Janan Ganesh describes the UK as "reluctant Europeans"1,2. The UK has voted "no" to EU proposals more than anyone else since 20093. We dislike learning about the EU, we don't keep up to date on EU news4, the most prolific newspapers on the EU don't have correspondents in Brussels, and the UK is the least educated of all EU nations on the very basic facts about the EU5. We are "marked by misguided assumptions and missed opportunities"2. UK citizens' complaints about the EU are mostly based on misinformation, such as complaints about "health tourism"6. The UK has suffered from having a dominant right-wing popular press which has served to actively misinform the populace about Europe, and about the EU in particular - the faction led by Rupert Murdoch has been particularly influential7. The eventual result was the UK referendum on 2016 Jun 23 which saw "Brexit" votes narrowly outnumber those of "Remain", leading to the UK withdrawal from the EU.
The UK is infamous for "the opt-out"; two of the most significant being on the Euro and Schengen (open borders agreement)8,9. 'A protocol of the Lisbon Treaty insulates Britain from the effects of the Charter of Fundamental Rights'9 and 'on issues including foreign affairs, defence and policing the UK has a veto on policy'8. In fact: The UK has voted "no" more than any other government since 2009 (the previous record holder was Austria). Although we have been out-voted on 55 pieces of legislation from 1999 to 2014, it is worth noting that we have voted "yes" on 2466 policies in the same period. So the rate we have been denied what we wanted is actually very small - around 2%.3
In some areas, the UK is particularly aversive: "In the ten years from Amsterdam  onwards the number of UK opt-outs on Justice and Home Affairs measures was as big as the number of opt-ins", writes Gordon Brown10, a previous UK Prime Minister.
Because the UK (including many of its politicians) are so poorly involved in the EU there is much miscommunication and misinformation. On 2011 Dec 09 after a series of debates, the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron vetoed a proposed treaty on the Euro:
“"Nobody understood what Cameron wanted - nobody", said one diplomat from a central European country that might be considered a natural ally of the UK. [...] Britain will [now] be outside a new intergovernmental treaty which has the backing of the EU's 26 other member states. [...] Britain's isolation was the despair of those who want the country to fight its corner in protecting the single market.”
“The Tories began falling out of love with Europe more than 30 years ago when Margaret Thatcher demanded cuts in Britain's contribution to Brussels. Then came the Iron Lady's clashes with Jacques Delors, the head of the European Commission, a treaty on monetary union she always opposed and Britain's humiliating departure from the European exchange rate mechanism. [...]
As for the UK's partners - France as much as Germany, Italy alongside Ireland - their position is clear enough: they want Britain to stay, but if it seeks concessions that challenge the basic structure of the Union, it would be better for everyone if it left.”
The UK became increasingly awkward in the 2010s, with lots of generic talk of "seizing back powers" and "renegotiating the relationship with the EU" - but it transpired, not through the democratic means of the EU Parliament. UK Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that he'd simply veto (for example) any new treaty changes that involve tendering the Euro "unless he won back some powers"4.
“Mr Cameron's comments sparked dismay in Berlin, with Gunther Krichbaum, an ally of Ms Merkel from the Christian Democratic Union, accusing him of blackmailing other states. Ms Merkel also fears that Mr Cameron's plan to unpick existing policies could create a free-for-all, with France and other protectionist-minded countries trying to undo the rules governing the single market - the part of the EU that Mr Cameron likes most.”
As a result, this had the unfortunate effect of making the EU find ways to circumvent the UK by forming a core club of countries (including 8 non-Euro countries) that are interested in financial stability, and passing the treaty amongst themselves. The UK's influence declined further.
When the UK first joined the European Economic Community it was after much delay and worry, and resistance from of the other established countries. French president de Gaulle said in 1967 that the UK's entry to the EEC would cause "destructive upheavals" and "complete overthrow of its equilibrium"13 and that the UK showed a "deep-seated hostility" towards European integration and a "lack of interest" in the Common Market14. Although we proved the French wrong through making good contributions to the EU, it was accompanied by seemingly constant whinging and a failure to reign-in the counterproductive sensationalism and hate-mongering of the mainstream press - the faction led by Rupert Murdoch has been particularly influential7.
The initial debates sparked enough national interest for the referendum on continued membership in 1975 to fall confidently on the Remain side:
“When Britain first held a referendum in 1975 on whether to remain in the then European Economic Community, 67 per cent voted in favour. It seemed as though the agonising question of Britain's role in Europe had been permanently resolved. [...] David Watt, the FT's political editor at the time, argued that the 1975 vote - the most overwhelming expression of popular will in British electoral history - had banished the issue from the centre of British politics. As Watt reported, the result elicited an enthusiastic response from Britain's European partners, the US administration, the City of London, and British industry.”
John Thornhill, deputy editor Financial Times (2013)15
We, the UK, have led the EU on many issues, contributed constructively, and altered the course of many policies - "Mrs Thatcher was the champion of the single market" and "John Major led the charge for the Union's enlargement to include the post-Communist democracies"12. But the populace did not remain involved and although the politicians and enthusiasts knew what was going on, many others lost touch, especially amongst the underprivileged.
The UK population did not have enough realistic information about the EU to make an informed decision on whether they should vote Remain or Leave. The UK's citizens are the least knowledgeable about the EU out of all its members5 and has suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers with anti-EU agendas and little regard for balanced reporting16,17. Of those who voted in the Brexit vote, 70% of those with the worst education voted to Leave but amongst those with degree level education or higher, only 32% did18. The reason for this is that Brexit relied on short-sighted one-liner slogans, which appealed to the uneducated. Only now, in 2019, are there signs that we are beginning to tackle the details. At some point soon, it will be the right time for a referendum.
The Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings admitted in 2017 Feb that the public voted to exit the EU as a result of lies and misinformation19. The UK's House of Commons has found that the Vote Leave campaign involved "serious breaches" of campaign law20, especially "in their use of social media"21, and several key campaign groups (i.e. UKIP) were funded by Russian-interest groups. Likewise, anti-EU campaigners in the USA donated significant time and effort to the Leave campaign - contributing an equivalent value of millions of dollars - especially with regards to Steve Bannon and Arron Banks22. The illegal activities of Cambridge Analytica influenced an uncountable number of people with targeted misinformation, based on data obtained from a Facebook data breach. Vote Leave intentionally broke electoral law during its campaign when it donated hundreds of thousands of pounds in order to get around campaigning spending limits23 and Leave.EU has also been found in the central London county court of committing four electoral offences during their own campaign23. The online advertising gained through illegal overspending influenced "tens of millions" of people, and statistics show that it directly led to over 800,000 people changing their minds24. These illegal elements skewed the Brexit vote, made it invalid, and damaged UK democracy. The Remain campaign was more honest but it was very sparse, and the mass media chose to only pick up on the disreputable "project fear" element (knee-jerk claims that painted an unbelievably dystopian future if the UK left the EU). In total, the entire debate was poor quality and "a distinctly unpleasant affair"25 and lacked the calm rationality required for a referendum.
“Nigel Farage is infamous for his pointlessly rude and ignorant rants against EU politicians. In typically poor English - one of the traits he hates in foreigners - he told the entire EU parliament in 2016 that "I know that virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives, or worked in business, or worked in trade, or indeed ever created a job"26. But Farage's voting record is truly atrocious even on issues that directly affect the UK (even whilst claiming EU expenses and wages). For example, of 42 meetings of the EU Fisheries Committee he only turned up once, and in 2014 after he teamed with Marine Le Pen (from Front National, a right-wing nationalist party of France) to raise a motion of their own, he didn't even show up to vote for it27. It is intentional time-wasting. His embarrassing and ill-informed rants have cast the UK a poor light despite the efforts of our other (hard-working) MEPs in the EU Parliament.”
“The UK's population faced a referendum in June 2016 on membership of the EU. The results were very close, with Leave winning by just a 2% margin (37% Voted Leave, 35% Voted Remain), but many news (and government) outlets scale up the difference by ignoring the "don't knows", and citing "Leave" as "the will of the people"28.
Also in June 2016, the EU appointed Michel Barnier to lead a team of legal experts. A full year later, he complained that the UK had still not appointed a representative to talk to him29. The UK arrived late and unprepared for negotiations, and engaged in a series of embarrassing and harmful name-calling tactics, publicly insulting the very people they were trying to negotiate with30. A month into talks, and Mr Barnier is still trying to ascertain what the UK's stance is on most issues31. The UK government has been surprised by simple facts: It argued that Euratom's treaty only covers uranium even whilst its own scientific advisors cried out that hospitals need Euratom to source medical isotopes from Belgium, the Netherlands and France as the UK doesn't have the specialist nuclear reactors to make its own32. And as July 2017 drew to a close, the UK government finally thought to commission a year-long investigation on the economic and employment ramifications of losing EU workers. Most other responsible governments would have engaged in a fact-finding mission before making the most important decision made for 40 years. Even in 2019, when a last minute "here are the effects you need to prepare for" document was released, the title of the document was "[Insert title of report]".
Most of the prominent "Brexiteers" have themselves exited the scene33, leaving a void filled with politicians who are pursuing a policy they don't think is good for their own country.
But before the people rise up against all this disorganisation, it is worth noting that it is not just Conservative politicians who are uninformed about the EU; in 2016 researchers found that the UK's citizens were the least knowledgeable about the EU5. After the vote, humorously, data released by Google shows that ... well, the Washington Post summarized it the best: "The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it". The UK has suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers that have managed to misinform the masses on almost every aspect of EU involvement with the UK16,17.”