I seriously don’t know what took the Brits so long to get out of an EU they were skeptical about in the first place. Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath signed the UK into the European Community in 1973; it seems the Brits sincerely believed in the vision and mission of the then European Union, because in the referendum of 1975 held by Labor Prime Minister Harold Wilson, the Vote to stay was at 66% and the vote to leave was at 34%. Contrast this to the latest referendum where the leave vote gained 52% and effectively started a process by which the UK would leave the EU; hence the sarcastic phrase: “See EU-Later”. What really caused such a shift in the way Britons view the EU? I mean, the EU inspired other regions to start blocs similar to it like SADC, AU, OAS (organization of American States), etc. The European Union even managed to grow from the original 6 signatories of the Treaty of Rome to 28 countries. All this without sending troops for the capitals of those countries. It was a bloodless surrender of sovereignty for the countries that joined.
I think rifts started to appear when the UK signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1991. The Treaty created the common currency (the Euro), but under a Tory Prime Minister, Britain lobbied for an “opt-out” and got it. Effectively, Britain would keep its Pound instead of adopting the Euro, which was formally introduced around 2002. Britain still remained in the common markets, though. UKIP, the UK’s Euroskeptic party that was founded on 3 September 1993, lobbied for the UK to leave the EU. It had a valid point: why should the UK remain in the EU, when its values are not congruent with those of the EU? For starters, the UK and EU didn’t even adopt the common currency nor did it allow seamless entry for immigrants from the bloc. UKIP was initially dismissed as a racist party but this did not stop its growth. Nigel Farage, UKIP leader and ironically also a Member of the European Parliament, has been campaigning himself out of a job ever since he got the job in 1999. His “streetwise” approach resonated with many who were skeptical of the gains of joining a supra-national bloc like the EU.
I guess the best time for UKIP and other Euroskeptics was during the Lib-Lab-Con coalition after the 2010 elections. The deadlock lead to UKIP becoming a “protest vote” against the Establishment’s fumbling of government, and UKIP went on to gain its biggest vote surge in 2013. As an attempt to mitigate against the rise of Euroskepticism and to quell the turmoil in the Tory rank and file, David Cameron promised an in or out referendum if the Tories won the general elections of 2014. And the results of that Referendum would be historical, even surpassing the expectations of Nigel Farage. Nigel was vociferous on how the EU handled Grexit; Greece was practically bullied into staying in the EU. This also confirmed to the Euroskeptics that the EU was anti-democratic and scorned national sovereignty. Migration has always been a contentious issue globally: should nations be restrictive or permissive when it comes to migration? The EU took the latter when it came to migration within its territories. The Brits by and large didn’t like not being able to strictly apply its immigration laws to EU passport holders. A big bloc like the EU was bound to suffer fall outs, even if all national sovereignty was ceded. What’s ideal for Britons may not be ideal for Greece or ideal for France. Another issue with such supra-national blocs is that of “entangling alliances”, as termed by Thomas Jefferson.
“Entangling alliances” means that if a nation with which you are allied is under attack or decides to go on the attack, by virtue of being an ally, you’ll have to follow suit. It’s an extreme example, of course, but how could one expect Greece to implement austerity measures that might work in Germany but would be a disaster for Greeks? Entangling alliances! The PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) nations who suffered the most during the recession were forced to implement policies set out by the European Central Bank, even though these nations do not subscribe to the same ideology as the technocrats in Brussels. They had no choice. Brexit serves as a warning as to how opposing views can’t go ignored forever and that the action of writing off opponents as “kooks and fruitcakes” will not make them go away. They’ll gain steam quickly and before you know it they’ll be laughing at you in the same way that Nigel Farage laughed in the European Parliament. Globalization is here to stay with us. It’s the way of doing business effectively around the globe, but supra-national organizations are as stable as the Empires preceding them. They are not impervious to the fall-out and squabbles of the local populations. The EU still stands, but it will never be the same.