Brexit: A Bad Populist Story

Daniel Calero

On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) developed a plebiscite, where 51.9% of voters supported leaving the European Union (EU), and which also started a slow and conflictive process called Brexit. This event was the outcome of many discussions, between British politicians who had exposed arguments for and against the remaining in this organization for years, supposedly making this decision better prepared and evaluated. However, Brexit was a terrible policy, where voters were manipulated by strongly divisive, but poor discursive arguments from populist politicians who did not take into account the benefits of being a member of the Union. In order to analyze the manipulation of the social perspective over the EU, it is necessary to evaluate the central arguments presented by pro-Brexit legislators such as Boris Johnson. 

The first big argument that motivated Brexit was to regain British sovereignty over their policies, so they follow their interests (Henández Velasco 2016). Being a member of the European Union means having to hand over the control over some sort of the domestic policy, to be able to form collective policies among all members, such as their foreign policy. In this way, Brexit allows the United Kingdom to manage its agreements with the nations and terms it wants, where for many British politicians it is of great relevance to strengthen the relationship with emerging economies (Visual Politik 2019). However, far from achieving this goal, Brexit leads the UK “to abide by the European regulations without having a voice in those decisions” (Henández Velasco 2016), like Norway or Switzerland. The economic dependence formed by the common market leads the UK to need an agreement with the EU to avoid a crisis. By this pact, the United Kingdom will also have to follow policies taken within the EU and where London would no longer have a vote. Furthermore, Brexit, far from causing better commercial agreements with other economies, has affected the UK’s position in the international system since this nation does not have any more the commercial relevance it enjoyed with an economy as large as the European common market (Dunin-Wasowicz 2019).

Moreover, politicians defend Brexit in the commercial context because, in order “to facilitate the functioning of a single market, European laws subsidize producers and set higher prices to equalize the benefits of production in all countries” (Junior Report 2017), which inflates the prices of British products and does not allow them to compete equally against producers from other countries. The politicians also add that the United Kingdom was investing too much money in the European Union that serves as a source of funding for countries like Spain (Visual Politik 2019), which, instead, could be used to improve the British public system. However, politicians forget the benefits for British industry to belong to the European common market, where they receive 24 billion pounds in investment each year (much more than the UK contributes) and where 50% of their exports go to the other member states (Visual Politik 2019). 

Another main argument of the defenders of Brexit is that the free movement of people agreed in the EU has allowed a massive influx of immigrants to the United Kingdom. This affluence creates: “an unbearable burden on public services, transport, education and health” (Dunin-Wasowicz 2019), and also affects the economy as migrants “agree to work for less money than usual, thereby taking jobs away from the British and forcing them to cut their wages and rates to be competitive” (Henández Velasco 2016). However, this argument does not take into account that immigrants also pay taxes which enlarge the public system and that they contribute with their work to expand the economy of the UK. Furthermore, the free movement was very positive for British citizens as it provided them a wide range of opportunities to live and work in other European states.

epa05870102 An EU flag flies next to the Elizabeth Tower during a rally in London, Britain, 25 March 2017. Demonstrators called for the UK to stay in the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50 on 29 March. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

The last key argument of Brexit defenders was against the great bureaucratic apparatus that makes decisions in Brussels, where the structure of the EU is “a slow machine, with an excess of bureaucracy, little transparent and even less democratic” (Henández Velasco 2016). This policy-making process is dominated by bureaucrats who are completely unknown to citizens who live with the consequences of their decisions (Visual Politik 2016). Also, this organization is full of regulations and forms that slow down any process to make a policy, which makes it a more inefficient body in the eyes of British citizens. Even though this is a negative element present in the European Union, it is an opportunity to reform the structure of this body, but not to completely get out of it. It affects all the member States, so they can agree to improve the decision-making process to make it a more democratic, faster, and less bureaucratic one.

In conclusion, each argument used by the political defenders of Brexit can be interpreted in another perspective by analyzing the benefits that it means for the UK to be part of the European Union, which shows the manipulation of leaders like Boris Johnson. By these points, British people should reconsider the arguments in favor of being part of the EU, and do not allow themselves to be manipulated by certain populist discourses. Finally, upcoming British generations should reconsider joining this organization, since the future demands more international integration against globalized problems like the current coronavirus pandemic that requires a multilateral response and cooperation. 


Roch Dunin-Wasowicz, “Brexiteers might have succeeded, but Brexit will fail,” London School of Economics, November 15, 2019.                    

Irene Henández Velasco, “Guía rápida de argumentos a favor y en contra del Brexit,” El Mundo, June 23, 2016,

Junior Report, “Brexit o Bremain: los argumentos,” La Vanguardia, April 06, 2017,

Visual Politik, “¿Por qué los británicos quieren el BREXIT?,” Youtube, June 26, 2016,

—, “El problema con el BREXIT,” Youtube, December 19, 2019,

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