The reasons for this referendum are many. Firstly, the nation was split when Britain joined the European Economic Community (EEC) or, as it was more commonly known, the Common Market. The people were assured by two British governments, Conservative and Labour, that this was only a trading bloc. However, within 15 years it had transformed itself into a political organisation usurping the national sovereignties of member states, with European Courts, and ordering thousands of unvoted laws to be placed upon the member nations' Statute Books. In particular free movement of people and mass alien immigration became major issues in Britain, already overloaded with migrants. (The UK's population has grown by 10 million since it joined the EEC/EU.) The Conservative Party had always been split over joining the EEC/EU; by the 21st century, national sentiment against the EU, now declaring that its primary aim is a Federal State opposed to nation-states, was fuelled by the rise of the new United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) which, in the 2010 General Elections, gained almost four million votes. This sentiment could no longer be ignored.
On 23 June 2016, in a referendum, Britons voted 51.9% to Leave the European Union, with 48.1% wishing to Remain. The turnout was 72.2% - more than 30 million people voted. The British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for a Remain result, resigned in July as a result of this humiliation.
The exact process for the UK's withdrawal is laid down in legislation of both parties. For the UK to leave the EU it had to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Britain's new Prime Minister, Theresa May, triggered this process in Parliament on 29 March, 2017, meaning the UK is scheduled to leave at 11 p.m. (UK time) on Friday, 29 March 2019. The European Court has ruled that the UK can decide to stop the process if it so wishes. Alternatively, it can be extended if all 28 EU members agree, but at the moment all sides are focusing on the legislated date as being the one, as the British Government have enshrined it onto the Statute Books.
- See: Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe