Awakenings from the Historic 'Brexit' Referendum
Awakenings from the Historic 'Brexit' Referendum
  • Okyeon Yi, Prof. of SNU
  • 승인 2016.09.28 22:30
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The Barclays’ prosperity map gives a composite index score for each region in UK. Its 2016 report shows that no region is less prosperous than a year ago and all regions surpassed London in terms of GDP increase. Yet on June 23rd, a majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum dubbed as “Brexit.” In a nutshell, it was a non-binding referendum borne out of a miscalculated electioneering gone awry.
Early in 2010, the Conservative Party succeeded in winning the largest number of seats but was forced to form a collation government with the Liberal Democrats (LD). In the 2014 European Parliament election, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) rose to the top rank by elbowing out both the Conservative Party and Labour Party on the basis of proportional representation. David Cameron and his political confidants concocted a scheme to use a referendum on the EU membership so as to appease the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. Consequently, Cameron pledged to renegotiate more favorable terms of the continued EU membership before holding a referendum by the end of 2017, but only if the Conservative Party would win a parliamentary election in 2015. Cameron managed to win the parliamentary majority but failed to garner the better arrangements for continuing the British membership in EU.
The refugee crisis had already led to a slow disintegration of the European Union, which, in turn, enflamed a xenophobic and often a nationalist movement among its member states fearful of an increase in immigration due to free movement. Total net migration to the UK ran at over 300,000 a year since 2014. Cameron repeatedly tried bring it under 100,000 but was not able to. Thus, the former London Mayor Boris Johnson accused Cameron of achieving “two thirds of diddly squat” over the negotiation with the EU. In mid-2015, Office for National Statistics put its estimate at 333,000, the second highest figure on record.
Earlier, Labour Party under Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrats pledged a conditional referendum on the EU membership. In contrast, UKIP along with several splinter parties endorsed the principle of holding a referendum, while the Scottish National Party (SNP) solely voted against it. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn campaigned for the Remain along with LD and SNP, while UKIP and splinter parties campaigned for the Leave. Two weeks after the referendum campaigns kicked off, elections were held for the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. In fact, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh politicians argued earlier that the EU referendum date was scheduled too soon after their own elections. As Scots earlier voted against the independence from the Union by 55.3% to 44.7% in 2014, they made it clear that it had voted to stay in the Union on the condition that UK would remain in the EU to no avail.
The Conservative Party, even among cabinet members, was split and so was the Labour Party, to a lesser extent. In the absence of the official party line, individual members were allowed to publicly express their disagreement. The morning after Brexit, nonetheless, many Britons stood aghast at the fact that the party with only one MP under Nigel Farage’s leadership managed to engulf the Britannia into a mission to discontinue the British membership of the EU, once and for all. Then, it dawned upon them that UKIP quadrupled its vote share from a meager 3.1% to 12.7% but only obtained a mere 0.2% of seats in the 2015 parliamentary election due to the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. Parliamentary sovereignty turned out to be a disjointed principle.
The traditional Labour strongholds had swung to UKIP in the 2015 election but the British electoral system prevented UKIP from yielding MPs in proportion to its vote share. Having lost their mouthpieces within the Westminster, these voters predominantly voted for ‘leave,’ often voting against their economic interest, even though many transnational enterprises warned that they would pull out of UK if she voted for Brexit. In addition to an income divide, a high level of formal education and job skills tended to sway voters into ‘remain,’ whereas aged voters tended to vote for ‘leave’ thus for a better health care. In short, UK is now undoubtedly a polarized society rigged by region-, class- and age-divides, thus provides a fertile soil for extremist views. UKIP jumped on such an opportunity to reap a fruit of their insidious criticism of Brussels, while the two major parties were swept aside and adrift in their own implosion, if not a feeding frenzy to their own ominous disparagement.
Cameron promptly announced his resignation and opened a leadership race in the Conservative Party, which was shortly concluded with Theresa May sworn in as the new prime minister in mid-July. The Labour Party is to put its house in order when the special conference announces ballot result on September 24th. May is reportedly determined to begin EU exit negotiations early in 2017 despite warnings from her fellow MPs due to the upcoming French and German elections. Barrack Obama reiterated his conviction that the world would benefit from the UK being a member of the EU. Post-Brexit Britons are screaming their lungs out that the best is yet to come as they are confident that they can control immigration while retaining free trade. Yet they are not so assured upon watching their Brexit secretary, David Davis, bungling when he appeared before Parliament without any concrete plan for Brexit negotiations.