What are the consequences of the Brexit referendum on the relationship between European Union and United Kingdom?

di Chiara Verdone-

There is one thing you British will never understand: an idea. 

And there is one thing you are supremely good at grasping: a hard fact. 

We will have to build Europe without you; but then you will come in and join us”.

(Jean Monnet)

The international and English press have often written about an increase in the English Euroscepticism. Considering the speed to which the Eurosceptic party UKIP obtained supporters, reaching the 26,77% of the votes at the Parliament Election of 2014, and the Referendum’s result of 2016, in order to decide the possibility of withdrawal from the EU, it is possible to identify the UK as Eurosceptic.

The reasons of this Euroscepticism are based in the II World War, when the UK considered itself as a powerful country on the same level of URSS and USA. Since all the European countries were defeated, the relationship between USA and UK became more strengthen. Indeed, in the 50s, the English politicians did not showed interest for the European community project. Thinking to preserve its own economic interests, UK remained outside the European Economic Community (EECI), making a mistake.

Abandoning the negotiations on the EEC, the UK proposed to the Six to transform the entire Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in a common market, characterized from freedom of movement. In front of the decline to participate in this project, the UK decided to create an own zona of free trade, the “European Free Trade Association” (EFTA6). The differences between the EEC and the EFTA was clear since the beginning. Indeed, the EEC was a success while the EFTA did not have a success from an economic point of view because it produced benefits for the little State with a low rate while for the UK the benefits were modest. In 1960, the English Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, decided that to not enter in the EEC was a mistake and started to work on an adhesion request. From 1961 to 1963 the UK participated into the agreements to enter in the common market of the Six. The negotiations between UK and EEC were complex, especially regards the applicable rate to the commercial goods with the ex-English colonies. Furthermore, in 1963, before the approval of the negotiations, the French President of the Republic, Charles de Gaulle, refused, unilaterally, the entrance of the UK in the EEC due to his suspects concerning the relationship between UK and USA. A second request of enter in the EEC was rejected by the Gaulle, but after his resignation in 1969, his successor, Georges Pompidou, declared that he had no problems with UK entering in the EEC, which happened in 1973.  Although the obstacles met in entering in the EEC, the Euroscepticism permeated UK and in 1974, the English Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, proposed a referendum on the possibility to abandon the EEC, which did not obtain a positive result. The situation about the euro and the Euroscepticism did not change with Tony Blair and David Cameron’s mandates. The former stated that the euro needed to pass some tests and after its failure, it would be released from the English policy. Instead, David Cameron started his career as Eurosceptic and attended the UK in the failure of the European Monetary System (EMS), ripening a strong opposition to other monetary integration projects.


On the 23rd January 2013, David Cameron confirmed his intention to exit from the EU, promising a referendum in 2017. In doing so, the Prime Minister did not express, literally, that he would vote for the exit in case in which the English requests would not meet a positive response from the other Member States. Cameron stated that his strategy was to guarantee an active and influent role to the UK in the EU and that he wanted to re-negotiate new and more favourable conditions for the UK, which could support the permanence in the EU. In 2016, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, prepared a draft of this new reforms and, after several negotiations, the final text of the agreement between UK and EU was approved on the 19th February 2016. David Cameron declared to be satisfied from the negotiated agreements and that, after ensuring these membership’s conditions for the UK, he could recommend to the English people to vote for stay in the EU.


The referendum was indicted on 23rd June 2016. The question, for the English people, was: “The UK might remain a member of the EU or need to abandon the EU?

The referendum was consultative, without legal or mandatory nature. The Parliament could have ignored the people’s willingness to exit from the EU. Practically, David Cameron stated that, in case of the win of the Brexit, he would have invoked art. 50 of the TEU. There was a great confusion around the Brexit referendum because part of the people did not know what the EU is, and the other part did not understand the real content of the referendum. The Electoral Commission of the UK assumed great responsibilities in order to guarantee a loyal competition between the campaign in favour and against the EU. It nominated two official campaigns, pro Brexit (VoteLeave) and pro EU (Britain Stronger in Europe). Both the campaigns received a financing of 600.000 pounds.


The result of the Brexit referendum was announced on the 23rd June 2016: the 51,9% of the UK’s voters decide to exit from the EU while the 48,1% voted to remain. By analysing the result from a geographical point of view, it is possible to note that England wanted to leave the EU with the 53,4% of votes for Brexit. In London, only the 40,1% while the Occidental Midlands reached the 59,3% of consensus and the Wales 52,5%. Scottish and North Ireland voted to stay in the EU with a percentage of 62,0% and 55,8% respectively.

It is interesting to look at the result by considering the age of voters. From the over 65, only the 36% wanted to stay in the EU while between 25-49 age, the percentage increase to 54% and between 1824 age, the percentage of people who wanted to stay in the EU is 71%. This showed a strong distinction between the generations. On one hand, the youngest, “sons” of the “Erasmus generation” that enjoy the freedom of movement and, on the other hand, the older generaltion. Another important data is the social class of the voters. Under the educational level, the 68% of graduated or owner of specialized diploma decided to stay. The 70% of people, who interrupted the studies at 16 years, decided in favour of Brexit. It is also important to note that the desire of leave the EU is more accentuated in the outskirts and suburbs of the cities. The British government announced, formally, the start of the Brexit procedure in 2017, invoking art. 50 of the TEU. After the declaration of the result, David Cameron presented his dismission and Theresa May become his successor. There were two possible solutions: hard and soft Brexit. The first provided an absolute separation between UK and EU with the exit, firstly, from the common market and, secondly, with a commercial agreement regulated by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The second provided an agreement similar to the one of Norway with the possibility for the UK to remain in the common market. With this second solution, there was also a need to regulate and protect the relationship between UK and the other Member States.


When David Cameron presented the dismissal, stated that the invocation of art. 50 TEU was a matter of the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, who waited until the 2017, in order to prepare the negotiations. The notification of the activation of the Brexit procedure was on 19th June 2017 with a letter of Theresa May to the European Council. In April 2017, Theresa May decided to introduce a general and anticipated election in order to enforce her negotiation’ position with a stronger national consensus. Furthermore, the election created a hung parliament and Theresa May remained as Prime Minister. The negotiations started in Brussels on 19th June 2017, in presence of the negotiation’s head Michel Barnier and of the State’s Secretary for the exit from the EU, member of the British government, David Davis.

On the 20th March 2019, Theresa May wrote to the President of the European Council in order to postpone the date established for the Brexit at 30 June 2019. There were several discussions between the leaders of the remaining Member States and, on 22nd March 2019, the EU proposed two options: the first one was that if the parliamentarian could refuse the deal drafted in May, the Brexit could enter into force on 12th April 2019, with or without the deal or, in alternative, it could be necessary to request a terms’ extension with the duty to participate at the European Parliament Election of 2019. The second one recited that if the parliamentarians could approve the deal, the Brexit could enter into force on the 22nd of May 2019, the date before the European Parliament Election. At the end, there was an extension to the 31st October 2019.

On 23rd July 2019, Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and the EU re-viewed its position. Indeed, it was planned and approved by the UK and the EU Commission a withdrawal deal, which contained a new protocol for Ireland and a modification of the amendments. In order to enter into force, the deal needed a ratification from both the EU Parliament and the UK Parliament. The UK parliament approved a law of the European Union (withdrawal) (no.2 of 2019) which received the royal assent in September 2019, imposing to the Prime Minister to ask for a third extension in case of an absence of the deal. The extension was approved. Johnson campaign founded on “to do Brexit” and its political party obtained, in the general election of 12 December 2020, a majority of 80 of polling place in parliament. Successively, the government presented the withdrawal agreement which passed its second reading in the House of Commons and became law on the 23rd January called the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. In the same day, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel signed the agreement and the EU Parliament gave its consent while the EU Council concluded EU ratification the following day. On the 31st January 2020, at 11 p.m, the relationship between UK and EU ceased, without any deal between EU and UK.

The situation for Scottish and North Ireland was different because the latter wanted to claim its independence from the UK in order to remain the EU while the second wanted to get special treatments in its relationship with the EU.

After three years from the referendum of 2016, the Brexit is completed. The UK is the first State which decided in favour of the withdrawal from the EU. Theoretically, the UK citizens are not EU citizens, but the real withdrawal require a period of transaction from the 1st February to the 31st December 2020, in order to adopt the decision. During these months, the relationship will be the same, so the UK remain in the common market and in the EU but do not take part to the political decisions of the EU. In addition, the UK will continue to pay its quota to the EU and will contribute to the European budget. The period of transaction, especially with the Covid-19 crisis, represent an obstacle to the final withdrawal.


The first immediate consequence was a stock market crash. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, tried to calm the market declaring that the Bank was ready to act in a special manner in order to mitigate the vote results. During the storm caused by the referendum, there was an increase of the gold request which was considered to be the most safety type of investment.

The uncertainty of the Brexit decreased the British gross domestic product (GDP), the national British revenue, the investments of the companies, employment and international trade. The situation in North Ireland created a controversial question due to the fact that there will be a breach of the Good Friday Agreements. The EU lost one of the most powerful countries in economic terms and the UK will not be a shareholder of the European Investment Bank (EIB) where it owns a 16% of the quotas. Several European agencies decided to change their own headquarters towards other countries. The UK will not only leave the common agricultural policy, which provide government financial support to the farmers but, also to create an its own agriculture policy. Brexit is a challenge also for the academic world because it is probable that the UK will lose financing for the research from the EU. In addition, after the Brexit, the UK will govern itself and the European law will not have the principle of supremacy on national law. In order to guarantee a certain level of stability, the EU law will be converted in national law and the British government will decide its application. Moreover, the European Court of Justice will not limit the British courts. The UK will be capable to manage the immigration question from other EU States on an “immigration system based on competences”, which give the priority to qualified migrants. The European citizens that live in UK, will continue to live on the territory but they will need to adopt the mechanism of resettlement established in 2019 by the European Union. Basically, the Brexit represents the end of the free movement of person.

In nowadays, it is possible to see some adjustments to the Brexit which give the idea of a more orderly withdrawal. The impact, not only of the Brexit but also of the current crisis called Covid-19, put the UK in a very dangerous situation. The value of the pounds decreased and there is a will to return to border’s controls. As aforementioned, Johnson does not want to ask for an extension of the transaction’s period, as suggested by Scotland and North Ireland, in order to have more time to stipulate a commercial agreement with the EU. The lockdown’s impact was particularly negative for the British economy. There are news for the companies regarding the EU goods. Indeed, the EU goods will not be subjected to rigorous controls at the border for sixth months, also in case of “no deal”. The government knows that companies cannot manage, simultaneously, the pandemic crisis and the queues at the border. This soft control concerns only goods which arrive from the EU and not British exportation towards the EU.

Moreover, the Brexit caused also an increase in the Euroscepticism among Europe, especially in France and Italy where the political leaders congratulated with the British people and promised to do the same. Marine le Pen announced her enthusiasm for the Brexit, threatened a Frexit, on the same model of the UK while Metteo Salvini published a tweet with the tone similar to Marine Le Pen, showing all his pride.



Europe needs more cohesion and must take into account several aspects of the Brexit referendum. The EU committed mistakes in the management of crises as the migration and Eurozone crisis, which contributed to amplify the Euroscepticism among Member States, showing the structural and functional fragility of Europe. Due to the austerity policy introduced by the crisis of 2008, there was a strong evidence of the differences between Member States, generating a class of powerful and less powerful States in economic and political terms. Although the Brexit’s situation and results, Europe must consider adopting a more fair and balanced policy, taking into account the State’s needs. This project of social, economic and political cohesion is one of the most difficult and important challenges of Europe, which could help the European harmonization project and create a more compact Union.


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