an extent. Many immigrants may be members of the European Union but that does not mean the European Union is the sole cause for the United Kingdom's number of immigrants. However, this does not stop anti-immigration sentiment to be targeted at the European Union.
The combination of anti-immigration sentiment due to British exceptionalism, economic concerns due to a tightening job market, and the potential for Brexit to act as a kind of social reform have ultimately led to the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. Though immigration is not the only factor affecting the outcome of the referendum for separation from the European Union, it has definitely taken a leading role in the proceedings. However, this does not necessarily describe whether the same will apply to British policymaking, for policymaking within the United Kingdom is much more a product of political parties rather than votes.
To understand whether immigration has affected the policies developed within the United Kingdom, we must first understand the policymaking system itself. Any one official who wishes to make or deliver public policies must involve intragovernmental politics due to the nature of Britain's policymaking system (Rose 183). All policies must go through Whitehall, a street recognized as the center of government of the United Kingdom, before the policies' implementation is handed off to the judiciary branch – informally known as running the Whitehall obstacle race. Before a bill can be brought to Parliament for debate, "the Cabinet minister sponsoring it must negotiate an agreement with ministers in other departments about how the principles of a new measure affect existing programs" (Rose 183). These negotiations take a significant amount of time; most new initiatives are "started under one minister and completed by another" or even under a different ruling party (Rose 184).
Once Whitehall has agreed to the conditions of a policy, the policy is then passed onto Parliament. The Parliamentary system of the United Kingdom is bicameral: made up of two chambers of assembly. The two assemblies "deliberate, debate, and vote on policies that come before them" (Powell et al. 107). Within the United Kingdom specifically, Cabinet members are generally the ones to propose new policies and sponsor policies initiated by ministers (Powell et al. 107).
Once a bill has pressed through Parliament, the implementation of the law is scrutinized. Historically, policies passed in the United Kingdom have "gradually supported big changes in British society (Rose 188). For example, the postwar decision to expand schools has "significantly raised the percentage of youths completing secondary school" (Rose 188). Thus, to an extent, there is pressure for new policies to have a profound effect on British society, especially due to the tendency for policymaking to last an extended period of time. This is most evident in local services, where "ministers are under pressure to do something in response to media demands for action" (Rose 183). For example, if school standards are declining, ministers are more likely to take action to improve the status of education in certain areas.
This means that policymaking within the United Kingdom is "susceptible to the winds of public opinion" (Partos 14). Proposed policies tend to tackle current public concern, rather than address long-standing issues in a gradual manner. For instance, the rising concern of infant deaths in the 1940s has led Britain to implement policies that reduced infant mortality rate by "more than four-fifths" since 1951 (Rose 188).
In the case of Brexit, however, public policy is split down the middle. The results of the referendum for separation from the European Union was 51.9 percent in favour of Leave and 48.1 percent in favour of Remain. It is also reported that a large portion of Britain's youth under the voting age support Remain, yet are unable to vote for their beliefs due to their age. The United Kingdom – with England, in particular – are thoroughly divided between Remain and Leave votes, resulting in no one united public opinion; policymaking has come to a standstill, and little to no policies have been proposed or implemented as a product of immigration.
However, the limitations of time have to be confronted as it is far too soon to reliably make the claim that immigration has not affected policymaking. As of the completion of this research paper, Theresa May has only been at the helm of the United Kingdom for a little over a year, beginning on July 13, 2016, and has spent the majority of her time negotiating with the European Union over the conditions of the United Kingdom's separation from the European Union. The Cabinet is far more concerned with Brexit proceedings than they are over new national policies, thus potentially skewing the influence nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment may have on policymaking.
Thus, from the research conducted, anti-immigration sentiment and nationalism did have a noteworthy effect on the result of the referendum and the support for Leave can largely be attributed to anti-immigration sentiment and nationalism. The referendum's potential for social reform, however, also had a significant effect on the resulting votes, with many seeing Brexit as a chance to voice their concerns in an outspoken and notable manner. Anti-immigration and nationalism were not the only reasons for people to vote Leave. Yet despite the effect anti-immigration sentiment had on the referendum, the highly divisive opinions of British citizens regarding Brexit means that any effect immigration has on policymaking is negated. This observation on policymaking, however, is unreliable due to Theresa May's relatively short term in office.
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