Was Brexit about immigration? Tyler Cowen comes down on the side of a nuanced yes.
As I interpret what happened, ultimately the vote was about preserving the English nation, and yes I use those last two italicized words deliberately; reread Fintan O’Toole. Go back and read English history. For centuries, England has been filled with English people, plus some others from nearby regions. Go visit Norfolk and also stop in Great Yarmouth, once described by Charles Dickens as “…the finest place in the universe,” and which, for whatever decline it may have experienced, still looks and feels like England. London does not.
As Zack Beauchamp notes (in a piece which is mostly an example of what I am criticizing): “…the number of foreign-born people living in the UK has gone from 2.3 million in 1993 (when Britain joined the EU) to 8.2 million in 2014.”
In terms of distribution and influence, the impact of those numbers is much larger yet. London, the cultural center, business center, and political capital of England for many centuries, is now essential a global and indeed foreign city. I spent almost two weeks in London in 1979, and while I clearly prefer the new version the difference is glaringly obvious to me, as I am sure it is all the more to most English people. (And that contrast is clearest to the older English of course, and that helps explain one of the most pronounced demographic features of how people voted; it is inappropriate how many Remain supporters are cursing the arguably better informed preferences of the elderly.)
Similar tensions exist in almost all the countries that have allowed extensive immigration, even nations of immigrants like the US. This is especially true in the case of immigrants who, for numerical or cultural reasons, resist assimilation. Multiculturalism has always been more of aim than an achievement.