On 23 June 2016, the British people voted 51.9% to 48.1% to leave the European Union.
The turnout of 72.2% was much higher than in recent General Elections. However, 13 million registered voters did not vote and another 7 million eligible voters were not even registered. Millions of EU citizens living in the UK as well as 16 and 17 year olds were not allowed to vote, although there had been moves in some quarters to let them do so.
The vote for Brexit was a self-inflicted wound that seems likely to blight the UK for generations. The consequences of the vote are already being felt - a rising tide of intolerance and bigotry; the value of sterling has plummeted (according to one financial journalist to its lowest level since Henry VIII) pushing up the cost of imports, including food bills; Scotland is quite possibly heading for a second independence referendum, having very decisively voted to Remain.
As for the future, it is clouded with uncertainty and threat. It is clear that not only does the May government lack any plan to obtain the “best deal for Britain”, it does not even know what deal it wants.
“Vote Leave, Take Control” may become a catchphrase for arch-stupidity.
Who voted for Brexit? Immediately after the shock of the result of the referendum, it was being said that Brexit was due to the votes of working class Northerners. This narrative has been much repeated and is now widely accepted as true. It is not true.
Professor Danny Dorling has looked at the results of the only large scale survey carried out with voters on the day of the referendum by Lord Ashcroft. He found that the typical Leave voter is likely to have been middle class and living in the South.
Dorling points out that
- two-thirds of all those who voted either Remain or Leave were middle class (social classes A, B or C1)
- 59% of those who voted Leave were middle class
- 52% of those who voted Leave lived in the South of England
- proportion of Leave voters in lowest two social classes, D and E, was just 24%
Here are some other results below taken from the Ashcroft survey.
Age of voters
- the older the voter the more likely they were to vote Leave
- 73% of 18 to 24 year olds voted Remain
- 60% of those over 65 voted Leave
Ethnicity of voters
- White voters voted to Leave 53% to 47%
- Asian voters voted to Remain 67% to 33%
- Black voters voted to Remain 73% to 27%
How supporters of political parties voted
In favour of Leave
- Tories - 42% Remain; 58% Leave
- UKIP - 4% Remain; 96% Leave
In favour of Remain
- Labour - 63% Remain; 37% Leave
- SNP - 64% Remain; 36% Leave
- Lib Dem - 70% Remain; 30% Leave
- Greens - 75% Remain; 25% Leave
There are many more supporters of some parties than of others. Here is the make up of the Remain and Leave votes by party affiliation
How Remain vote was made up
Labour - 39%
Tory - 31%
Lib Dem - 12%
Greens - 7%
SNP - 6%
Other - 2%
UKIP - 1%
Plaid Cymru - 1%
How Leave vote was made up
Tory - 40%
UKIP - 25%
Labour - 21%
Lib Dem - 5%
SNP - 3%
Green - 2%
Other - 2%
Plaid Cymru - 1%
Almost 4 in 10 Remainers were Labour; 4 in 10 Leavers were Tory. Although there are comparatively few UKIP supporters almost all of them voted in the referendum so that they made up 25% of the Leave vote.
Reasons for voting Leave
The top three reasons for voting Leave were
- principle that decision about UK should be taken in UK 49%
- best chance to regain control over immigration 33%
- remaining would mean having no choice about how EU expanded membership in years ahead 13%
Crucially none of these three reasons bears out the electoral wisdom taken from Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign that it’s “the economy stupid”.
In fact, a majority of voters thought that Remain would be better for the economy, international investment and the UK’s influence in the world.
How did the people who thought the following a “force for ill” vote?
Multiculturalism - 81% Leave voters
- 19% Remain voters
Social liberalism - 80% Leave voters
- 20% Remain voters
Feminism - 74% Leave voters
26% Remain voters
The Green Movement - 78% Leave voters
- 22% Remain voters
Immigration - 80% Leave voters
- 20% Remain voters
The typical Leave voter was not a Northern working class Mirror reader. They were Southern and middle class and read the Telegraph or the Mail.
The typical Leave voter was also white and elderly. Many would still remember the days that Britain had an Empire. Perhaps the words of American Dean Acheson describe the feelings of many of these voters towards their country. Acheson said in 1962 that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”. Their vote was a defiant assertion of their country’s greatness. Sadly, they were delusional.
Who is to blame for Brexit? Part Two - what the main players did