How Did Brexit Happen?
19 March, 2019

How Did Brexit Happen?

As a supplemental to our Brexit Calculator, we have released a brief passage detailing the time from the rise of UKIP to May's ascendancy in the Conservative Party. We hope you find it useful.

Let's go back to the summer of 2014 in the UK. You're sitting in your garden, enjoying one of their few days of summer. Life is pretty good. The world seems to have finally recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. The World Cup is on, with Brazil suffering their humiliating 7-1 defeat on home soil. There's some news of ISIS in the Middle East, but that's nothing to worry about, right? You check Facebook. You see another video of Nigel Farage, standing in a pub, pint in hand, big smile across his face. And why wouldn't he be happy? He and his party, UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), had just won 166 seats and 17 % of the vote in the 2014 local elections, and had, in fact, won that years EU MEP election with 26.6 % of the vote, securing UKIP's spot as a major player in UK politics. He'd be mad not to be grinning ear to ear.

UKIP has been growing steadily in support over the last 10 years. What was once a single issue party (that issue being the UK's immediate withdrawal from the EU) has been steadily taking voters from the main parties for years. Whenever the Tories under Cameron moved a little further to the left, Farage waited with open arms. When Labour began focusing their attention on the ever-growing middle-class, UKIP was right there in the pub with the politically disenfranchised lower classes. This emerging base of support gave UKIP the confidence to diversify its policies. It started calling for the end of the inheritance tax, cutting the size of Westminster and came up with its own immigration policy.

This worried the political elites in Westminster. Having to compete against another party for votes in a first past the post voting system meant that one of them was going to lose, as maths dictates this system tends toward a two-party system. The Conservatives, seeing a new opponent spring up to their right while they battled Labour to the left, were at risk that they would become sandwiched between the two. There was also dissent within the ranks of the Tory party, a growing number of MPs were voicing their concern about the UK's role in the EU. Some had even left the Tory party to join UKIP. So, they came up with an ingenious solution to kill two birds with one stone. We'll give them what they want. Next general election, a vote for the Conservatives would be a vote for a referendum to leave the EU.

And so the stage was set. After a fierce election campaign, where the main talking point was not the referendum but austerity, the British people turned out on the 7th May 2015 to vote in what would turn out to be the most unrepresentative election in UK history. Firstly, Labour was gutted in Scotland, with the SNP (Scottish National Party) winning 56 of their 59 seats, a success rate of 94.9 %. With 36.9 % of the vote, the Conservatives gained a majority, that is, 50.8 % of the seats in Parliament. It was also the end for UKIP. Receiving 12.6 % of the vote, but only gaining 0.2 % of the seats, Farage resigned, citing that his job was done. UKIP's political prominence perished post this election. It turns out that having a bigger party deal with your main issue really puts you out in the political wilderness. But the deed was done, the referendum was set.

The Tories caused this referendum, but were they really in favour of it? Of course, there were enough Eurosceptics among them to force Cameron into promising the referendum, but there were plenty who were in support of Europe. Being big benefactors of business, it seems unlikely that putting up barriers between suppliers and consumers is among their ideals. The Conservative party was officially neutral on the issue of Brexit when the campaign for the referendum started, but MPs had to choose a side once the campaigns began. Whether that was for their lofty ideals of a Britain free from the yoke of Brussels, or as an attempt to angle themselves as a potential PM in the post-Brexit parliament (cough cough Boris Johnson cough cough).

As we all know, on the 23rd June 2016 the UK voted by a narrow margin to leave the EU. David Cameron, being the strong statesman he is, resigned immediately. Was this because he was personally in favour of remain? Possibly. Was it because he realised that leading a country through the process of leaving the worlds biggest trading block, something that had never been done before, was political suicide? More likely.

Enter Theresa May. As Home Secretary, she championed the Snoopers Charter, dissolved ASBOs and restricted immigration. Although she had personally voted to remain in the referendum, she likely saw the resignation of Cameron as an opportunity to get Brexit on her terms, and maybe to fulfil some greater ambition to become Prime Minister. During the ensuing Conservative leadership election, May was in favour of allowing "British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services" while rejecting any deal that "involves accepting the free movement of people as it has worked hitherto." Her other main stance was the UK withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. May won the first and second ballots of MPs, due to her support from Remain wing of the Tory party. After her last remaining opponent, Andrea Leadsom, withdrew her candidacy, May was confirmed as leader of the Conservatives and on the 13th May 2016 she was invited by the Queen to succeed Cameron.