When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to separation. Now, in the United Kingdom, it was the: Immigration.
Part of the answer is the role that immigration played in the campaign, taken together with the economy. Levels of immigration into Britain have been high in recent years, with about half of the immigrants under the EU freedom movement provision, and this has caused social tensions in some places where migrants have clustered. And the British government's inability to control migration is seen as emblematic of wider loss of control.
Cameron and the rest of Remain camp failed dramatically to convince British voters that there are 28 members states in EU, with very diverse economic interests and, governments of sharply differing political complexions. A chance to the rules of freedom of movement will be welcomed by some but bitterly opposed by others. The Remain camp also failed to link the UK economic stability with the EU workers. At the end the Leave camp instilled optimism to undecided voters, playing the strong democratic card, persuading them to take a leap in the dark.
The answer lies to the lessons/experiences of past EU referendums. Thursday UK referendum on EU membership was the second time British electorate voted on its participation in the integration project, and over 50 referendums have been held elsewhere in Europe on other aspects of European integration.
It seems that the British government/Remain camp did not learn a thing from past referendums ( 1975- the first UK referendum on EU) and, 21 referendums on EU since 2000,( France 2005-Ireland) where six of these a majority of voters rejected a proposal that had the broad backing of the mainstream political parties, the media, trade unions and business organizations. These experiences revealed that: campaign matters, party messages are important, the framing of the ''reversion point is crucial, and that EU referendums are not just about the EU.
The polls during the early stages of Thursday UK referendum on EU membership campaign gave a very poor indication of the final outcome of the vote. Attitudes towards the EU are far more malleable than vote intentions in general elections. Many voters changed their minds as the referendum campaign progressed. And many remain undecided until they cast their vote. And David Cameron, who resigned this morning, was very complacent to call a vote on the EU.
Importantly, a large proportion of voters did not make it to the ballot box. In London, many voters could not be bothered to go to the polling stations because of the rain/flood but in Birmingham/West Midlands, out 707,000 registered voters, only 4000 cast the votes. Getting people to vote was crucial in the British referendum, as Euroskeptics voters were more passionate, enthusiastic than those who supported remaining in the EU. A lacklustre Remain campaign with low turnout benefited the Leave camp.
Thursday Referendum gave voters a direct say on policy outcome. The weaker Remain camp message, failure to structure the debate and the choices voters faced, lack of guidance on which way to vote, was the last straw that broke the camel's back. Both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, in Remain camp, displayed a degree of internal division that weakened of their recommendations to voters.
Although it is well-established truth about referendums that in the face of uncertainty, voters tend to support the status quo-witness the referendum on Scottish Independence, and before that the even more decisive rejection of a change to the voting system for parliamentary elections, the Remain camp failed to make the case about what the voters faced, non only, on Britain's future within the European Union will look like but also crucially what will happen if they voted to leave the European Union.
The ''reversion point'', or the consequences of rejecting the proposal, happened to be a crucial determinant of how people voted in Thursday UK referendum on EU membership. Voters are generally risk adverse, and hence when the ''reversion point'' is presented as radical break with the status quo, or is associated with great uncertainty, this would have favored the ''Remain'' camp. But the Remain camp exaggerated the consequences of voting ''out'' , to the point of showing in a video how to vote, without convincing arguments how they would control immigration if they win the referendum, led to the accusations of scaremongering. This is discouraged seniors voters.
However, the experiences of the Danish and Ireland ''No'' votes (to the Masstricht, Nice and Lisbon treaties), which all reversed in subsequent referendums, demonstrate the persuasive power of highlighting the negative consequences of a second ''No''.
Finally, it was a mistake for the Remain camp to think that voters cared only, or even primarily, about the EU when they cast their vote in Thursday referendum. As the former Irish Minister for Europe, Dick Roche, said poignantly: '' the problem in a referendum is that you can ask the right question, but people answer other questions''. ''
Thursday referendum was potentially an opportunity for voters to express their dissatisfaction with political establishment, and with the Tory government in particular. This is why referendums held when governments are often relatively unpopular, are more likely to end in defeat. Thursday referendum result was not just about EU, it was a clear message of discontent of the British Tory government. After years of austerity measures with the Tory government, less intense campaign of Remain side, British voters felt that less is at stake. The result is a out-cry rebuke of the Tory government.
In comparison with past EU referendums, the Remain camp faced a particularly though challenge: the British public is more Euroskeptic that other European electorates and British parties, media, trade unions and business organizations were more divided over Europe. However, the choice facing voters was also starker than in any previous referendum held in an existing EU member state-to leave or remain in the EU-and this most likely made it difficult for Remain camp to appeal to voters who were risk averse.
The United Kingdom voted ''OUT'' on EU referendum.The question that will remain unresolved is whether there could be a future for Britain in Europe/out of European Union that keeps national democracy alive and well. Although Britain's elites have failed to offer the public any reason to think highly of the existing EU, it should come as no surprise that some Britons have started to indulge in speculation about future European arrangements.
Some have expressed the extraordinarily optimistic view, that this referendum result might create such a political upheaval across Europe that the European Union would be forced to recognise itself as looser alliance among nations that no longer attempted to harmonize and regulate the internal affairs of its members states. National governments would take back powers deemed essential by their citizens, including the right to control borders. An European Union like this would be most Britons would happily rejoin, as it were, in a second referendum.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
World Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Agence France Presse-photo -Getty Images of David Cameron