In a historic and shocking vote Thursday, the British public opted to leave the 28-nation European Union, ending weeks of speculation. On Morning Joe today, I analyzed some of the main reasons behind the “leave” vote. For the video clip, click here.
As we have seen in the United States and elsewhere in Europe, rising levels of immigration have made a large portion of the British public uneasy about changes to their culture and way of life. This chart shows that the percentage of the population that is foreign born is now well above 10% across Europe and in the United States. While the absolute share of immigrants in Britain (13%) is in line with other countries, the increase in Britain is far larger than it has been in the United States and larger than in most other European countries.
Where immigration and membership in the EU intersect is that under EU rules, any citizen of one EU country can freely move to another EU country. Thus, the issue in Britain is not particularly immigration from the Middle East or other Muslim countries but as much from countries within continental Europe. Leaving the EU would have allowed Britain to restrict immigration from these areas.
In part by not having joined the European common currency, Britain’s economy has done substantially better than the economies of the countries that are part of the currency union and almost as well as the economy of the United States. Nonetheless, by being part of the larger European Union, Britain is subject to the same regulatory strictures as other EU members. Many members of the British public are fearful of the loss of sovereignty associated with the shift in decision making to Brussels, the headquarters of the EU and worry that remaining linked to so many weak economies could drag down its own economy.
Similarly, Britain’s unemployment rate is much closer to that of the United States than it is to the situation on the continent, where double digit unemployment persists in a number of major countries. The fact remains that countries like France and Italy have major structural problems that prevent their economies from growing and keep the jobless rates high. Many British voters are eager to keep their distance as the “European project” progresses.