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16 Jul 2024 19:29
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  •   Home > News > International

    Is Brexit to blame for the UK's years of political uncertainty and chaos?

    David Cameron took a colossal gamble on Brexit and lost. What followed was years of political chaos and division. With a general election approaching next month, did Brexit break Britain?

    In the last eight years, four British prime ministers have resigned outside the black door of number 10 Downing Street.

    Usually, they're not all that happy about it, but in 2016 David Cameron seemed thrilled.

    "I expect to go to the Palace and offer my resignation," he told the jostling press.

    Then, as he walked back to his front door, he sang a little song, forgetting he was wearing a radio mic.

    "Doo doo doo doo. Right!"

    It was akin to singing a ditty on his way out of a house party after clogging the toilet.

    Hours earlier, David Cameron had held a national referendum on Britain leaving the European Union.

    Cameron took a colossal gamble on Brexit, campaigned for the Remain campaign, and lost.

    What followed was years of political chaos and division.

    So with a general election approaching next month, and the UK more divided than ever, did Brexit break Britain?

    To stay or to leave

    From the moment Britain joined the European Union (formerly the EEC) in 1973, there have been people who have wanted to leave.

    Some feel that European bureaucrats stifle profitability with unnecessary regulations.

    Some feel that being part of the European Union erodes the UK's sense of "Britishness".

    Some feel that an open market allows other European countries to steal British industries, and freedom of movement allows Europeans to come into Britain and steal British jobs.

    The EU was a really convenient donkey on which to pin any problem the UK might have — even problems that weren't necessarily the EU's fault.

    Support for leaving the EU fluctuated widely over the years, but when unemployment rose, support for leaving tended to rise too.

    And in 2010 when David Cameron and the Conservatives swept to power, unemployment was high.

    The case to Remain

    Eighteen months into his term as prime minister, David Cameron promised to hold a referendum to stay or to leave the European Union.

    He was going to campaign for the "Remain" camp, and he was confident that his side would win.

    After all, three-quarters of MPs, including the opposition leader, were staunch remainers.

    And the entire global community — basically every world leader, every European news outlet and most American ones — were on David Cameron's side.

    David Cameron also had a strong track record on referendums.

    In 2011, British voters were asked if they wanted to change their first-past-the-post voting system, which favours major parties, to an Australian-style preferential voting system.

    Cameron had led the campaign against the change, saying Australia's system was too complicated, and had confounded pollsters by winning.

    Besides, referendums globally usually enforce the status quo — particularly if the ramifications of what people are voting on are unclear.

    David Cameron also believed the group leading the Leave campaign were a bunch of "fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists".

    The UK Independence Party, UKIP, had performed well in local and European elections and had spooked some Conservative MPs but their leader, Nigel Farage, was roundly dismissed by David Cameron as a clown.

    He thought a referendum would kick Farage to the curb and quell disquiet in the Conservative Party from MPs worried about losing their seats to UKIP.

    The case to Leave

    David Cameron was holding a very good hand, but little did he know that the Leave campaign would put together an unlikely hand of their own.

    The Leave campaign was led by two very famous and very charismatic men with a willingness to say anything to win the referendum.

    Nigel Farage and former London mayor Boris Johnson campaigned hard for the Leave camp and stoked the rising nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the country

    The two men spread misinformation and were assisted by uncontrolled waves of disinformation on social media.

    It was a huge success, and 52.8 per cent of Britons who voted, voted in favour of Brexit.

    The Leave voters were concentrated in areas hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs — areas with lots of people who felt left behind by the modern British economy.

    There was also a concentration of Leave votes among Britain's most wealthy, who were financially secure enough to ignore the doom and gloom economic predictions made by the Remain campaign.

    It was demographically bizarre and took pollsters and politicians alike by surprise.

    Three years of chaos

    After David Cameron stepped down, Theresa May became the new prime minister and was responsible for actually removing Britain from the EU.

    It was a daunting prospect.

    Brexit was a massive, nation-altering policy that the government itself opposed.

    It took three and a half years for the UK to actually leave the EU and it's an era that was utterly chaotic.

    Parliamentarians who didn't really think Brexit was a good idea, tore each other to shreds over how it should be delivered.

    There were two snap elections. Parliament was shut down for a period. It was total madness.

    With eight years of hindsight, the legacy of the Brexit referendum is complicated.

    The economic effect is basically unmeasurable because on the same day the UK finally left the European Union, the UK confirmed its first cases of COVID-19.

    Within weeks, the entire country was in lockdown, any semblance of austerity policies were abandoned and economic indicators were off the scale.

    The economic effect of Brexit might never truly be known, but the political chaos that followed the vote paralysed parliament at a crucial time for Britain.


    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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