BY JAMES F. DOWNES (DIRECTOR OF BRITISH & EUROPEAN POLITICS, PARLIAMENT STREET / THE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG, VISITING SCHOLAR AT EUAP HK)
CHRISTOPHER HANLEY (DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC OPINION & POLLING, PARLIAMENT STREET)
Introduction (Parliament Street, 2017 Book Chapter)
Despite the efforts of a large part of the government and the Remain camp through their strategy of drawing on objective arguments which outlined the economic risks associated with Brexit, on the 23rd June 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU) by a margin of 52-48%. In order to achieve a better understanding of why the majority of British voters decided to leave the EU we need to first trace the historical processes of what we call in this chapter, ‘British Exceptionalism’. Drawing on original polling data from Eurobarometer surveys, this chapter examines the attitudes of the British public towards membership of the EU compared to European citizens taken as a whole from 1973-2016. The data is then broken down across decades in order to examine variations in support for the EU amongst the British public. The central argument of this article is that Britain has always been a ‘reluctant’ member of the EU.
Against this backdrop, the chapter then turns to investigate the increasing politicization and salience of the immigration issue in British politics since 2005 and how immigration became the central issue that dominated the EU Referendum outcome in 2016. The third and final section then outlines how the salience of immigration has also driven support for populist radical right parties in both France (Front National) and Germany (Alternative for Germany). With Brexit proving to be a reality, the chapter will outline how this anti-establishment insurgency has direct implications for the upcoming French, German and Dutch Elections in 2017.