Class, nationalist, and ethnic elements are all involved in the Brexit vote in a complex integration of protest.
Press and media emphasize the nationalist and ethnic (immigrant-anti-immigrant) themes but generally avoid discussing or analyzing the event from a class perspective. But that perspective is fundamental. What Brexit represents is a proxy vote against the economic effects of Free Trade, the customs union called the European Union. Free trade deals always benefit corporations and investors.
Free trade is not just about goods and services flows between member countries; it is even more about money and capital flows and what is called direct investment. UK corporations benefit from the opportunity to move capital and invest in cheap labor elsewhere in Europe, mostly the newly added members to the EU since 2000, in eastern europe. Free trade also means the unrestricted flow of labor. Once these east european countries were added to the EU treaty, massive inflows of labor to the UK resulted. Just from Poland, more than a million migrated to the UK alone.
In the pre-2008, when economic conditions were strong and economic growth and job creation the rule, the immigration’s effect on jobs and wages of native UK workers was not a major concern. But with the crash of 2008, and, more importantly, the UK austerity measures that followed, cutting benefits and reducing jobs and wages, the immigration effect created the perception (and some reality) that immigrants were responsible for the reduced jobs, stagnant wages, and declining social services. Immigrant labor, of course, is supported by business since it means availability of lower wages. But working class UK see it as directly impacting wages, jobs, and social service benefits. THis is partly true, and partly not.