Brexit: The Economics of International Disintegration

By Thomas Sampson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics, London School of Economics; Research Affiliate, CEPR. Originally published at VoxEU.

While we can estimate the economic impact of Brexit, we do not yet understand what made people vote for it. This column argues that political pro-Brexit rhetoric conflates two distinct hypotheses that have different policy implications. If voters wanted to reclaim sovereignty from the EU, they may view a negative economic impact as a price worth paying. But, if ‘left-behind’ voters blamed the EU for their economic and social problems, post-Brexit policy should focus on the underlying causes of discontent.

The period since WWII has been marked by growing economic and cultural globalisation and, in Europe, increasing political integration inside the EU. Brexit bucks this trend. It has ignited a debate about the future of the EU, and the extent to which further globalisation is inevitable. For example, after the Brexit vote, the European Commission issued a white paper laying out scenarios for the future of the EU. It included not only ‘muddling through’ and committing to closer integration, but also scaling back the EU to just the single market, or building a multi-speed Europe (European Commission 2017).

It is too soon to know whether Brexit will be merely a diversion on the path to greater integration, a sign globalisation has reached its limits, or the start of a new era of protectionism. In recent work, I attempt to shed light on the implications of Brexit by summarising the research so far on the likely economic consequences of Brexit, and discussing the evidence on why the UK voted to leave the EU( Sampson 2017).

The Economic Consequences of Brexit

Forecasting the economic consequences of Brexit is made difficult by the lack of a close historical precedent, and uncertainty over what form future relations between the UK and the EU will take. Facing this challenge, researchers have used three approaches to estimate the effects Brexit:

  • Historical case studies of the economic consequences of joining the EU (Campos et al. 2014, Crafts 2016).
  • Simulations of Brexit using computational general equilibrium trade models (Aichele and Felbermayr 2015, Ciuriak et al. 2015, Dhingra et al. 2017).
  • Reduced-form evidence based on estimates of how EU membership affects trade, and how trade affects income per capita (Dhingra et al. 2017).

Each of these approaches has its limitations, but there has been a consensus that, in the long run, Brexit will make the UK poorer because it will create new barriers to trade, foreign direct investment, and immigration. It’s less certain how large that effect will be. Plausible estimates range between 1% and 10% of the UK’s income per capita. Other EU countries are also likely to suffer from reduced trade, but their losses will probably be much smaller.

This uncertainty has two sources. First, different research strategies produce different results. Methods that attempt to capture the effect of Brexit on foreign direct investment and productivity growth report larger losses.

Second, the losses will depend on the terms under which the UK and EU trade following Brexit. Continued membership of the single market is the best option for the British and European economies. If the UK leaves the single market, research shows that to minimise the costs UK-EU negotiations should prioritise keeping non-tariff barriers low and ensuring market access in services, rather than purely focusing on tariffs. Less is known about the likely dynamics of the transition process, or the extent to which economic uncertainty and anticipation effects will affect economic activity before Brexit happens.

Who Voted for Brexit?

The referendum split the electorate on the basis of geography, age, education, and ethnicity. Figure 1 shows data on voting patterns. England and Wales voted to leave, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. In England, support for Brexit was low in London, where only 40% voted to leave. Older and less-educated voters were more likely to vote leave, while large majorities of black and Asian voters supported remain. Voting to leave the EU was also strongly associated with holding socially conservative political beliefs, and thinking life in Britain is getting worse (Lord Ashcroft Polls 2016).

Econometric studies of voting outcomes by area (Goodwin and Heath 2016a, Becker, Fetzer, and Novy 2016, Colantone and Stanig 2016) and voting intentions at the individual level (Goodwin and Heath 2016b, Colantone and Stanig 2016) have established three main regularities:

  • Education and age: These are the strongest demographic predictors of voting behaviour, with education stronger than age.
  • Poor economic outcomes: At the individual or area level, these are associated with voting to leave, but economic variables account for less of the variation in the leave vote share than educational differences.
  • Immigration: Support for leaving the EU is strongly associated with self-reported opposition to immigration, but a higher share of EU immigrants in the local population is actually associated with a reduction in the leave vote share. There is some evidence growth in immigration, particularly from the 12 predominantly eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, is associated with a higher leave vote share, but the effect is small and not always present.

The picture painted by the voting data is that the Brexit campaign succeeded because it received the support of a coalition of voters who felt left behind in modern Britain. People may have felt left behind because of their education, age, economic situation or because of tensions between their values and the direction of social change, but, broadly speaking, a feeling of social and economic exclusion appears to have translated into support for Brexit.

Figure 1 Leave vote shares in Brexit referendum

Source: Regional data from the Electoral Commission; demographic data from Lord ­Ashcroft Polls (2016).

Why Did the UK Vote for Brexit?

Knowing that left-behind voters supported Brexit does not tell us why they voted for Brexit. We can immediately rule out one explanation – the vote was not the result of a rational assessment of the economic costs and benefits of Brexit. As discussed above, EU membership benefits the UK economy on aggregate, and there is no evidence that changes in either trade or immigration due to EU membership have had large enough distributional consequences to offset the aggregate benefits, and leave left-behind voters worse off. This leaves two plausible hypotheses for why the UK voted to leave.

  • Primacy of the nation state. Successful democratic government requires the consent and participation of the governed. British people identify as citizens of the UK, not the EU. Consequently, they feel the UK should be governed as a sovereign nation state. According to this hypothesis, the UK voted to leave because Brexit supporters wanted to ‘take back control’ of their borders and their country.
  • Scapegoating the EU. Many people feel left behind by modern Britain. Influenced by anti-EU sentiments as expressed in newspapers and by euro-sceptic politicians, they blame immigration and the EU for many of their problems. According to this hypothesis, voters supported Brexit because they believed EU membership increases their discontent with the status quo.

It is likely that both hypotheses played some role in the referendum outcome, but we do not know how much each contributed to it. When leave voters are asked to explain their vote, they talk about national sovereignty and immigration. But these responses are consistent with either hypothesis. They could reflect voters’ attachment to the UK as a nation state, or they may mirror the language used by pro-Brexit newspapers and politicians.

The ‘nation-state’ and ‘scapegoating’ hypotheses have different implications, however, for how policymakers should respond to Brexit, and for the future of European and global integration.

Brexit and the Future of International Integration

The nation-state hypothesis is closely related to Rodrik’s (2011) idea that nation states, democratic politics and deep international economic integration are mutually incompatible. From this perspective, the deep integration promoted by the EU, in particular free movement of labour and regulatory harmonisation, cannot coexist with national democracy. For Europe to remain democratic, either the people of Europe must develop a collective identity, or the supranational powers of the EU must be reduced. The nation-state hypothesis, however, does not directly threaten the sustainability of shallow integration agreements that aim to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. The UK government’s current approach to Brexit assumes the validity of the nation-state hypothesis (Fox 2016, May 2017).

The scapegoating hypothesis does not threaten the ideal of the EU as a supranational political project, or provide an immediate reason to reconsider the desirability of deep integration. But it does pose a different challenge to the future of international integration. As long as geography continues to be an important determinant of group identity, international institutions will always be more vulnerable to losing popular support than domestic institutions. Colantone and Stanig (2016) found that exposure to Chinese import competition had a positive effect on support for Brexit. This would be consistent with the scapegoating hypothesis.

If this hypothesis proves correct, policymakers seeking to promote European and global integration have two main options available. One would be to channel popular protests against another target. The other would be for policymakers to focus on tackling the underlying causes of discontent among left-behind voters. Addressing economic and social exclusion is a daunting challenge, but enacting policies that would support disadvantaged households and regions, and broaden access to higher education, would be an obvious starting point.

Responding to Brexit Voters

Understanding and responding to the motivations of voters who oppose the EU will play an important role in determining whether the benefits of economic and political integration can be preserved. If British voters supported Brexit to reclaim sovereignty from the EU, then, provided they are willing to pay the economic price for leaving the single market, they will view Brexit as a success. But, if misinformation drove support for Brexit, then leaving the EU will not make them happier.

References in the original post.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Alan Reeve

    I tink the reason people can’t put their finger on ‘why people voted for Brexit’ is because typically those writing the articles come very much from the ‘Remain’ side. Consequently much misattribution goes on such as ‘racists, uneducated, old, rural, poor’. The fact is that there were only three regions in the whole of the UK that voted for Remain. Two, Northern Ireland and Scotland, were very much as a result of their own independence issues. London was the only other, where I guess many of the ‘winners’ live and of course, more than half of Londoners are actually born overseas.

    Whilst there are many ’causes’ that people state for the vote, I think the overriding feeling was that the country has become far too ‘busy’ with a large increase in people but little to no increase in infrastructure and services spending such as on schools, health and police etc. All the while there has been significant downward pressure on wages particularly at the lower end and competition for jobs.

    Globalisation and the freeing up of trade is one side of the coin and unlimited immigration over decades is another. The question that really has to be asked, how did people not see that these problems would not be at least partially attributed to membership of the EU, particularly by those who lived in what seem to be ‘better times’.

    1. d

      i thought that only those born n the UK would have been voting on Brexit? is London big enough to have almost 50% of the UK population (including NE and Scotland)? while i suspect the main driver was globalization, not sure that leaving the EU will do any thing for that (might even make it worse actually).

      1. Gavin R

        The other sad fact about voting Leave is that there is no such thing as “vote Leave” and that’s it. People who voted Leave… voted in support of BOTH the article 50 AND confidence in their MP’s to achieve 100% of items promised. It’s fun that concerns were simply dismissed regarding the role that the obviously contentious negotiations with the EU would play in achieving the outcomes.

        Even if you intellectually buy the assertions [Outright lies?] of the leave campaign.. If you lack confidence in your elected officials’ ability to accomplish the objectives within those negotiations, it’s more than likely that your personal balance sheet would be better off voting Remain.. even if a frictionless world existed wherein the Leave assertions were true.

        Ah, voting against one’s own economic self-interest..

        1. Anonymous2

          As with the movie – It’s Complicated
          So many reasons can be identified if you speak to individuals. ‘Sovereignty’, immigration, hardship, disinformation, failure to understand the consequences.

          Undoubtedly the failure to share the fruits of globalisation was very important. I was in policy discussions in the early 1990s where there was wide agreement that measures needed to be taken to ensure the losers were compensated. Sadly this was never adequately acted upon, and then, after 2010, we got ‘austerity’.

          Interestingly opinion polls are starting to move towards Remain – perhaps we are going to see a movement to reverse the decision before 2019? The working class reportedly are starting to lose faith in Brexit as they see their living standards falling.

          The old Chinese curse – may you live in interesting times.

          1. Anonymous2

            ‘more than half of Londoners are actually born overseas’

            2011 census shows 37% Londoners foreign born

            1. The Rev Kev

              Not a criticism but a real question – of the remaining 67%, how many were actually born in London itself and can call themselves Londoners? Being the financial capital would serve to suck in talent from the whole of the British Isles as has been happening with London since year dot.

              1. Anonymous2

                I am afraid I do not know the answer, wonder if anyone does. There has undoubtedly been a large movement of people into and out of London among the UK born population in recent decades. Many come to the South East to start their careers and then move away when retiring. In recent decades there must have been a lot driven out from the major conurbation into satellite towns by economic forces as property prices have gone through the roof. They then commute 50 or more miles in to work. When I was a young man you could buy a two bed London property for four times average annual income, which many young people could afford to do after a little saving and taking out a mortgage. Now a similar property would be probably twenty times average annual income.

                There has undoubtedly been an influx of foreign born residents, some very wealthy, who have driven up prices and driven native born Londoners out. It is undoubtedly an issue. The fact that public sector housing construction, very significant 1945-80, largely came to a halt with Mrs Thatcher’s arrival has not helped.

        2. JTMcPhee

          Near-term dislocations vs. long term outcomes: what outcomes do us mopes want from the political economy we are born or brought into? Sure seems there’s no centroid toward which any preferences or trends toward comity and decency might move. A more than sufficient plurality “gains” (for themselves, in that selfish-directed set of measures) from more of the neoliberal consumptive format. So of course the emphasis is on what pains a divorce from the neoliberal marriage bed of the EU will result in for the mopes, and what inconveniences for those better sorted…

          There’s plenty of disruption going on in Business as Usual. Most of it (climate damage, impoverishment of the many, perpetual war, the Panopticon, oooh!Autonomous vehicles!, IoT, and so forth, “political union” in Europe under which set of dominants?) “benefits” people whose “voices” and “votes” are Bigger Than Others’. It’s complicated, all right, but the occasional spasms of rebellion or whatever it is by the Mopery, the various quickly hijacked “revolutions” and the phenoms like Brexit (whatever it is, and whoever among the Rulers catalyzed it) are “disruption” too, after a fashion. Though too often suborned or drenched in anomie to move the notion of comity any closer to the center of considerations and elevate it to a principal driver of “policy.” “Policy” being a catchword, after all, that stands for “whatever the Few with the real power to Decide, actually decide to do to the rest of us, and with the resources of the planet that they can control…”

          Got to appreciate how the whole Brexit/Catalonia etc set of phenomena get denigrated and criticized by “sophisticated” people, who mostly are winners in the current power distribution. (“Sophisicated” used to mean “adulterated, spoiled, effete” and stuff — interesting how that meaning got turned on its head…)

        3. bh2

          “obviously contentious negotiations with the EU”

          They are no less obviously an unnecessary waste of time.

          Leaving “hard” and reverting to WTO terms of trade will be the only way Brexit can be accomplished. The Brits aren’t hostages and aren’t going to pay the EU an “exit tax” unless they are barmy.

          Trade with the EU is not, in fact, the essential question. It’s a declining share of the world economy. The essential question is what path the UK can forge for direct trade with the rest of the world with no interference by useless tax and spend eurocrats.

          1. Yves Smith

            I don’t know what you are smoking.

            The UK is substantially integrated into the EU, and many of those businesses are part of supply chains under the control of multinationals. Even if the UK contractor is UK owned, it’s dependent on orders from abroad, and more important, also gets inputs from abroad. Either a hard or a disorderly Brexit creates a huge no-trade barrier, which is avoidable customs hassles and costs. There is no reason whatsoever to incur that for goods intended for consumption outside the UK if that part of production can be moved to the EU, which pretty much always, it can be.

            The UK also produces only 60% of its food, and is particularly dependent on the EU for fruit and vegetables. You will see a huge spike in food costs and food shortages in the event of a hard or disorderly Brexit.

            And these new trade deals you fantasize about take years, as in usually more than five, to negotiate. The only exception might be the US, which dictates terms in its trade deals. They will not be favorable to the UK.

  2. George Phillies

    Some discussions of aggregate economic effects, which may be positive or negative, do not emphasize that the effect for a particular individual voter may be negative or positive, no matter the aggregate effect.

    1. David May

      Spot on, George. The individuals who are losing, economically, are correctly identifying the EU as having a negative impact on them. The UK is hellish for those trapped in low-wage zero hour slavery.

      1. d

        sounds more like a globalization complaint. which probably is more valid, not sure leaving the EU will help with that. will leaving help those impacted? probably not. will the UK government do some thing to help? NO

  3. Terry Flynn

    Support for leaving the EU is strongly associated with self-reported opposition to immigration,

    Sorry, plain wrong – correlation does not equal causation – basic FAIL. I quantified attitudes and votes in my survey. I’m not going to post more because I unintentionally created a real headache for NC with my comments on last two BREXIT threads. (I wanted to have a small “side thread” to get in touch with liked minded individuals but it kinda spiralled out of control. My bad and I have apologised for the storm it caused so I’m not going to cause more trouble).

    1. flora

      “correlation does not equal causation”

      What?! You mean to say that the rooster crowing does not cause the sun to rise?? ;)

      1. Terry Flynn


        Seriously though, is NC interested in a model that proved correct in a General Election and made its author money from the bookies or some economist’s model that its author never had the balls to test by putting money on it in the GE?

        I spent a shedload of my own cash for my BREXIT study – purely to understand what on earth was going on – and when I learnt that I put real cash forward on the general election thanks to my model – and won. Isn’t the key question to ALL these economists “did you put money on your prediction?”

        ‘Cause I did – and won.

        1. flora

          Can’t speak for NC. I’m interested in your model. I’d welcome a link to an article describing your model and process. I’ll read and try to understand.

          1. Terry Flynn

            We’re getting into territory that I had to spend a whole day discussing with plutoniumkum.

            But I’ll try to summarise (apologies if I can’t in one post).

            People have attitudes (e.g. towards immigration in the East Midlands – which is actually positive). But when voting, attitudes can be down/upweighted due to the media etc. Thus the fact the East Midlands actually is the MOST accepting of immigrants of any region in the UK is irrelevant. The strongest factor influencing their vote was “free trade area” because they saw this as the “thing that gave least leeway to the politicians to screw us any further”. Thus the “hard BREXIT” vote there. Now of course we can hypothesise scenarios where the elites continue to allow high immigration – but the E Mids people were basically saying “enough in enough”. They have no problems with existing immigrations (as historians will confirm) but the govt has not provided the extra NHS/extra infrastructure to deal with the hug influx of immigrants.

          2. Terry Flynn

   is my website with stuff on my blog there but I’m wary because NC might not like me to mention this.

            However, as I said in my apology to them, I don’t think any other website “out there” is interested, so they are not exactly losing anything. I’m primarily interested in how people on here could help me “translate” the technical stuff I do into something that (for instance) NC people would understand and be interested in. PlutoniumKun “got” my study 6 months ago on BREXIT but I need to understand how to explain it better for everyone.

    2. PKMKII

      Plus, anti-immigration sentiment is often a proxy for economics anyway. It’s a safer scapegoat for economic problems than the economic institutions/ideology itself.

    3. Yves Smith

      Please re-read. Strongly associated = correlation. He does not assert causation. You did in your straw manning.

      And I am losing patience with your relentless self promotion. Get your own blog if you want a venue for that.

      1. Terry Flynn

        OK sorry, I’ll leave the site.
        But, it you are going to mention straw manning, on a thread in last month or so your accusation that I associated happiness with health was blatant straw-manning, which various non-NC friends, when I showed them, thought was irrational in the extreme.
        Pot and kettle.
        I’ve tried to be constructive and have always apologised for mis-steps. I funded NC in the past but clearly that means nothing.
        But c’est la vie.

  4. David May

    “We can immediately rule out one explanation – the vote was not the result of a rational assessment of the economic costs and benefits of Brexit.”

    Hmm. Import cheap Eastern European labour and watch wage growth slow to its lowest level in 200 years.

    I found the following comment on another website insightful:

    “i stopped working nearly 6 years ago because of poor wages and the stress involved. saved a lot of cash before leaving but checking recent roles the pay is exactly the same as then. i actually earned more way back in 2001 when the money was actually worth more too. why keep going to work to pay income tax and NIC for more headache and stress . i live hand to mouth now and feel no less or more happier when working . people who work should stop accepting the poor wages. and also stop getting into debt.”

    Read more:

    I believe people are very rational in voting for Brexit if they are neoliberalism’s losers; just as the winners are rational in voting to remain. Both sides rightfully identify the EU as a neoliberal project. I would suggest that Mr. Sampson do more research in the form of interviews. There is an institution in Britain known as the “pub” where one can engage with people of diverse backgrounds who are quite willing to share their opinions on public matters.

    1. flora

      “the vote was not the result of a rational assessment”

      I’m seeing more and more of this “voters aren’t rational” argument to excuse failed neoliberal policies. Interesting.

      1. digi_owl

        They can’t be rational, after all they are not behaving according to orthodox economic models. And those models are based on rational agents.

        And yes, the above is very much tongue in cheek, with a chaser of bile…

    2. Anonymous2

      Are you sure it is that simple? What, for comparative purposes, have been the effect of Eastern European workers on wage levels in Germany over the last ten years? Are the trends there the same or different?

      1. digi_owl

        Germany is a bad indicator, as they have been suppressing wages with the tacit support of the unions in an attempt at maintaining export levels.

        This is why many claim Germany is running a beggar-thy-neighbor policy.

      2. David May

        The effect has been catastrophic for the low-waged. A huge amount of Germans (1 in 5 for men, 2 in 5 for women) are working poor. It is no secret that the German govt follows a policy of deliberately keeping wages low. A certain fellow, Karl Marx, observed that the best way to keep the workers from demanding higher wages was to maintain a reserve army of labor.

  5. JTMcPhee

    The author posits a binary policy choice for the Rulers: “Channel” (a pun maybe?) popular protest to a different target (see “operation Mockingbird” and Bernays activities), or “tackling underlying causes of discontent of ‘left-behind’ voters (another unconscious pun?)” Gee, I wonder which way the wind will blow? And what a bold presumption, that “voters” have much to do with what policies get “chosen,” and that there are “democratic forms” that actually have any substance?

    One hopes that one is seeing the failing and departure of “globalization,” but it sure looks like once the cracks in the dam get big enough, most of us mopes will get washed away and drowned in the ensuing Johnstown Flood, another project of the vast indifference and self-pleasing self-interest of the Elite:

  6. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    Those figures although hardly spoken about showing the amount of Blacks & Asians voting for Brexit I believe tell a tale in themselves. Part of it could mirror the opinions from 1st & 2nd generation immigrants which was evident in a BBC documentary that featured the East End of London, who were asked why they had become members of the exodus of the original inhabitants to Essex. A phenomenon which also includes members from many ethnic groups who according to those interviewed gave pretty much the same reasons as their white compatriots – schools, housing & jobs.They at least had the Essex option whereas many of those in the North are stuck in what they rightly perceive as an ever deepening rut.

    An Asian market trader interviewed was worried about being undercut by the new arrivals, which is something I have also seen being reported in reference to some Eastern Europeans who have faced the same problem as more of their own countrymen arrive, further adding to the race to the bottom. If more of the above who it appears to me are largely poking around in the dark with statistics actually paid a visit to the pro-Brexit areas, perhaps they might better understand the reality.

    1. flora

      I’ve heard similar concerns in the US from 2 & 3rd gen latinos about newly arrived undocumented latino workers undercutting their income and job opportunities.

      1. Darthbobber

        And I can tell you that in my experience hispanic Teamsters feel about the same way about opening the border to Mexican commercial trucks that anglo and black teamsters feel.

  7. The Rev Kev

    Oh my, talk about your target-rich environments. I have tried not to be sarcastic in answering the thoughts in this article but have failed utterly as you will see. This bloke’s CV ( doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence either. Where to start now? How about at the beginning. In the first sentence are the words
    ‘…we do not yet understand what made people vote for it.’
    Translation: ‘I live in a bubble and I have no idea what is going on outside London.
    His use of the phrase ‘Older and less-educated voters were more likely to vote leave’ could also be a dog-whistle for ‘old fuddy-duddies and stupid people’. I love the sentence ‘Voting to leave the EU was also strongly associated with holding socially conservative political beliefs, and thinking life in Britain is getting worse’. Thinking? Thinking?’ Maybe not if you live in places in London but London is not the UK. He also talks about voters feeling left behind in modern Britain but he keeps repeating the word feeling as if to emphasize that that is all it is.
    In the end he postulates that there could only have been two possible reasons for voters wanting to leave the UK – Primacy of the Nation State or Scapegoating the EU. Of course no other possible reason could have been possible. This reminds me of the joke that there are two sorts of people in the world – those that divide people up into two sorts and those that don’t!
    His two suggestions to counteract these voters is to channel popular protests against another target (now where have we seen that one before? ) or to address economic and social exclusion which he admits is a daunting challenge (and why, pray tell, is this so?).
    I have a suggestion here that may help the good assistant Professor. How about he takes a class of economic students and himself INDIVIDUALLY to those areas that voted most heavily to leave the EU and live there for a month. For money they would receive what the unemployed receive in the UK which I read is £51.85 per week for those aged 16-24, and £65.45 for those aged over 25 (for the professor). They are to have no contact or help whatsoever from family, friends colleagues whatsoever. They will have to survive in those area on that money and are to talk to different people in conversation (NOT interviews) every day about what life is like there and how it has changed over the years. In particular, they must talk to much older people who have seen the changes happen and not just mix with people their own age just because they are more comfortable doing so. Finally, no twitter, Facebook, Snapchat for that month as that would only serve to keep them in the London bubble. After the month is over, each student is to write an individual report on what they found and the good professor can collate the results using his recently acquired insight into what they are talking about. Yeah, never going to happen but I am sure that you would agree that it would be a fascinating experiment.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      While I would not dispute economic anger, the problem with this argument is that the vote did not in fact strongly correlate with income or poverty. The poorest parts of the UK, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, were strongly remain (despite the DUP calling for a Brexit vote in NI). The Brexit vote was particularly strong in the prosperous counties of southern England. Merseyside and Greater Manchester voted remain. A simple look at a map of the vote shows a correlation with a specifically English nationalism.

      1. The Rev Kev

        I think that there is more to it than English nationalism, much more. Take a look at the page at called “A portrait of Europe’s white working class” and reflect that this article was written way back in 2014. I wonder how they voted in the Brexit.
        If you are taking away a people’s identity – and no, I am not talking about nationalism – in the end you must offer them something of value and I do not simply mean cash. That article describes exactly where I think LSE students should spend some time in.

        1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

          Scotland has always looked towards Europe to a large extent, it is even apparent in their adoption of Northern European architecture & through the SNP they had an outlet for discontent in their ” Little Scotland ” version of UKIP which was & is pro-EU.

          My experience in Northern Ireland informs we that as is usually the case the vote was the usual tribal affair, which makes me wonder how it might have gone but for the Sinn Fein U-turn on the EU, from a No to Lisbon treaty to No for Brexit.

          As for Greater Manchester & Liverpool, the working poor have gradually been eased out of these centres to be replaced by gentrified areas created under New Labour as part of Urban Re-generation schemes, which as with the majority of their change the world schemes were total failures in terms of their benefits to the working class.

          1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

            Another aspect that might have some distorting effect on the map in terms of those former industrial population areas around the cities in the Midlands & North West who were between 50-60 % for Brexit is the fact that they are the areas that have taken the full brunt of immigration policies particularly through New Labour, where the immigrant Remain vote would have likely been high.

            I would suggest that the largest cities would be diluted versions of London.

          2. makedoanmend

            Hello EDSP,

            I really don’t think SF’s Brexit stance can be seen as U-Turn about the EU. Their objections to the Lisbon Treaty were complex but certainly didn’t represent a desire to leave the EU. (Like many, they are very wary of certain facets of the EU but Brexit seems to be changing the dynamics for entire political spectra in Europe.) EU integration, on the other hand, is an inherent feature of the peace process due to the border, and so UK departure from integration obviously threatens the very nature of process – hence why SF was completely against Brexit.

            Whilst the Brexit vote certainly followed traditional blocs to a certain extent, the final Remain votes of 55.8% certainly outweighs a sectarian headcount where nationalists make up c. 45% of the electorate. So a significant percentage of the non-nationalist voted to remain as well.

            As othesr have said, it was the non-nationalists farmers who voted for Brexit that just boggles the mind. Their subsidies from the EU are important income, and they voted the money away. Astonishing.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              The DUP’s support for Brexit was almost certainly due to the leadership being offered a large pot of money to do so. Even so, a large chunk of their supporters don’t seem to have taken their advice.

              Sinn Fein have not been anti Europe for decades. They are part of the Europe United Left-Nordic Greens alliance in the European Parliament, which includes parties such as Podemos and Syrza. This group is generally pro-Europe (but highly critical) but anti the neo lib and neocon tendency in Europe. They’ve been part of this grouping for years, its not a new alignment.

              In nationalist areas there was active Brexit campaigning by left wing Trotskyist groups (PBPA), arguing for a ‘Lexit’. In the subsequent elections, they lost all but one of their seats which indicates exactly what working class Belfast and Derry people thought of that idea.

                1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

                  I stand corrected, but I do know a couple of ” Shinners ” who perhaps mirror the lunacy elsewhere who thought that Brexit might be a good idea but voted as per usual & I wonder how the vote might have gone if that had been the policy of Sinn Fein.

                  Tis a mad, mad world.

                  1. PlutoniumKun

                    Shinners opposed Brexit because in the short term its a disaster for NI, but were happy Brexiteers won, precisely because it has opened up a huge opportunity to tear the UK apart and promote a united Ireland. In this they had a lot in common with the SNP and quite a few elements of the British Labour Party who all saw an opportunity in Brexit, so long as it was seen as the fault of the Tories.

                    The big problem for Sinn Fein is that the Dublin government resolutely refuses to engage on NI for fear of encouraging SF. The Dublin government is doing everything they can to take the obvious option of a new constitutional order whereby NI stays in the EU off the table. If FF/SF were to take power in the next election, then the situation would change radically, although it would probably be too late by then.

    2. Yves Smith

      You need to be careful about being dismissive. Did you forget that the Tories, and Boris Johnson specifically, didn’t want Leave to win? The referendum was just gambit in an intra-party power struggle. But Boris is perfectly capable of advocating for something he didn’t want for his own purposes, and then out of ego and opportunism, sticking with it? I should know the name, but there is a cognitive bias that included when attorneys represent parties they are pretty sure are guilty. In coming up with arguments as to why they should not be convicted, they come to believe their client is innocent. That is not rational yet is part of what is at work here.

      Similarly, I believe it was Clive yesterday described how farmers who clearly benefitted from EU subsidies voted Leave. They didn’t have great reasons except they didn’t like EU regulations. The problem is that if they are going to continue to sell their product to the EU, they still have to conform to most if not all of those regs.

  8. Anna Zimmerman

    Wow, so many crass generalizations, so little time to debunk them! Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, I second you all.

  9. P Fitzsimon

    Brexit could also be attributed to a simple size argument. The larger the population over which a governing body presides, the more remote and less democratic it feels. I think sheer size has contributed to at least some of the political malaise here in the U.S. We started out with about 35000 people per federal representative and we’re now at 710000. Transportation and communication may have greatly improved but we’re also much more diverse in economics, religion and politics even within states and regions. We’re not a nation of farmers and merchants any longer.

    1. JTMcPhee

      To state the numeric relationship between “federal representatives” and the polity more honestly, I doubt that said “electeds” actually respond to more than a hundred or so of that 710,000. Certainly no more, when it comes to legislating and regulating “policy.”

  10. Mattski

    One of the mistakes pollsters (and their readers) oddly make is assuming that they have uncovered “the reason(s)” for people’s votes or attitudes, even as the continuing and periodic nature of polling makes clear that attitudes shift, and people’s reasons ARE MULTIPLE. It’s perfectly plausible to both think that open borders (globalizing corporatism) AND certain elements of the immigrant community are the cause of (many of) one’s economic or social problems AND–for that matter–to know full well that your parliamentary and party masters, now urging you to go or stay, arranged this state of affairs in the first place. Analysts high above the fray continually and rather stupidly seek single causes when they are multiple and shifting. Mrs. Winslow of Haddock Street may both quietly reflect on the drop in local real estate values as more poor immigrants come to inhabit her neighborhood–simply want DONE with such a situation, feel somewhat invaded–AND have plenty of sympathy for both individual immigrants of her acquaintance and immigrants as a group. Her vote may be both anti-immigrant in one of a thousand nuanced ways (some racist) and economic. How many of us have quietly despised poor whites while also acknowledging that the dwindlign white liberal middle class, in all its ideological muddle and hypocrisy, is less and less likely to change or fix anything by itself? Our problem, with all due respect to Mr. Strethner and everyone else, is that we spend a lot more time seeking causes in such hamstrung, still highly un-nuanced fashion, than militating for solutions. There’s at least a little money in it. Otherwise, we are left noting our sophisticated reasons for giving up paying work on internet message boards. :)

  11. Sound of the Suburbs

    I voted Brexit.

    Neo-liberal globalisation stinks.

    I liked the EU once and thought it bought a left wing balance to the right wing UK.

    It’s behaviour since 2008 has opened my eyes to the neo-liberal monster at it’s core.

    It was time to get out.

    I am probably not a stereo-typical Brexit voter, I did it on principle.

  12. Alex Morfesis

    Get out now or drown later…the eu system has no problem allowing the french a parallel currency with its african french franc run by the french treasury, but the others had to disengage from anything that smelled of guvmint support (ellas had to let Olympic airlines fall away because rules…)

    Italy will not heel like a good puppy to the political needs of germany, france and madrid, so…

    if not today, certainly in our lifetime the euro will join the latin franc (LMU) in the dustbin of history…

    On paper it will be somewhat (ok..very) painful for the uk and its citizens…, but the euro will fall into an Argentine cycle of hanging on and looking pretty and imagining what might have been had it could have been…

    And schauble gets to have the history books proclaim how things would have been different if he had just lived to 100…

  13. DanieldeParis

    Thanks for discussing this obvious issues. Work markets are – to some extent – markets indeed.

    Sure work is not a product. Not even a service. It’s a complex human relations with embedded fabric of social roles, power structures and more. But work markets are markets. As such, they react to significantly to migration.

    Thanks Yves for her clarity on these matters. Globalization played its role in containing CPI inflation worldwide. Globalized job markets also played their role here. This is NOT a political/ideological issue per se.

    1. Synoia

      Globalization played its role in containing CPI inflation worldwide.

      Really? Please explain when.

      The ’70s inflation was mostly the cost of energy working its way through a complex political system. Since that time it seems “trade” and “competitiveness” are used as a club to beat down the citizenry’s wages.

      When I first read about “trade” I wondered at the time how citizens were to be protected from slave-like conditions, having lived in several 3rd world countries, understanding that “union benefits” were not available in those countries, and would be used as a cost disadvantage against workers, citizens that is, in the more developed countries.

      I now believe the term “regression to the mean” applied to wages from employment is both more regressive and vastly more mean than I understood.

  14. Sound of the Suburbs

    When Central Banker’s don’t know what they are doing you are in trouble, and they don’t.

    Things blew up in 2008 and austerity has been fuelling populism.

    Making a right pig’s ear of it with the world’s major central bankers.

    Central bankers may come and go but the data remains for further analysis.

    Mark Blythe has been looking at the data for the Euro-zone when Trichet was in charge of the ECB.

    It’s not good.

    Richard Werner was in Japan around 1989 when its economy blew up.

    He has done a thorough investigation and again the BoJ’s role comes up smelling of something most unpleasant.

    He has recorded his investigation in a book “Princes of the Yen”.

    The data indicates the FED and BoE don’t know what they are doing.

    The US:

    1929 and 2008 stick out like sore thumbs.

    The UK:

    The real estate and financial speculation economy is unsustainable due to the build up of unproductive lending in the economy.

    China’s central banker has just spotted the coming Minsky moment.
    The BIS and Steve Keen saw it a long time ago.

    Richard Koo “Surviving in the Intellectually Bankrupt Monetary Policy Environment”

    He studied Japan after 1989.

    The IMF predicted Greek GDP would have recovered by 2015 with austerity.
    By 2015 it was down 27% and still falling.

    What did our mainstream, neoclassical economists get wrong this time Richard?
    They pushed Greece into debt deflation as their economics ignores the effects of private debt.

    He has explained things to the IMF.

    “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein.

    He’s right you know.

    They need to be up to date with the latest thinking and people have been learning a lot from their mistakes.

  15. marku52

    Excellent comment from Pete North, a Brexiter who recognizes its going to be a disaster. This is specifically in response to a Spectator article filled with happy talk about a hard Brexit.

    “The time and effort required to refute bullshit is a magnitude larger than it takes to produce it.”

    “Pascal Lamy, former World Trade Organization director-general, has said “The fundamental difference between the UK vision of what this is about and the Franco-German view is that the British still think this is a negotiation. It is not a negotiation. It is a process to be managed to minimise harm. It involves adjusting.” Of the UK he said “They still seem to believe they can buy something with the money they have to pay. The truth is there is nothing to discuss. The only question is how much do you owe”.

    Seems about right.

    1. Troutwaxer


      UK: Discover that Brexit is a Russian plot, like how Trump got elected. Hold a new referendum then go to Brussels and casually say, “Brexit? What Brexit?

      EU: Watch “War of the Roses” carefully. Pay very careful attention to the final scene in the movie. Remember that even if you have every advantage in the upcoming divorce, your spouse just might claim you sexually abused the children. Furthermore, she will be talking about you for the next fifty years (or 500 years since we’re discussing nations,) that you’ll be seeing her every time your kids get married or graduate college, and that getting back that box of your father’s mementos you left in her attic ten years ago is much easier if you’ve been nice to her.

  16. marku52

    As an American shocked but not really surprised by Trump, I think a lot of the reasoning for Brexit was the same as for Trump.

    “I’m sick of being lied to about the so-called benefits of globalization and uncontrolled immigration. And when I complain about it, I get called an ignorant Luddite racist or worse.”

    “So Eff You.”

    As Chris Arnade calls it, “A volatility voter.”
    Of course the fact that the Brexiteers and Trump both lied freely about what could actually be accomplished (“You’ll get tired of winning! It will be GREAT!) and (300 million pounds freed up for the NHS!) is just the icing on the turd cake for all concerned.

  17. Darthbobber

    A couple of thoughts.
    Immigration can’t be treated in a standalone fashion, because whether this is “managed” in anything like a democratic way or whether whoever is the most vulnerable is left to bear whatever costs and dislocations there are matters.

    Age: You can’t really sell aspirational politics and “bright, future” (always future) jobs to people over 50. All that mobility blather clearly isn’t intended to apply to them and they know it perfectly well.

    Also, when the economy is increasingly cleaving into a two-tier system, its easier to convince far more of the young that the sorting process will eventually put them in the upper tier than are actually going to end up there.
    (eg, a great many of the people I knew in college bought the Reaganite premises, and believed that they would be the ones with the awesome careers. 5 or 6 believed that for every one it actually happened for.)

    As life goes on, the sorting has already happened for you, so its a little harder to market that part of the bill of goods to you.

    Less flattering to us olds: This is the group where the reading of the tabloids is at its peak. So older age groups got a much higher dose of hard Brexit propaganda.

    Unrelated: Did the positively hysterical fashion in which the Remain campaign was run possibly contribute to its failure? Both in terms of the end of the world apocalypse they kept trotting out(and bad as it will probably be, it will not by itself rise to that level), and the use of bullying and namecalling as a main (if not THE main) technique to get possible Leave voters back on the Remain train?

    1. makedoanmend

      Very interesting observations Darthbobber. They are certainly worth delving into and researching the data (if available) for those so inclined. There could be some very useful insights gleaned that could possibly enlighten us about other political phenomena.

      I don’t know if I’d characterise the Remain campaign as “hysterical”, but instead as negative and fairly inept – a sort of arrogance combined with ‘caught in the head lights’ syndrome.

      On the other hand, the clear and calm message of say the NHS £350 wheeze by Brexiteers worked wonders. Too bad it ain’t true.

      So, there we have it, inept arrogance versus inept lies – and now inept all the way down.

  18. Roderick Oates

    I would probably fall into the category of ill-educated, working class male. I voted remain. Which kind of flies in the face of much of your deliberations. I am a member of a trade union because I feel union is a fine word for the people being represented.
    The EU never really made known its work to the people of Britain. An oversight I believe. The governments of Britain used their regulation to introduce legislation from Westminster. One piece of such regulation ran to 4 paragraphs in Europe. Here it ran to forty pages. It was part of agricultural policy, so the farmers disregarded it. They predominantly voted to leave to now find their CAP payments threatened. This is as good an indication of British people today as I can manage.
    Can any of you expain the reason for this?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      In my experience there was a particular reluctance in the UK at all levels to give any credit to the EU. Its a natural reflex of politicians to claim credit for anything positive and blame ‘someone above’ for anything negative, and this always worked against the EU. It was easy to blame EU ‘red tape’ and not mention that the EU regulation was replacing 27 other national rules with just one easy to understand one. The EU would sometimes try to promote itself – taking action against the EU over failures to implement the Bathing Water Directive in the 1980’s was deliberately populist. But that backfired on the people of the UK as it gave Thatcher the excuse to privatise water companies as she refused to fund the upgrades needed.

      The UK government was also adept at blaming the EU for their own policies. An obvious example was that it was the UK which pushed particularly hard for eastern European countries to join the EU quickly, and pushed for open migration. When east European workers then flowed into Britain it was then somehow the EU’s fault.

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