Psychologically speaking: why did Brexit happen?

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Psychologically speaking: why did Brexit happen?
Psychologically speaking: why did Brexit happen?

Until recently it seemed that it was unrealistic. And today everyone is talking about it. The British voted to leave the European Union. According to all forecasts, everything should have happened differently. Like a referendum on Scotland's secession from Great Britain. Then with a slight advantage, but the Scots still decided to stay. But this has not happened now. What influenced the choice of the British? Why did they want to leave, albeit having significant problems, but still a fairly stable European Union?


United Kingdom and United Europe: a history of relations

Interestingly, after the last referendum, one of the most popular queries in the Google search engine among British residents was the question: "What is the European Union?" In the heat of the campaign, many did not figure out where they were asked to leave from and what connected their country with the European Community.


Despite the fact that Great Britain is one of the leading European states, it did not stand at the origins of the creation of the European Union. There was no signature of the British representative under the 1951 Paris Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, from which it all began. Great Britain did not enter the European Economic Community (EEC), which united Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1957. Moreover, in 1960, in opposition to the EEC, Great Britain initiated the creation of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which also included Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Austria and Switzerland. But when the European Community began to show the first successes, the EFTA countries began to strive for accession to the EEC. But they did not want to take the British there. Great Britain applied to join the community twice, in 1962 and 1967, but France, led by Charles de Gaulle, opposed. It was only in 1973 that Britain became a member of the European Economic Community.

In 1993, the EEC was transformed into the European Union (EU). And in 1995, the countries of the European Union signed the Schengen Agreement on the free movement of goods, capital and citizens, which, in particular, canceled passport and customs control at internal borders. But Britain has not entered the Schengen area. Four years later, it did not enter the Eurozone either, retaining its currency - the British pound. In 2012, she refused to sign the Budget Pact, which establishes strict financial discipline for the countries of the union.

Britain has always strived to maintain maximum independence and chose what to sign and where to enter, and what not to sign. Nevertheless, even such selective membership in the European Union had opponents. And as a result, on June 23, 2016, at a referendum on UK membership in the European Union, 51.9% of the country's citizens voted to leave the European Union, and only 48.1% voted against it. So, Brexit (from the combination of the words Britain - Britain and Exit - exit) is already a reality. So what is the reason for it?

Historical memory

Have you ever heard the phrase: "Rule Britain!" This is not even a call or slogan, it is the title of the unofficial anthem of Great Britain, a patriotic song written in 1740. It is not forgotten even now.You've probably heard her tune in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. In one of the translations, the chorus sounds like: “Rule, Britain, mistress of the seas! Let your people know no chains! " The British cherish the memory that their country was not so long ago as an empire. They are confident, and not without reason, that their country occupies a special place in the world. But now it can hardly be called an empire. Former dominions, colonies and protectorates are now sovereign states.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and an active participant in the campaign for leaving the EU, relied on the historical memory of the British. According to Tatyana Andreeva, a researcher at IMEMO RAN, specialist in British foreign policy, Farage was able to play on this and create in England a complex of a “small nation”, an unprotected nation forced to reckon with other people's conditions, and above all with the EU conditions.

For Britain with its history, even the very idea of ​​giving up part of its sovereignty and transferring it to the supranational level is not an easy decision. All the more so if we are talking about an alliance created at one time without the participation of the British. Britain is proud of its law and history of parliamentarism. The Westminster parliamentary system has become a model of democratic governance for many countries of the world. The de facto subordination of the British legal system to the law of the European Community under the European Communities Act 1972 was a severe blow to the pride of the British. The last referendum was a chance to fix this, and Britain did not miss it.

National question

These days in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, which has been in union with England since 1707, they play "Ode to Joy" - the anthem of the European Union. Scotland, which is one of the parts of Great Britain, is increasingly referred to as a country by commentators. And unlike England and Wales, 62% of Scots voted against leaving the EU. Northern Ireland also voted for unity with Europe - 55.8%. The Kingdom's Irish people seriously fear that after leaving the EU, Britain may establish a visa regime with their sister Ireland, which is a member of the European Union. But the votes of 5 million Scotland and almost 2 million Northern Ireland, even together with London, which voted for the EU, could not influence the general decision. The total population of the United Kingdom is 63 million. 17 million voted for the exit, 16 million wished to stay.


True, the result on the national outskirts could have been different. Veterans of the struggle for the separation of Scotland from the Kingdom openly campaigned for an exit from the European Union. After all, this creates a chance for a second referendum on the independence of Scotland. After all, when a referendum was held in September 2014 on the independence of Scotland, the Scots were promised that Great Britain would remain in the European Union. Thus, the issue moved to the national level. Do not forget that the population of London is largely composed of immigrants and their descendants who voted for the European Union.

According to the American magazine Foreign Policy, it is not the British who want to leave the European Union, but the British who have become nationalists. As the magazine writes, English nationalism has raised its head in recent years. Once the core of the country was formed by four peoples - the British, Welsh, Scots and Irish. The British were happy to call themselves "British". But then the growth of national consciousness began among the neighbors. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland received their semi-federal parliaments and governments. But England didn't get it. At the same time, for example, taxes collected in England were used to subsidize social benefits in Scotland. And the British didn't like it at all.

But what affects the British national consciousness the most is the desire of European idealists to replace loyalty to sovereign nation-states with loyalty to United Europe.At one time, David Cameron also added fuel to the fire, now campaigning for unity with Europe, and earlier declaring about the special "island psychology" of the British. Now it backfired on him.


Migrants are one of the most discussed and hot topics before the referendum. Unsurprisingly, thanks to migrants, the kingdom's population surpassed 65 million in 2015. Last year, the net inflow of migrants into the country amounted to 333 thousand people. More than half of them (184 thousand) are visitors from the EU countries. A significant part of them are residents of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, mostly Bulgarians and Romanians.

But London depends on the European Union on migration issues. Under pressure from Brussels, the British had to open the borders of their country, and Misty Albion was flooded with migrants. This is the main message of the campaign of the supporters of the exit. And there is still a possible entry of Turkey, whose population has already exceeded 76 million people. And this is not to mention the massive exodus of migrants from the Middle East.

International polling service YouGov, which conducted research ahead of the referendum, found that problems with immigration are the main reason why the British are ready to say "yes" to leaving the European Union.

By the way, the lack of fear of migrants is one of the reasons for the voting results in Scotland and Northern Ireland. They just don't go to the country of the highlanders and troubled Belfast. They are attracted by the industrial centers of working-class England and the coastal zone. Migrants take jobs primarily from the British.

Money and social disunity

Britain is an EU donor country. Along with Germany, France and some other countries. And if, for example, the European Union provides financial assistance to Greece, this is done, including with British money. One of the main slogans of the supporters of the exit: “We pay the EU 50 million pounds a day. Let's give this money to healthcare.” In fact, a very famous plot. The British ask themselves, "Why should we feed Greece?" The island believes that they can find better use of their money than European bureaucrats.

“Why are we giving ten billion pounds to Brussels every year? Is some of this money spent on maintaining bullfighting in Spain? Does our taxpayer have to keep the Spanish bullfight? Of course not!" - said during the campaign the former mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Another factor that influenced the voting results was the difference in the interests of various strata of the population. Unsurprisingly, the capital voted to remain in the union. The City of London is home to many financial giants. And they all work in continental Europe. Britain is no longer the country it was during the Industrial Revolution. Now its main export "commodity" is not cars, wool and fabrics, but services - financial, legal, insurance and many others. It is a significant source of income for the Kingdom. But in these areas, mainly residents of London work. The big cities of England also voted for the European Union with a small margin. Residents of Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne spoke for the EU. But the province, where small and medium-sized businesses are concentrated, voted to leave. The reason for this was the European bureaucrats, who regulated everything from fishing to the curvature of cucumbers. As the British write on social networks, "leaving the EU is our release from the bureaucratic prison of the EU."

Difference between British and Europeans

Foreign Policy suggests another reason for the referendum results. Moreover, back in February of this year, the magazine writes that there is a big psychological difference between the British and the Europeans. The United Europe project emerged out of fear. Fear of threats that have become relevant in the last century. Fear of war, civil conflict, tyranny of government, foreign occupation, communism.The European project made it possible to start all over again, freeing from past fears. It helped in some ways, but the old phobias did not disappear at all. Most of the inhabitants of the continental part of the EU are afraid of the collapse of the union.

In Foggy Albion, the situation is completely different. The British have suffered less from the horrors of the 20th century than the Europeans. The last time England lost the war in 1783, and was conquered in 1066. Therefore, the British, and especially the British, are not at all afraid of leaving the European Union, unlike other Europeans, for whom the union acts as a guarantor in many issues.

Here it is also worth recalling the words of the former French President Charles de Gaulle, who once categorically spoke out against Britain's entry into a united Europe.

Charles de Gaulle said that “England is an island. A nation of seafarers connected by its trade, its market, its trade routes with very different and very distant countries. " In other words, the UK is too different from other continental European countries to be part of a single European Union.

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