The two electoral shocks of 2016 – the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’) and Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States – left observers aghast or elated.  For those who found themselves in the former category, the outcome of the Brexit referendum represented a crisis that dwarfed any other challenge the European Union had faced in recent years, while Trump’s victory was seen as a “profound shock to the west, one that calls into question the future of its democratic model and the liberal international order.”[1] For the latter group, Brexit was an enormous victory over an “arrogant, out-of-touch political class.”[2] Similar feelings could be found across the Atlantic, as Fox News claimed that the result of the 2016 presidential election was a “national rejection of both the traditional media and the Hollywood elite.”[3] The one shared sentiment among the majority of observers was surprise. Before polls closed on 23 June 2016, even Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and a key figure in the campaign to vote Leave, said he thought Remain would win the EU Referendum.[4] Only a small minority had the prescience to know that the conditions for both outcomes had been building for some time.  Jonathan Haslam was among the few who thought that Trump’s election was “likely” due to “burgeoning blue-collar resentment and dissentient opinion among longstanding Democrats.”[5]

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When British voters chose to leave the European Union in a 23 June 2016 referendum, they unleashed an intense and ongoing national debate over the consequences. Not surprisingly, the debate has largely surrounded the economic, political, and social consequences of “Brexit.” Those in favour of leaving emphasized the benefits of independence from what they saw as a sclerotic and undemocratic EU. Those opposed warned about the economic consequences of withdrawing from a common market, and feared that the vote was evidence of creeping nativism in British society.

 

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