In 2016, the UK voted on a referendum that would sharply divide the country along partisan fault lines. That referendum’s political cycle was defined by allegations of fake news, racism, xenophobia, and a general lack of understanding of basic politics. Even bringing up Brexit, years after the referendum, is sure to start arguments in mixed company.
The EU, at large, was primarily saddened to see the UK so unceremoniously cleave itself from the alliance. After all, the European Union has been a huge boon for the region, helping Europe compete on the same stage as the US and China. The UK, meanwhile, seemed more preoccupied with the specter of refugees “flooding” the country and nebulous claims about defense budgets.
Boris Johnson, a man who has been unflatteringly called “the British Donald Trump,” was critical in influencing public opinion in the UK during the Brexit referendum. His infamous red bus was seen in promotional material for months. The bus was emblazoned with a false claim that the UK sent three-hundred and fifty million pounds sterling to the EU every week. The message implored the UK to use that money to fund the National Health Service instead.
Johnson, with his not entirely unique brand of populism, found a foothold with a certain type of English, working-class white person. Much the same way that Donald Trump rode a wave of white grievances to the White House, Johnson used that same white dissatisfaction to cleave the UK from the EU. Further, he then rode that same wave to win the Prime Minister spot from Theresa May, solidifying the formal exit of the UK from the EU.
Years after the referendum vote was conducted, the UK finally formally split from the EU. By the 2019 formal exit, the British populace had largely tired of the constant battle in Parliament and were simply glad to see the end of the matter. However, the move’s impact will continue to be felt for years. Brexit has done more than separate the UK from the EU: it’s driven a wedge between the citizens of the UK.
In much the same way that the US is in a polarized, partisan state, the UK finds itself in a bizarre political moment. Labour and Conservatives have been battling incessantly, and people are largely fed up with the entire political system. While the rest of Europe looks on, England is tearing itself apart. Only time will tell what the true lasting effects of Brexit will be.