United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union

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British withdrawal from the European Union, often shortened to Brexit (a portmanteau of "British" or "Britain" and "exit"),[1][2] is a political goal that was pursued by various individuals, advocacy groups, and political parties since the United Kingdom (UK) joined the precursor of the European Union (EU) in 1973. Withdrawal from the European Union is a right of EU member states under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

In 1975, a referendum was held on the country's membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), later known as the EU. The outcome of the vote was approximately 67% in favour of the country's continued membership of the EEC.

The UK electorate again addressed the question on 23 June 2016, in a referendum on the country's membership. This referendum was arranged by Parliament when it passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015.

The result of this referendum held in June 2016 was 51.9% in support of an exit (17,410,742 votes) and 48.1% (16,141,241 votes) to remain with a turnout of 72.2% and 26,033 rejected ballots.[3]

Background[edit | edit source]

The UK was not a signatory to the Treaty of Rome which created the EEC in 1957. The country subsequently applied to join the organization in 1963 and again in 1967, but both applications were vetoed by the then President of France, Charles de Gaulle, ostensibly because "a number of aspects of Britain's economy, from working practices to agriculture" [had] "made Britain incompatible with Europe."[4]

Once de Gaulle had relinquished the French presidency, the UK made a third application for membership, which was successful. On 1 January 1973 the United Kingdom joined the EEC, then often referred to in the UK as the "Common Market". This was done under the Conservative government of Edward Heath.[5] The opposition Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson, contested the October 1974 general election with a commitment to renegotiate Britain's terms of membership of the EEC and then hold a referendum on whether to remain in the EEC on the new terms.

1975 referendum[edit | edit source]

In 1975 the United Kingdom held a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EEC. All of the major political parties and mainstream press supported continuing membership of the EEC. However, there were significant splits within the ruling Labour party, the membership of which had voted 2:1 in favour of withdrawal at a one-day party conference on 26 April 1975. Since the cabinet was split between strongly pro-European and strongly anti-European ministers, Harold Wilson suspended the constitutional convention of Cabinet collective responsibility and allowed ministers to publicly campaign on either side. Seven of the twenty-three members of the cabinet opposed EEC membership.[6]

On 5 June 1975, the electorate were asked to vote yes or no on the question: "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?" Every administrative county in the UK had a majority of "Yes", except the Shetland Islands and the Outer Hebrides. In line with the outcome of the vote, the United Kingdom remained a member of the EEC.[7]

Yes votes Yes (%) No votes No (%) Turnout (%)
17,378,581 67.2 8,470,073 32.8 64.5

Between referendums[edit | edit source]

The opposition Labour Party campaigned in the 1983 general election on a commitment to withdraw from the EEC.[8] It was heavily defeated as the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher was re-elected. The Labour Party subsequently changed its policy.[8]

As a result of the Maastricht Treaty, the EEC became the European Union on 1 November 1993.[9] Starting as a purely economic union, the organization has evolved into a political union. The name change has reflected this.[10]

The Referendum Party was formed in 1994 by Sir James Goldsmith to contest the 1997 general election on a platform of providing a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.[11] It fielded candidates in 547 constituencies at that election and won 810,860 votes, 2.6% of total votes cast.[12] It failed to win a single parliamentary seat as its vote was spread out, losing its deposit (funded by Goldsmith) in 505 constituencies.[12]

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a Eurosceptic political party, was also formed in the early 1990s. It achieved third place in the UK during the 2004 European elections, second place in the 2009 European elections and first place in the 2014 European elections, with 27.5% of the total vote. This was the first time since the 1910 general election that any party other than the Labour or Conservative parties had taken the largest share of the vote in a nationwide election.[13]

In the 2015 general election UKIP took 12.6% of the total vote and won a seat in Parliament, the first they had taken in a general election.[14]

2016 referendum[edit | edit source]

In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron rejected calls for a referendum on the UK's EU membership, but suggested the possibility of a future referendum to gauge public support.[15][16] According to the BBC,[17]

“The prime minister acknowledged the need to ensure the UK's position within the European Union had "the full-hearted support of the British people" but they needed to show "tactical and strategic patience".”
—UK Politics, BBC

In January 2013, Cameron announced that a Conservative government would hold an in-out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017, on a renegotiated package, if elected in 2015.[18]

The Conservative Party won the 2015 general election. Soon afterwards the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was introduced into Parliament to enable the referendum. Despite being in favour of remaining in a reformed European Union himself,[19] Cameron announced that Conservative Ministers and MPs were free to campaign in favour of remaining in the EU or leaving it, according to their conscience. This decision came after mounting pressure for a free vote for ministers.[20] In an exception to the usual rule of cabinet collective responsibility, Cameron allowed cabinet ministers to publicly campaign for EU withdrawal.[21]

In a speech to the House of Commons on 22 February 2016,[22] Cameron announced a referendum date of 23 June 2016 and set out the legal framework for withdrawal from the European Union in circumstances where there was a referendum majority vote to leave, citing Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.[23] Cameron spoke of an intention to trigger the Article 50 process immediately following a leave vote and of the "two-year time period to negotiate the arrangements for exit".[24]

Campaign groups[edit | edit source]

The official campaign group for leaving the EU was Vote Leave.[25] Other major campaign groups included Leave.EU,[26] Grassroots Out, and Better Off Out,[27] while non-EU affiliated organisations also campaigned for the United Kingdom's withdrawal, such as the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation.[28]

The official campaign to stay in the EU, chaired by Stuart Rose, was known as Britain Stronger in Europe, or informally as Remain. Other campaigns supporting remaining in the EU included Conservatives In,[29] Labour in for Britain,[30] #INtogether (Liberal Democrats),[31] Greens for a Better Europe,[32] Scientists for EU,[33] Environmentalists For Europe,[34] Universities for Europe[35] and Another Europe is Possible.[36]

Public opinion[edit | edit source]

Opinion polling for the referendum

Public opinion on whether the UK should leave the EU or stay has varied. An October 2015 analysis of polling suggested that younger voters tend to support remaining in the EU, whereas older voters tend to support leaving, but there is no gender split in attitudes.[37]

Procedure for leaving the EU[edit | edit source]

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union provides that: "Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements."[38] Article 50 was inserted by the Lisbon Treaty in 2007, before which the treaties were silent on the possibility of withdrawal. Once a member state has notified the European Council of its intent to leave the EU, a period begins during which a leaving agreement is negotiated setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal and outlining the country's future relationship with the Union. For the agreement to enter into force it needs to be approved by at least 72 percent of the continuing member states representing at least 65 percent of their population, and the consent of the European Parliament.[38] The treaties cease to apply to the member state concerned on the entry into force of the leaving agreement, or in the absence of such an agreement, two years after the member state notified the European Council of its intent to leave, although this period can be extended by unanimous agreement of the European Council.[39] Instead going through the internal EU process, the UK could also unilaterally withdraw by repealing the enabling European Communities Act 1972 (UK).

The 2016 referendum does not directly bind the government to specific actions; in this, it is similar to the Scottish independence referendum, 2014. Indeed, it does not require the government to begin the Article 50 procedure or set any time limit for this to be done,[38] although David Cameron stated during the campaign that he would immediately invoke Article 50 in the event of a leave victory.[40]

A number of commentators have suggested the possibility of a second referendum to "confirm" the decision to leave following negotiations, but there is no established formal process for such a move. Alan Renwick of the Constitution Unit of University College London argues that Article 50 negotiations cannot be used to renegotiate the conditions of future membership and that Article 50 does not provide the legal basis of withdrawing a decision to leave.[38] Both the British government and a substantial number of European politicians have stated they would expect a leave vote to be followed by withdrawal, not by a second vote.[41]

Following the referendum result, Cameron announced that he would resign around October, and that it would be for the incoming Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty.[42]

Subsequent relationship with the remaining EU members[edit | edit source]

Political system of the European Union

Now that the UK electorate has voted to leave the EU, its subsequent relationship with the remaining EU members could take several forms. A research paper presented to the UK Parliament proposed a number of alternatives to membership which would continue to allow access with the EU internal market. These include remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) as a European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member, or seeking to negotiate bilateral terms along the Swiss model with a series of interdependent sectoral agreements.[43]

Were the UK to join the EEA as an EFTA member, it would have to sign up to EU internal market legislation without being able to participate in its development or vote on its content. However, the EU is required to conduct extensive consultations with non-EU members beforehand via its many committees and cooperative bodies.[44][45] Some EU law originates from various international bodies on which non-EU EEA countries have a seat.

The EEA Agreement (EU and EFTA members except Switzerland) does not cover Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, Customs Union, Common Trade Policy, Common Foreign and Security Policy, direct and indirect taxation, and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters, leaving EFTA members free to set their own policies in these areas;[46] however, EFTA countries are required to contribute to the EU Budget in exchange for access to the internal market.[47][48]

The EEA Agreement and the agreement with Switzerland cover free movement of goods, and free movement of people.[49][50] Many supporters of Brexit want to restrict freedom of movement,[51] however an EEA Agreement would include free movement for EU and EEA citizens.[citation needed] Others[who?] present ideas of a Swiss solution, that is tailor-made agreements between the UK and the EU, but EU representatives have claimed they would not support such a solution.[citation needed] The Swiss agreements contain free movement for EU citizens.[citation needed]

Opinions on the results of a withdrawal[edit | edit source]

A report by Tim Oliver of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs expanded analysis of what a British withdrawal could mean for the EU: the report argues a UK withdrawal "has the potential to fundamentally change the EU and European integration. On the one hand, a withdrawal could tip the EU towards protectionism, exacerbate existing divisions, or unleash centrifugal forces leading to the EU's unravelling. Alternatively, the EU could free itself of its most awkward member, making the EU easier to lead and more effective."[52]

Economic effects[edit | edit source]

The UK treasury have estimated that being in the EU has a strong positive effect on trade and as a result the UK's trade would be worse off if it left the EU.[53]

Supporters of withdrawal from the EU have argued that by ceasing to make a net contribution to the EU would allow for some cuts to taxes and/or increases in government spending.[54] However, Britain would still be required to make contributions to the EU budget if it opted to remain in the European Free Trade Area.[47] The Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that most majority of forecasts of the impact of Brexit on the UK economy would leave the government with less money to spend even if it no longer had to pay into the EU.[55]

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont argued that if Britain left the EU, the EU would not impose retaliatory tariffs on British products, pointing out that the EU needed a trade agreement with Britain as German car manufacturers wanted to sell their cars to the world's fifth biggest market.[56] Lamont argued that the EFTA option was irrelevant and that Britain and the EU would agree on a trade pact which tailored to Britain's needs.[56]

James Dyson argued that it would be self-defeating for the EU to impose retaliatory tariffs on British products because if the EU imposed a tariff on Britain, Britain would impose a retaliatory tariff on the EU, claiming that Britain bought 100 billion pounds worth of the EU's goods and sold 10 billion pounds worth of Britain's goods.[57] However, proportionally, the government responded that "EU exports to the UK are worth 3% of EU GDP, while UK exports to the EU are worth 13% of UK GDP – four times more."[58]

On 15 June 2016, Vote Leave, the official Leave campaign, presented its roadmap to lay out what would happen if Britain left the EU.[59] The blueprint suggested that Parliament would pass laws: Finance Bill to scrap VAT on tampon and household energy bills; Asylum and Immigration Control Bill to end the automatic right of EU citizens to enter Britain; National Health Service (Funding Target) Bill to get an extra 100 million pounds a week; European Union Law (Emergency Provisions) Bill; Free Trade Bill to start to negotiate its own deals with non-EU countries; and European Communities Act 1972 (Repeal) Bill to end the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction over Britain and stop making contribution to the EU budget.[59]

Former Bundesbank President Axel Weber said that leaving the EU would not deal a major blow to London's status as one of the top financial hubs.[60]

Possible secessions: Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar[edit | edit source]

Leading figures both supportive and not of Scottish independence have suggested that in the event the UK as a whole votes to leave the EU but Scotland as a whole votes to remain in the EU (as it has transpired), a second Scottish independence referendum may be precipitated.[61][62] Former Labour Scottish First Minister Henry McLeish has said that he would support Scottish independence under such circumstances.[63] It has also been pointed out that upon the UK's exit from the EU, many of the powers and competencies of the EU institutions would be repatriated to Holyrood and not Westminster.[64] Currently, Scotland exports three and a half times more to the rest of the UK than to the rest of the EU.[65] The pro-union Scotland in Union has suggested that an independent Scotland within the EU would face trade barriers with a post-Brexit UK and face additional costs for re-entry to the EU.[65]

Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach of Ireland, has warned that a UK exit of the European Union could damage the Northern Ireland peace process.[66] Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers denounced the suggestion as "scaremongering of the worst possible kind".[67] It has been suggested by a member of Germany's parliamentary finance committee that a "bilateral solution" between the UK and Ireland could be negotiated quickly after a leave vote.[68] On 24 June 2016, following the UK's vote to leave the EU, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for a referendum on Irish reunification.[69]

In 2015, Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo suggested that Gibraltar would attempt to remain part of the EU in the event the UK voted to leave,[70] but reaffirmed that, regardless of the result, the territory would remain British.[71] In a letter to the (UK) Foreign Affairs Select Committee, he requested that Gibraltar be considered in negotiations post-Brexit.[72] Spain's foreign minister José García-Margallo said Spain would seek talks on Gibraltar the "very next day" after a British exit from the EU.[73]

Illegal migrants returns to France[edit | edit source]

Regional President of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie Xavier Bertrand stated in February 2016 that "If Britain leaves Europe, right away the border will leave Calais and go to Dover. We will not continue to guard the border for Britain if it's no longer in the European Union" indicating that the juxtaposed controls would end with a leave vote. French Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron also suggested the agreement would be "threatened" by a leave vote.[74] These claims have been disputed, as the Le Touquet treaty enabling juxtaposed controls was not debated from within the EU, and would not be legally void upon leaving.[75]

Academic funding via EU system[edit | edit source]

UK universities rely on the EU for around 16% of their total research funding, and are disproportionately successful at winning EU-awarded research grants. This has raised questions about how such funding would be impacted by a British exit.[76]

St George's, University of London professor Angus Dalgleish pointed out that Britain paid much more into the EU research budget than it received, and that existing European collaboration such as CERN and European Molecular Biology Laboratory began long before the Lisbon Treaty, adding that leaving the EU would not damage Britain's science.[77]

London School of Economics emeritus professor Alan Sked pointed out that non-EU countries such as Israel and Switzerland signed agreements with the EU in terms of the funding of collaborative research and projects, and suggested that if Britain left the EU, Britain would be able to reach a similar agreement with the EU, pointing out that educated people and research bodies would easily find some financial arrangement during an at least 2-year transition period which was related to Article 50 of Treaty of European Union(TEU).[78]

Political effects[edit | edit source]

Former Chairman of the Conservative Party Norman Tebbit said that David Cameron should resign as prime minister if the UK voted for an EU exit. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos MORI in late March 2016, 48 per cent of UK voters thought that Cameron should resign if the UK voted to leave the EU.[79] David Cameron said that he would stay in office after the referendum, while former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke said that the Prime Minister would not last 30 seconds if Britain voted to leave the EU.[80] After the withdrawal from the EU was passed, Cameron announced that he would resign around October.[81]

The right-wing Dutch populist Geert Wilders said that the Netherlands should follow Britain's example and hold a referendum on whether Netherlands should stay in the European Union.[82]

Voting result[edit | edit source]

According to the BBC the first results were expected around midnight on 23 June, with the full results by breakfast time on 24 June. Gibraltar was the first British voting zone to report the voting results, ending in a "Remain" vote for the British Overseas Territory.[83] Though initially behind, Leave scored early victories in England, including a significant win in Sunderland by a margin of more than 20%, pulling ahead in the general count. However, Remain soon retook a small lead with wide-margin wins in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London. The BBC since projected a win for the Leave campaign.[84]

On the morning of 24 June, the result from the vote was that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union 52% to 48%.[85][86]

United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016
Choice Votes %
Leave the European Union 17,410,742 51.89
Remain a member of the European Union 16,141,241 48.11
Valid votes 33,551,983 99.92
Invalid or blank votes 25,359 0.08
Total votes 33,577,342 100.00
Registered voters and turnout 46,501,241 72.2%
Source: [87]
Referendum results (without spoiled ballots)
17,410,742 (51.9%)
16,141,241 (48.1%)

Origin of the word Brexit[edit | edit source]

This referendum is heavily associated with the new word Brexit. It is not known who coined the word nor who first used it, but may have been coined by comparison with Grexit. However, the European press (and the UK press) did use this word almost exclusively as opposed to any other wordings that could have been used.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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