Immigration fears boost Brexit vote
LONDON - Immigration fears played a big part in the British voters’ decision to leave the European Union, with a large majority of those who voted in favour of Brexit saying control of borders was a primary factor in their decision.
The referendum was won by the Leave campaign with 51.9% of the vote, with the Remain campaign securing 48.1%. Voter turnout stood at 72.2%.
Polls were evenly split in the run-up to the referendum, which led to David Cameron announcing his resignation as prime minister. The Leave campaign received a significant boost in May after government figures showed net migration to Britain reached 330,000 in 2015, up 20,000 from 2014.
Cameron had promised to bring net migration down to less than 100,000 but the May figures helped cement the view among many British voters that the country had to leave the European Union to control immigration.
“The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected. The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered,” Cameron said in announcing he would leave the Conservative Party leadership in October.
Fears of more mass migration to Britain raised even further in the week of the referendum after the Leave campaign warned the prospect of Turkey joining the European Union would mean tens of millions of Turkish workers seeking jobs across Europe.
Europe is facing a major refugee crisis. The United Nations announced that the number of people — 65.3 million — displaced by conflict is at the highest level in history. While the millions of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and other conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East and North Africa seeking asylum in Europe are not formally covered by EU free-movement rules, this influx raised fears about migration and led to an increase of xenophobic sentiment in Britain and beyond.
A Leave campaign leaflet, which warned of the effects of Turkey’s EU membership, came under criticism for prominently highlighting Turkey’s proximity to Iraq and Syria. The leaflet was criticised as racist and Islamophobic by the Remain campaign, which called it “dog-whistle politics”, using coded language to implicitly raise specific issues.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by high-profile Leave campaigner Nigel Farage, came under criticism for a campaign poster that depicted a long line of refugees under the words “Breaking point” and called for Britain to “take back control of its borders”.
There are fears that Brexit could lead to other EU members having referendums and potentially end the EU project. Far-right Eurosceptic parties in France, the Netherlands and Austria have called for similar votes for their countries following the British referendum.
“The vote puts the EU in difficulties. It must recognise its shortfalls. A jolt is necessary. Europe must reaffirm its values of freedom, solidarity, peace. The EU must be understood and controlled by its citizens,” French President François Hollande said after the vote.