The gender story of Brexit

From under-representation of women to marginalisation of equality

Authored by: Roberta Guerrina , Annick Masselot

The Routledge Handbook of Gender and EU Politics

Print publication date:  March  2021
Online publication date:  March  2021

Print ISBN: 9781138485259
eBook ISBN: 9781351049955
Adobe ISBN:


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The 2016 EU referendum in the United Kingdom (UK) represents a milestone in the history of the European Union (EU). When the British people were asked whether the UK should remain or leave the EU, they embarked on an unprecedented political process that has ramifications for the whole of Europe. The binary nature of the question posed in the referendum helped to oversimplify a complex relationship and opened new socio-political cleavages in the country. Technically the referendum was advisory and thus, not legally binding. The results pointed to a country divided: 51.9% of the votes were cast in favour of leaving the EU against 48.1%. But with a turnout of 72.2% the result provided strong political mandate to the government. Voting preferences highlighted significant cleavages based on class, educational background and age, with 71% of people aged between 18 and 24 voting to remain in the EU, compared with just 36% of people aged over 65. Differences also appeared in regional preferences: Northern Ireland (55.78%) and Scotland (62%) voted in favour of remaining in the EU. Although the data points towards a small gender gap, the nature and quality of public debates, both during the campaign and since the vote, have revealed an overarching blindness, and casual disregard, for gender and intersectional issues.

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