October 18th, 2016 by James Wright
Austerity, not immigration, was the main reason people voted Brexit, a comprehensive new study shows. But the media appears to have ignored the findings, with a brief report on “Indy100” being the only mainstream coverage.
The apparent media blackout comes in spite of the groundbreaking nature of both the study and its conclusions. “Slightly less harsh” spending cuts from the Conservatives (and Lib Dems) could have swayed the referendum result, the district-level analysis from the University of Warwick indicates. In other words, if the coalition government along with the present Conservative one hadn’t presided over such an extreme ideological austerity programme, Brexit may not have happened.
While the study found that austerity economics was the driving force behind Brexit, it also concluded that the immigration factor has been overplayed. In contrast to toning down fiscal cuts, the study found that even “drastic” changes in immigration levels would “probably” have made no difference.
The study is the first fully comprehensive analysis of why people voted Brexit. It split the UK into 380 local districts. As well as exposure to immigration, other EU laws were found to have little impact on the decision to vote Leave.
The report (page 5) also found that austerity would have an even stronger pull towards Brexit in areas where “socio-economic fundamentals” are “weak”. This means that areas with high unemployment and low incomes provided a backdrop that made Brexit more likely.
A look at these socio-economic fundamentals, and the picture becomes clearer. Following the reports findings, the slowest economic recovery since records began, presided over by the coalition and majority Conservative governments, likely made fertile ground for Brexit. Since the financial crash of 2007-8, UK wages have dropped 10.4% in real terms. This has only been matched by the economic calamity of Greece. By contrast real wages grew in Poland by 23%, in Germany by 14%, and in France by 11%. Chronic under-investment in the economy, contributing to the sharp drop in wages, was part of the climate that led to Brexit.
The report echoes the comments from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who said the vote was born of “inequality”, “feelings of powerlessness” and “austerity budgets”. Previous findings from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) also chime with the Warwick analysis. The JRF found that those in the poorest areas were much more likely to vote Brexit.
Of course, as noted by the Warwick report authors, there is no singular cause of the Brexit vote and the reasons are “multifaceted”. But, according to the study, backlash against a sharp rise in inequality under neoliberal economics was the primary reason for Brexit.
The groundbreaking findings are at odds with mainstream media coverage, which appears to emphasise immigration as the primary reason for Brexit. Correspondingly, the established media class have so far been silent on the report.
So there we have it. Not only did David Cameron call the EU referendum to appease potential UKIP voters and the eurosceptics in his party, he also presided over 6 years of ideological austerity that led to Brexit.