A Brexit referendum event at Parliament Square in London, United Kingdom, June 19, 2016.
Neil Hall / Reuters

The tensions over the United Kingdom’s Brexit campaign should have culminated with a referendum this Thursday on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Instead, it peaked prematurely with the tragic murder of Jo Cox, a pro-EU Labour member of Parliament, who was brutally shot and stabbed last week by a man close to a British extremist anti-immigration group. It was the first political killing of a British politician since the end of the Troubles, a turbulent era of conflict in Northern Ireland, and it has led many to wonder how a stable country such as the United Kingdom could lose its head over what is essentially membership in a trading bloc.

Answering that question requires reflecting on how the country grew so divided in the first place. Since the beginning, Brexit has pitted younger, more affluent, and cosmopolitan urban Britons against the older, poorer, and less

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  • JONATHAN HOPKIN is Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science
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