How did it come to this? Milestones on the road to Brexit

Leave supporters cheer results at a party after polling stations closed in the Referendum on the European Union in London, Britain, June 23, 2016. © Toby Melville
The British dream of leaving the European Union has been rooted in the minds of the islanders for generations. After voting to remain in the Union in 1975, a second referendum initiated in 2013 has now officially secured a ‘Leave’ vote.

Joining the European Economic Community (a predecessor of the EU) in 1973, the UK held its first referendum on the matter two years later. In 1975, 67 percent said ‘yes’ to remaining part of the trading bloc.

Over the course of four decades, the desire to leave the block has returned to the minds of the public, as the burden of the EU’s complicated interstate relations weighed on their shoulders.

Fearing the loss of sovereignty to Brussels, and feeling the effects of EU democratic deficit, many politicians and their constituents began to argue the benefits of EU membership failed to compensate for these flaws.

Proponents of Brexit insisted leaving the EU would allow the UK to control immigration more efficiently, save billions of pounds in membership fees and advocate its own trade deals - all while getting rid of EU regulations and bureaucracy.

Those who supported UK membership of the EU argued that leaving the bloc would endanger the UK's prosperity, create trade barriers and diminish the country's influence over world affairs.

The impetus to hold a referendum became apparent after the UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by MEP Nigel Farage, scored significant victories in the 2013 local elections and the 2014 European elections.

In January 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron promised that should the Conservatives win the 2015 general election, he would try to negotiate more favorable arrangements for the UK's EU membership. Subsequently, Cameron promised to hold a vote to see if the new framework would be enough to convince the public to stay in the “reformed European Union.”

After the Conservatives achieved their majority, allowing the referendum to take place, the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was passed by Parliament, while the European Union (Referendum) Act 2016 was adopted in Gibraltar’s parliament.

With the legal process out of the way, Cameron flew to Brussels in February this year to negotiate the terms of Britain's role in the EU. After an intense round of negotiations that were preceded by months of preparatory work, the British prime minister struck a deal with Brussels.

Some of the key points of the agreement include restrictions on migrants’ in-work benefits, as well as child benefits for the children of EU migrants living overseas. The deal also included the amendment of EU treaties, which made clear that the “ever-closer union” clause does not apply to the UK.

The agreement also allowed for the UK to enact an “emergency safeguard” to protect the City of London, aimed at stopping British firms from being forced to relocate to Europe, and to ensure that British businesses do not face “discrimination” for being outside the eurozone.

On his return to the UK, Cameron also said the agreement “can never be forced into political integration.”

On February 20, Cameron called for the referendum to take place on June 23 – a vote that has now changed history.