I first heard of "Brexit" from John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, where he urged UK voters not to leave the EU, citing false motivations used to promote the Brexit. Proponents of a Brexit claimed that:

  • the UK was paying £350 million each week to, but which could be avoided by leaving, the EU. John Oliver claimed that the UK would still have nearly the same expenditure if they weren't part of the EU.

  • leaving the EU would free them from many EU rules and regulations. John Oliver claimed that the UK would still have to follow EU rules and regulations, to trade with the EU market.

He cited many cons to the Brexit, and discounted many pros used to promote the Brexit. Nevertheless, the UK voted for the Brexit. So I'm curious, what were the other political motivations cited by proponents for the Brexit?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 14:30
  • So, Judging by the comments, It's clear that this is a question about "Secret motivations". We do not have an objective way to determine what the secret motivations are, so this question is primarily opinion based. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 14:39
  • @SamIam While we cant define a specific person or organization's literal "personal" motivation, we can define a fundamental political motivation. Brexit was a movement, for which there were many fundamental motivations expressed publicly by the people who voted for it. They weren't secret. I dont live in he UK so I couldn't know them, but the answer with 35 votes below highlights them nicely.
    – J.Todd
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 18:32

6 Answers 6


Brexit is a complicated beast that has as diverse a set of motivations as there are supporters of it. Some of the more impactful ones (in no particular order):

  • Border Controls/Immigration - As a member of the EU, the UK is obligated to accept without reservation any person from another EU member state wishing to move to the UK to live, work, study, or retire (otherwise known as "Freedom of Movement", protected by Article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). This was not agreeable for some in Britain, and it became exacerbated in the wake of high unemployment in the post 2008/2009 global recession and Syrian refugee crisis, which caused many to seek jobs in the UK (where unemployment is much lower, around 5%). Supporters of Brexit argued this takes away jobs from UK citizens, and deflates wages as immigrants agree to lesser wages.
  • Bureaucracy - Many Brexit supporters argue against having to answer to bureaucrats they did not elect in Brussels (home of the EU), and that the extra red tape hampers the ability of smaller UK businesses to grow and create jobs.
  • Contribution to EU - The UK contributes more to the EU in funds that it receives back. In 2015, the net contribution (amount given to EU - rebates back) was estimated to be £8.4 billion. Supporters of Brexit argue this money (sometimes using the gross contribution number instead of net) would be better spent within the UK instead of being given to Brussels.
  • Populism - Similar to the movements spurring the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the USA, some supporters of Brexit viewed it as an opportunity to attack the political elites/experts, to whom resentment has grown since the 2008/2009 global recession and its subsequent recovery, which has tended to favor the upper echelons of society over the middle and working classes. These supporter saw Brexit as a way to signal to the government they were not to be ignored.
  • Opposition to Globalization - Tying in with the above, globalization has caused the loss of many industrial jobs that once supported the working class to other nations/automation. Some supporters of Brexit viewed the referendum as an opportunity to voice their displeasure with this trend to the political elite. Opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and USA would fall here as well, as the UK if a member of the EU could not reject it if approved by the majority of EU member states.
  • 4
    Isn't sovereignty also a major issue? The BBC seems to think so. (And if I were British, it would likely have been my biggest concern.) Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 1:31
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    Please explain how the Syrian refugee crisis is related to freedom of movement, which applies only to EU citizens.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 15:33
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    @ScottSeverance As long as the UK can decide at any moment to leave the EU, it is already sovereign.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 15:34
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    @gerrit: If the UK is obligated to implement in its law decisions in Brussels which it may disagree with, that isn't really sovereignty, is it? (By your definition, the Canadian provinces are also sovereign, since they have a recognized right of seccession. And Scotland is already sovereign, since they have the right to an independence vote, although their Parliament is subject to the whims of the Westminster parliament.) Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 1:06
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    @ScottSeverance As was pointed out by the great European enthusiast Lord Heseltine, no country has "sovereign control over its affairs" (except perhaps North Korea). Especially since the arrival of globalisation, we all form part of a world village, regulated by a panoply of international bodies, UN, IMF, WHO,WTO etc, and numerous treaty alliances. But far more relevant than any loss of national sovereignty is the fact that a Referendum has driven a ten-ton truck through the sovereignty of Parliament. As Thatcher pointed out referendums are the tools of dictators and demagogues.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 14:53

As a leave voter myself, who doesn't fit in with the stereotypical demographic, I am putting my faith in the elected government to run our country completely. I expect the economy to be hit slightly in the very short term, but as what we need in trade deals with the EU is reciprocal I believe we are better off in the medium to long term by taking control of our own sovereignty again.

I am 26, Male with a University Degree and a skilled profession.

I voted to leave the EU because (No particular order):

  • Erosion of National Identity caused by large immigration levels that have dramatically changed my local area and lots of EU Directives that affect my everyday life for the negative.
  • The issue linked to the above of Immigration, is not an issue with individual migrants who are looking to improve their circumstances; but because of the nature of Free Movement, extreme pressure exists on Public Services because the government is unable to plan services. School Places, NHS Waiting Lists, Home purchasing are under extreme pressure. You can argue that the Government should fund these services more, but we are in dire financial times and what the Government needs to do is PLAN these services which we cannot do in the EU.
  • Countries are in competition with each other and the EU is funding countries who operate in the UK to move their operations to other poorer EU countries, such as Mondelez international moving Cadbury production out of the UK to Poland: funded by our own money!
  • We give a large sum of our money to the EU, who keeps a lot of it to spend elsewhere in the EU and tells us where we have to spend the other half (Generally accepted to be half of our contribution returned). When we spend the other half of OUR money, we have to stick EU flags up all over the place to laud the EU for its achievement of spending OUR money on priorities that are not our own.
  • Too many areas controlled by the EU that are sovereign issues. Border Controls being the most widely acknowledged.
  • Closer Integration within Europe threatening my way of life. The EU is pursuing and is open about pursuing issues such as an EU Army, Closer Integration (Favouring those who use the Euro), failing one-size-for-all approach which has failed many southern EU countries.
  • Too much meddling in every day life in areas I don't want, from forcing me to buy specific lightbulbs for example or affecting industry and sticking their flag wherever the sun shines, on cars, products, landmarks, parks etc. You are ALWAYS within 100 metres of a dozen EU flags in Britain.
  • Lack of Influence: We give up our G7 Seat to the EU. In addition: "The lack of influence is quite marked. Over the past twenty years… there have been 72 occasions in the Council of Ministers where the United Kingdom has opposed a particular measure. Of those 72 occasions, we have been successful precisely 0 times and we have lost 72 times."
  • Racist EU immigration policy means we are FORCED to have as many unskilled people as reach our border from the EU, but we are forced to limit those from outside of the EU who have the skills our economy needs.
  • Unsustainable models - 42 percent of the whole EU budget is allocated to CAP - which in effect is funding an industry that works in a free market but does not contribute to a free market, this is protectionist and unsustainable, without it some farms may go bust, work to make them cost efficient instead by deregulating instead of handing over vast sums of money to keep them operating. CAP is also unfairly distributed to countries with a higher level of farming such as France, meaning we are paying our money to be able to spend our money on produce from other countries...
  • We are unable to sign trade deal with other countries including emerging markets, because the EU has this right, not us. The EU is disastrously slow in negotiating these deals, and they fit the one sized approach meaning we don't get the deals our economy needs.
  • Lack of EU ability to change, our PM went to the EU to resolve Freedom of Movement which is an issue encompassing multiple points in my answer; but the EU would not change to remove any of the issues listed here. Our PM was forced to come back with a watered-down renegotiation that changed too little. All EU countries must agree, which means the EU is slow to move and can be held up by a single country. This is why the EU wastes so much money moving the EU parliament to France all the time, because France vetoes a change in this policy, so lots of money and time is wasted over protectionism.
  • TTIP threatens to privatise our NHS and allows US corporations to sue national governments, I believe this will be adopted by the EU soon.
  • 4
    Do you have a source for this - "Racist EU immigration policy means we are FORCED to have as many unskilled people as reach our border from the EU, but we are forced to limit those from outside of the EU who have the skills our economy needs." Does the EU actually place a limit on non-EU immigration?
    – davidjwest
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 11:51
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    @davidjwest No, the EU has no influence on that whatsoever. That is far from the only lie in this past, which reads like typical Brexit FUD.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 15:36
  • 3
    The EU doesn't have any say on external migration - they have their say on Internal Migration which discriminates in favour of EU citizens over non EU citizens. If you would like a source I can point you to an official UK Government statement. "The Government believes that the UK can benefit from migration but not uncontrolled migration. We are delivering a more selective immigration system that works in the national interest." - petition.parliament.uk/petitions/118060 Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 21:26
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    "Uncontrolled, mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on public services and can drive down wages for people on low incomes. In the past it has been too easy for employers to bring in workers from overseas, rather than to take the long-term decision to train our workforce here at home." - This is what we have with the EU. Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 21:27
  • 6
    @TomMcClean Almost everything you say Tom is deeply flawed. Take it from one who has been around for a few decades (I'm 71). Before Britain entered the EU in the early 1970s we were an economic basket case. In 1976 we had to go cap in hand to the IMF. Joining the EU has saved our economy and our way of life - as it has done for all the other countries who are members. The Leave vote is the most pathetic example of throwing in the towel that I have ever witnessed British people take. Thank goodness that most youngsters of our country see the way ahead clearly. WE WILL BE BACK.
    – WS2
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 15:02

I'm a professional and an immigrant in Cambridge, UK, here is my take on the reasons for Brexit

  1. There has been a loss of national control. The EU is not listening to national parliaments and moving forward with further integration while most do not want it.
  2. The EU acts as a gravy-train for its employees. I personally know people working in Paris who pay no tax because they work for the EU. It is in the interest of EU workers, bureaucrats and politicians to enlarge the EU but not the wish of many nation states, (see Ireland votes no to Nice).
  3. The EU world is stable and stable is boring to some, especially if their personal circumstances are not good, boring job, housing, etc. Some people like to shake things up.
  4. There has been hysteria about immigration in the UK. As stated, I work in Cambridge where there is a shortage of professional workers. Not everyone in the UK wants to be an engineer/ scientist, Geordie Shore seems a more popular career choice for some. You would think, listening to the debate, there were bands of immigrants roaming the country when in fact there are not.
  5. The English have lost a sense of national identity. They associate with the notion of wearing knickerbockers and a hankie on your head in Blackpool or somewhere like that, even though the English themselves don't want to do that any more, the English would rather go to Cyprus, vomit all over themselves and get a venereal disease. That is what they want to do in the 21st century but there is a notion that being English is holidaying on a stony beach and outsiders wouldn't want to do that.
  6. The belief that the EU is costing the UK money.

It's a hodgepodge of emotions with a mixture of economics, nationalism and fantasy at the core.

We live in interesting times.

  • 2
    great answer ! But I think you were for Remain, were you not ?
    – Gautier C
    Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 8:51
  • Perhaps they are afraid of “professional immigrants”, i.e. people who make a profession of immigrating (like you?). It seems to make as much sense as their other arguments.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 23:17
  • @GautierC I'm pretty much on the fence. I think it is sad UK voted to leave but IMHO there are valid reasons. I think it was a mistake to leave and the referendum needed a third option.
    – SeanJ
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 0:34
  • @PJTraill I have edited to correct. I work as an engineer. My story is long and complicated and outside the scope of this arena, suffice to say Only started working for UK companies this year, 2016.
    – SeanJ
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 0:36
  • @SeanJ There are always valid reasons, because a system is never perfect. There were valid reasons to remain too, and not only economical ones. But np, we will see what will happen !
    – Gautier C
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 6:19

Proponents of a Brexit claimed that the UK was paying a large sum of money each week, which could be avoided by leaving the EU. John Oliver claimed that the UK would still have nearly the same expenditure if they weren't part of the EU.

True, the EU is giving a lot in terms of financial aid (agriculture, education, etc...) to the UK. At the same time, the UK is giving a lot of money to the EU, that is true. Without or with the EU, that won't change.

Proponents of a Brexit claimed that leaving the EU would free them from many EU rules and regulations. John Oliver claimed that the UK would still have to follow EU rules and regulations in order to do trade with the EU market.

Also true; that is why the EU is working on a treaty with USA, Canada, and so on for their products, since a lot don't respect the EU norms. If the UK wants to exchange products with the EU, everything would have to follow EU regulations; same goes for fishing, etc.

So then, why the Brexit? There are several reasons; the first one is to pressure Brussels by showing that the people of the UK are not really satisfied with the current state of the EU (A lot of countries are not, in fact). A short victory for "Remain" would have given a lot of political strength to Mr Cameron in Brussels, which would have enabled him to negotiate a lot of advantages (economic, political) for the UK.

Inside the UK, the idea was to give political trust to Mr Cameron, since he was in a bad situation. Too bad, he has to resign; the bet was fine, but he lost.

UKIP lied to a lot of people who trusted the party until the end, and now the leader of this party is saying he can't keep his promises. That will maybe end up with a political mess in the UK right now.


Opposition to British membership of the European Union primarily came from two groups:

  • members of the white working class who had found their wages undercut and their access to housing, education, medical care, and other facilities diminished by competition with rising numbers of immigrants;

  • "Eurosceptics" who objected to the European Union on constitutionalist grounds. These came from both the left and right wings of the political spectrum.

  • 1
    I think "perceived" would be better than "found" in the first point, because at least some of those are debatable. E.g. with respect to medical care, the burden on the NHS is also lightened by freedom of movement, because of the many retirees living in places like Spain and using local healthcare rather than the NHS. Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 7:37
  • 1
    I certainly don't deny that benefits to immigration exist. Nor do I deny that some of them accrue to the working class. Nonetheless I'm sticking with my original wording for now. The wages of low-skilled workers will go down if there are more of them competing. That's just supply and demand, as acknowledged on 3rd March in his testimony to a Parliamentary Select Committee by Stuart Rose, the chairman of the Remain campaign group "Britain in Europe". Low-skilled workers have experienced static or declining wages. Countervailing economic advantages to immigration does not make this untrue. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 6:33
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    [continued from previous post] And the widespread working class experience of declining wages due to competition from immigrants was one of the motivations that led many to vote for Leave, which was what the question asked for, rather than for arguments as to whether Leave or Remain was correct overall. Similar arguments would apply to the NHS or housing. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 6:38

Many of us didn't really know much about what was going on. We understood that it was a case of leave or remain, and a lot of people considered this to mean that we either had more of the same or something different. People are in the mood for something different now.

It was also a sunny day, which tends to make people feel happy and optimistic about things.

I went campaigning with Labour the day before the vote and TBH I didn't really know myself, except that Labour were supporting remain. When people on the doorstep saw that they tended to talk to me honestly and they usually said something similar.

People don't know what it means. If there's something written down and it changes then they'll just accept what they are told has changed after the vote.

We aren't doing very well in this country right now. We just want things to be different.

  • 1
    This would be a better answer if it included polls or other objective research indicating that other people shared your views. This is just an anecdote--possibly from someone who voted Remain.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 0:21
  • @Brythan The polls let us down over the last (UK general) election...
    – user8619
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 9:27
  • 1
    A sunny day? Some polling stations were relocated due to flooding!
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 14:39

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