Brexit: Britain votes leave, but immigration & healthcare pressures remain

Brexit: Britain votes leave, but immigration & healthcare pressures remain

    An article published on Thursday, June 23, 2016 by The New York Times covered one of the most highly anticipated and unexpected polling outcomes in European history: “Brexit” – Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU). This was the first time that a nation severed ties with the EU since its inception (1).

The story began in the early 1990’s with the birth of the EU (2). Originally created to prevent the disasters of World War II from repeating on European soil, the EU established a way for European nations to form a cohesive economic and political alliance (2, 3). Slowly but surely, the EU joined hands with 28 nations across Europe, reaching all corners of the continent. For over a decade, the EU was becoming a role model for leaders worldwide by embodying the very essence of a united union among individual nations – until the 2008 financial crisis.

The 2008 financial crisis sparked major tensions between the UK and the rest of the EU by causing the partnership to simmer at its core (2). From the very beginning Britain refused to abide by certain values recognized in other EU nations, such as a common currency and a so-called Schengen Area where EU citizens could travel in-between borders with less checks and barriers (2). Refusal to share a common currency came to fruition for Britain when the nation escaped a large part of the painfully slow economic recovery that other EU members endured as a result of the financial crisis (2).

Then, in 2012, The Economist coined the term “Brexit” after whispers of Britain contemplating full separation from its EU neighbors (3). Only a year later, the pot officially began to boil. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, quickly announced in January 2013 that if his political party won the 2015 election an official referendum would be held to vote over Britain’s future in the EU (2). By February 2016, Cameron set the date of the referendum - June 23, 2016.

Principle differences in currency and travel regulations only fueled Britain’s initial Euroscepticism. The high-stakes, nationwide referendum saw a massive turnout of around 33.5 million Britons, which was estimated to be roughly 71.8% of the total voting age population (1, 4). For those who went to the polls, a choice between two contrasting philosophies – the “Leave” and “Remain” camps – had to be made (2). The main reasons behind voting for the Leave camp included a desire to reclaim a sense of national identity in the midst of heavy EU regulations, as well as to avoid further economic pitfalls (2). On the other hand, the Remain camp focused on the long-term economic benefits of staying in the EU’s extensive free-trade zone with partner nations, not to mention the leadership role Britain could play in reshaping the EU (2).

With only a 4% edge, the Leave camp claimed victory Thursday evening. Since then, millions of Britons and many others peering in with outside eyes have been watching closely with uncertainty as to what this landmark decision will mean for the future. Most uncertain, perhaps of all future consequences, are the state of Britain’s ongoing immigration crisis and the vitality of its healthcare system.

At second glance, did current immigration and healthcare pressures provide any cause for British sentiments to leave the EU?

According to The New York Times, the immigration crisis that has been rocking the EU since 2015 most likely gave the marginal victory to the Leave camp (1). Leading voices in favor of Brexit reported “… remaining would produce uncontrolled immigration… with hordes pouring into Britain…” (1). Yet, do the numbers justify these claims?

The International Organization for Migration and BBC News maintain that last year Europe received over 1,011,700 immigrants by sea and 34,000 by land (5). Out of the four nations that constitute the UK – Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – Britain alone received approximately 330,000 immigrants (1). At an even closer look, less than 4% of immigrants in Britain were identified as asylum seekers based on their application to be officially recognized as refugees (6). National data from the UK’s Home Office disclosed that Britain received approximately 37% of all UK claims for asylum, while the UK as a whole was responsible for only 5% of total EU asylum claims (7).

How does Britain’s data on immigration compare to other EU members? It turns out that Britain actually held one of the smallest proportions of refugees from the 2015 influx. Germany reported a count of more than a million immigrants arriving across its borders, while just under half applied for asylum (5). First runner-up was Hungary, which had the next largest number of asylum applications, but as a whole, it had the highest abundance of refugees in relation to its resident population (5). In fact, 1,799 refugees per 100,000 residents accounted for Hungary’s population in 2015 (5). At nearly 22 refugees per 100,000 residents, Britain fell far below the EU average of 260 refugees per 100,000 residents (6, 8).

What about the Leave camp’s claims: staying in the EU would result in unmanageable masses of immigrants flowing into Britain. As told by BBC News, not long after the inflow of immigrants across European borders, the EU developed a plan for a collective relocation process to assist members hosting greater amounts of refugees than others (5). Still holding two of the largest reservoirs of refugees, both Hungary and Germany surprisingly agreed to welcome even more people (5). Britain chose not to participate in the relocation efforts. Instead, Primer Minister Cameron quoted in September 2015 that Britain would accept 20,000 refugees from Syria over the course of the next five years. However, now that Cameron has officially announced his plan to reside from leadership, one can only wonder if his previous statement will hold true. For the past thirteen years, Britain and other nations in the UK have also exercised legal deportation of more than 12,000 asylum seekers back to the original EU nation they first entered via the EU’s Dublin regulation.

It’s evident that Britain has been well aware of the immigration crisis at the forefront of European affairs; the country has a record of control over how many asylum seekers it accepts and allows to reside as refugees.

Even if the amount of refugees in Britain are disproportionately lower than those in other EU nations, some still feel that the rise in asylum seekers has burdened Britain’s healthcare system – the National Health Service (NHS). As stated by The New York Times, “…parts of Britain felt that…the influx was putting substantial pressure on schools, healthcare and housing” (1).

Britain’s universal healthcare system – the NHS – has been providing free medical aid, excluding only certain services, to all UK residents since 1948 (9, 10). The NHS often sets the standard for many other first world healthcare systems and is a proud staple of the UK (10). It’s estimated that in less than two days, the NHS in Britain alone covers the charges of more than one million patients (10). In fact, the NHS is in the top five of all world businesses with the largest workforces, employing 1.5 million people with the vast majority, approximately 1.2 million, residing in Britain (10). Therefore, concerns about refugees adding burdens to the NHS are understandably among the most worrisome to Britons.

According to an article in Daily Mail, Dr. Vivienne Nathanson – head of science and ethics for the British Medical Association (BMA) – reported that the NHS has been running thin with its delivery of primary care to both residents and refugees (11). Under NHS regulations, residents, refugees, and asylum seekers are all able to receive the full benefits of free healthcare services and coverage (12). Yet additional services needed for asylum seekers and refugees, including language translation, mental health appointments, and infectious disease screenings are reportedly taking away money that would normally go toward residents (11). Nathanson even commented on how some Britons feel that refugees and asylum seekers have been receiving greater attention than local patients (11).

Moreover, a report released by the BMA stated that confusion still lingers over which government department should be paying for the additional medical services required for refugees and asylum seekers (11). As a result of this confusion and the overall depletion of funds, the NHS has been lacking in routine tests for infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, which poses a real fear for the health of all demographics (11).

In the hub of all uncertainties surrounding Brexit, it’s clear that the immigration crisis and healthcare pressures have gone nowhere.

The question still remains: what will a post-Brexit world look like for the future dynamic of residents, refugees, and asylum seekers as they coexist in an evolving European landscape?

Most say only time will tell. Despite the fact that refugees have been shown to economically overcompensate for their initial costs to the nation where they claim asylum (1), many politicians and residents use near-sighted vision in this time of crisis; they focus solely on their present struggles and lose sight of the future opportunities that newcomers bring.

An article published by Fortune, titled “Syria’s refugees are a golden opportunity for Europe” made an uncanny statement in September 2015: “…the current refugee crisis, while founded in misery, may be vital to the EU’s future. …But in facing down the tide of panic that grips many EU states, good data may not be enough” (13). A little over nine months after the article was published, Brexit became a reality.


In the end, how will other nations respond to Brexit or similar political crossroads? Will they follow suit or take different routes than Britain’s actions? Some believe in waiting to see what the future holds, but now more than ever the people have the power to hold the future.



1. Erlanger, Steven. “Britain Votes to Leave E.U.; Cameron Plans to Step Down.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.

2. Lee, Timothy B., and Zack Beauchamp. “Brexit: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask.” Vox Explainers. Vox, 25 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016.

3. Hjelmgaard, Kim, and Jane Onyanga-Omara. “Explainer: The what, when and why of 'Brexit'.” USA Today. USA Today, 21 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016.

4. Wheeler, Brian, and Alex Hunt. “The UK's EU referendum: All you need to know.” EU Referendum. BBC News, 24 June 2016. Web. 29 June 2016.5. “Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts.” Europe. BBC News, 4 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.

6. Nardelli, Alberto, and George Arnett. “How does UK refugee commitment compare with other countries?” Europe Datablog. The Guardian, 8 Sept. 2015. Web. 27 June 2016.

7. “Asylum: Key Facts.” Home Office. Gov.UK, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 30 June 2016.

8. “Population of England 2016.” UKPopulation2016. UKPopulation2016. Web. 30 June 2016.

9. Thorlby, Ruth, and Sandeepa Arora. Mossialos, Elias, Martin Wenzl, Robin Osborn, and Chloe Anderson, eds. “2014 International Profiles of Health Care Systems.” The English Health Care System, 2014. Jan. 2015. Web. 27 June 2016.

10. “The NHS in England.” NHS Choices. NHS Choices, 13 Apr. 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.

11. Hope, Jenny. “NHS 'being stretched to the limit by refugees'.” Health. Daily Mail. Web. 30 June 2016.

12. Public Health England. “NHS entitlements: migrant health guide.” Health protection – guidance. Gov.UK, 31 July 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.  

13. Proctor, Keith. “Syria’s refugees are a golden opportunity for Europe.” Europe. Fortune, 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 June 2016.

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