By Vexen Crabtree 2018
Of the registered electorate of UK nationals, 72.15% voted in the EU referendum1. In general, one third didn't vote, one third voted Remain and one third voted Leave. Between the two active camps, 16 141 241 people voted Remain, and 17 410 742 voted to Leave2 the EU; it was a very close vote, with Leave winning by 2%. Government and news sources often looked at the 35:37 split and scaled it up, misleadingly saying that 52% voted leave3,1 and that this was 'the will of the people', hiding the fact that only 37% voted to Leave. To say "will of the people" is baseless nonsense.
The number of "not registered" was calculated by taking the Office National Statistics UK population for mid-20164, and subtracting the number of registered voters. This includes children and other UK nationals who were ineligible to vote. Nearly everyone agrees that for voting statistics, it is only sensible to visualize possible voters.
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". Since then, it has often been forgotten just how divided the electorate were.
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 him5. 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 with6. A month into talks, and Mr Barnier is still trying to ascertain what the UK's stance is on most issues7. 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 own8. 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. Most of the prominent "Brexiteers" have themselves exited the scene9, 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 EU10. 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 UK11,12.
Many argue (wrongly) that the result of the referendum must be implemented by the Government. Some also argue that a second referendum on the details of the Brexit arrangement should not be held, because the results of the first one means that the Government must accept whatever outcome we are faced with - no matter how destructive. These arguments are poorly thought out, but, there is a good counter-argument.
If you believe that we must accept the results of the Referendum, then, so be it: By a clear margin, the will of people was discovered in 1975, when we voted (by more than two to one) to Remain in the European Community.
Current edition: 2018 May 06
Last Modified: 2018 Jul 31
Parent page: UK Brexit from the EU: Disorganized, Unclear and Unprepared
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The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
The Daily Express. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Right-wing newspaper.
(2017 Jul 05) `Bloody difficult´ Britain has already blown its chances of a good deal from the EU27. Date last accessed 2017 Jul 27. Published by the London School of Economics. Steve Bullock was the UK's official negotiator and UK Representative to the EU from 2010-2014 and has also worked for the European Commission. An article.
Butler & Kitzinger
(1976) The 1975 Referendum. Published by The Macmillan Press Ltd. A paperback book.
(2017 Jul 20) Fail to prepare, prepare to gloriously succeed in Brexit negotiations. Date last accessed 2017 Jul 27. An Article in The Guardian.
(2017 Jun 14) Ready and waiting: How EU's negotiating team is primed for last minute U-turn on Brexit. Date last accessed 2017 Jul 27. Brussels correspondent. An Article in The Daily Express.
(2017 Mar 26) 9 Pro-Brexit Stories Since Proven To Be Utterly Inaccurate. Date last accessed 2018 Jun 12. An article.
(2017 Jul 26) Why we must stay in the European Atomic Energy Community. Date last accessed 2017 Jul 27. An Article in the magazine British Medical Journal.
(2017 Jul 26) Theresa May Is Hit by Another Resignation as Strategy Chief Quits. Date last accessed 2017 Jul 27. Published by Bloomberg's politics news feed. An article.