In a final tally of 52 percent to 48 percent on the "Brexit" referendum Thursday, Britons voted to exit the European Union, a decision that many believed hinged on voter opinion about immigration.
Officially, the referendum was about the pros and cons of remaining in the EU, an economic partnership between the 28 member countries that allows people, goods and information to move easily through the region. Exiting this partnership will have an impact on issues as wide-ranging as the economy, scientific research, the labor force, British vacation time and the future of the British territory of Gibraltar.
The exit will also have major effects on public health, according to many in the field.
Brexit will make Britain more vulnerable to disease
The public health risks of exiting the EU are plentiful. Leaving the partnership will exclude Britain from European research, disease control, and drug and food safety networks (which Britons can only keep access to by paying). Also, as Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, pointed out, leaving will cause the U.K. to backslide on environmental health.
McKee published an article about Brexit's threat to public health in the Journal of Public Health in March, citing the loss of European environmental regulations on clean air and water, which could take a toll on citizens' health and safety.
Increased isolation will limit cross-border sharing of information about diseases, which is particularly important in a world where microbes travel as fluidly as people.
Asked about possible public health benefits of Brexit, McKee said there were "none whatsoever."
"It would be entirely negative," he said. "The economic damage would mean that money available for health would drop massively."
The claim that migrants are draining the health system is a myth
Similar to the hostility Donald Trump and his supporters in the United States have expressed toward migrants from Mexico and Central America, many pro-Brexit citizens think migrants who have come to the U.K. are burdening the country's public health system.
"Our NHS (National Health Service) is struggling," Barbara, a 40-year-old homemaker who lives in the suburbs, told U.S. News & World Report this month. "It doesn't have enough funding, and you have new people coming in every day using it and not paying in."
That's not how the numbers shake out. According to research from University College of London, recent migrants from the European Economic Area (which includes the EU, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), contributed 34 percent more to the U.K.'s fiscal system than they received from 2001 to 2011. Native citizens took more from the system than they contributed over the same period. This is in part because the U.K. is attracting young, skilled European Economic Area migrants from western and southern Europe, and exporting its aging pensioners to countries like Spain and France.
As McKee explained in his article, the financial argument for Brexit is completely illogical and "disgraceful."