Euroskepticism and Brexit

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Euroskepticism describes an attitude of rejection toward European integration. It includes three main strands, the first two tending toward the political right while the other is more to the left: there are the sovereigntists, who find the EU’s transfers of sovereignty to supranational institutions intolerable; libertarians, who condemn the creation of a super-state that violates freedoms; and anti-liberals, who criticize the EU’s essentially liberal stance advocating economic interdependence as a means of guaranteeing peace. For all of these, the European institutions are seen to be technocratic, illegitimate, and anti-democratic. These three trends have always been powerful in the United Kingdom (UK), where, in June 2016, a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union (EU) gave a marginal victory to those in favor of leaving (51.9% of vote, with an abstention rate of almost 30%). During the campaign, the Leave voters put forward the traditional Euroskeptic arguments: leaving the EU would enable the country to control immigration, regain full economic sovereignty, and save money by no longer being forced to contribute to the European budget.

Referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, June 23, 2016

Sources: The Electoral Commission, ;

Comment: Although the geography of the vote leading to the Brexit victory (United Kingdom’s exit from the EU) is a delicate issue, it is nevertheless clear that Scotland – historically pro-European – and Greater London – which gains part of its wealth from financial activities – unambiguously voted to remain in the EU. The same is true for most of the urban centers, with the exception of Birmingham. On the other hand, the central and central-eastern regions, which are rural and poorer, had more votes for Brexit. Northern Ireland, despite the contrasting East/West situation, voted overall to remain in the EU.

The exit negotiations started in March 2017 and were intended to define a new framework for relationships between the EU and the UK, with a particular focus on UK access to the European common market. Although vital for the British economy (since half its trade is with the EU), the Europeans have made such access conditional upon the free movement of persons in Europe. The negotiations also revolve around the rights of the 3 million European citizens living in the UK and the million British nationals residing in the EU. Last but not least is the question of the border between Ireland (member of the EU) and Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK). If the UK leaves the customs union, the latter would become a border of the EU – and re-establishing this would threaten the 1998 peace agreements which put an end to the civil war in Northern Ireland and, in fact, made provision for freedom of movement between the two parts of the island.

For some, Brexit is a sign of the mistrust of federal Europe felt by a section of public opinion, and raises fears that the European project will disintegrate. Despite its major political and economic role, however, the UK was never part of the Schengen area or the euro zone. Many pro-Europeans therefore consider that, on the contrary, Britain’s departure may well remove obstacles to deepening European integration.

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" Euroskepticism and Brexit " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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