On what is already being called in Britain “Brexit Day”, both the opponents and the supporters of Brexit are restating their positions. Since both sets of positions are shot through with illusions, it seems a good point to say something about them.
Many of Brexit’s opponents still seem unwilling to accept that it is actually going to happen, and still talk as if it could be reversed. They still seem to cling to the idea that at some point Leave supporters will experience some sort of “buyer’s remorse” – though there is absolutely no polling evidence to support this – and still insist that they were fooled into voting the way they did. They also lament Brexit as a catastrophe for Britain and for Europe.
On the subject of whether or not Brexit is going to happen, it not only is going to happen but I am becoming increasingly exasperated by the way some Remain supporters claim to respect the outcome of last June’s Brexit referendum and actually do no such thing. A good example of this is the Guardian newspaper, the editorial of whose Sunday Observer edition says the following
Like others who favoured Remain, we have reiterated, ad nauseam, our acceptance of the referendum result. But whether you were for or against, what confronts us all now is drastically different from what was on the table last June……As Lord Heseltine has suggested, a more imaginative, braver and more consistent leader [than Theresa May] could have used the referendum result to propel an immediate negotiation with the EU on much-needed reforms. If, at the end of that process, Britain’s demands remained unmet, the divorce could have proceeded or, if a deal were agreed, been put to a second vote.
This is a complete misrepresentation of the June referendum result. The British people when they voted were not told that if they voted Leave that would merely open the way to a new negotiation to ‘reform’ the EU, at the end of which there would be a second vote. They were told straightforwardly that if the voted Leave then Britain would leave. When the Guardian talks in this way, it is not showing “acceptance of the referendum result”. It is showing the opposite.
It is anyway completely false to say that what is offered now is “drastically different from what was on the table last June”. I doubt that most people who voted Leave were familiar with the detail of the arguments but I have no doubt that they overwhelmingly sought a complete separation from the EU, which would include imposing immigration controls. That surely is what all the talk of “taking control” was all about.
As it has become clear that Britain is heading towards a “hard Brexit” – quitting the EU’s single market so that it can impose immigration controls – support for Brexit has remained steady. As Dominic Lawson has written for The Times, both the Remain and the Leave campaigns made it clear during the referendum campaign – contrary to the myth now being peddled by the irreconcilables in the Remain camp – that the result of a Leave vote would be that Britain would quit the European Single Market (ie. go for ‘hard Brexit’)
Perhaps one reason is that those Remain voters — let alone the 17.4 million Leave voters — do not buy the argument, advanced by speakers at the rally, that it was never made clear Brexit would involve leaving the EU’s single market…….
Yesterday, interviewed by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, [former Liberal leader] Nick Clegg repeated (once again) the canard that ‘no one’ realised Brexit would mean leaving the single market. He brushed aside Ms Ridge’s accurate retort that this was exactly what David Cameron and George Osborne had said would happen if Vote Leave won. ‘They were on the other side,’ he sniffed.Nick Clegg told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that ‘no one’ realised that Brexit would mean leaving the single market
Yet the pre-eminent member of Vote Leave in the Cabinet, Michael Gove, made this clear during the campaign —so clear that last May the Financial Times splashed on its front page with ‘Michael Gove says leaving EU would mean quitting single market’. Almost all other leading members of the Leave campaign followed this line.
The reason for this was obvious. At the heart of the Vote Leave campaign was a pledge to end free movement from the EU into the UK. Yet the rules of the single market are that all members must allow such free movement. It is one of the founding principles, theological in its force. So if we were to remain members of the single market, we would have to continue with unchecked migration from the other 27 members.
There was never a chance that the EU would allow us the one without the other. Such a negotiation would end as soon as it began. That is why May is instead seeking a bilateral free trade agreement with Brussels, akin to that negotiated between the EU and Canada.
Even a majority of those who voted Remain seem to sympathise with this approach. A poll published last week by the National Centre for Social Research found that not only did 86 per cent of Leave voters think that ‘prospective EU migrants should have to go through the same hoops as non-EU migrants’, but 54 per cent of Remain voters agreed with this proposition, too.
The other point which needs reiterating is that the constant Remain refrain that “only” 52% of voters voted Leave is a false one.
In any democratic election it is supposed to be the will of the majority which prevails, however small that majority may be. However, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the claim that “only”52% of voters voted Leave anyway disregards the fact that a clear majority of voters in England outside London – the core territory of the United Kingdom – voted to do so. It is both undemocratic and unrealistic to try to set aside the decision of these voters, and the consequences of doing so for the political establishment in London if it did would be catastrophic.
To see how that is so it is merely necessary to look at what has happened to the Labour Party. Though the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs and Labour Party members are strongly pro-EU, and though a majority of Labour voters in the referendum voted Remain, in many of the Labour Party’s core areas outside London voters voted heavily to Leave.
When analysed carefully, it becomes clear that much of the criticism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn from liberal Remain supporters because he is supposedly failing to oppose Brexit vigorously enough. However were Corbyn to resist Brexit as vigorously as his critics want, Corbyn would not prevent Brexit – as Leader of the Opposition he has no power to prevent it – but he would be risking the Labour Party’s continued existence in England outside London.
Recently two parliamentary elections were held in two former Labour constituencies: Copeland and Stoke. Labour held on to Stoke, but lost Copeland. I have no doubt that the primary reason Labour lost Copeland and why it is so far behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls is because the Labour Party – struggling to overcome its own divisions – is unable to put forward a clear view on Brexit.
Had the Labour Party supported a ‘hard Brexit’ it might have held on to Copeland. However in that case it would have risked seeing its position in pro-Remain London collapse. Had it opposed Brexit vigorously – as Corbyn’s critics want – it would however not only have lost Copeland but also Stoke.
If Remain irreconcilables are deluded about the level of support for Brexit, and about the fact it is going to happen, their greatest delusion of all is however about the nature of the EU itself. Here it is worth returning to the recent Guardian editorial I discussed previously
Like sheep, the British people, regardless of whether they support Brexit, are being herded off a cliff, duped and misled by the most irresponsible, least trustworthy government in living memory. The moment when article 50 is triggered, signalling Britain’s irreversible decision to quit the EU, approaches inexorably. This week, on Black Wednesday, the UK will throw into jeopardy the achievements of 60 years of unparalleled European peace, security and prosperity from which it has greatly benefited. And for what?
(bold italics added)
As a Greek national I simply do not recognise the existing EU in these words.
I was again briefly in Greece at the beginning of March and I can confirm the total accuracy of the devastating picture of what has happened to Greece as a result of the imposition of EU policies on the country recently provided by Michael Nevradakis for The Duran.
Suffice to say that talking about the EU in the way the Guardian and many Remain supporters do totally ignores the EU’s disastrous mismanagement of its expansion into eastern Europe, which has triggered a war in Ukraine and the massive migration flows which have now caused Britain to vote for Brexit, and its equally disastrous mismanagement of the European economy and its single currency, which have caused the total share of global GDP by purchasing power parity accounted for by the EU’s present members to shrink from roughly 30% in 1980 to less than 20% now.
Probably most British voters are not familiar with the totality of this picture. However they are certainly not entirely blind to it. It seems however that some Remain supporters are.
If the perspective on Brexit of many Remain supporters continues to be shot through with illusions, it remains concerning to me however how little understanding there is amongst Leave supporters of the scale of the challenge Britain now faces.
The reality of Britain’s economy is that it has been in steady decline since the 1950s with only a brief uptick in the late 1960s, which however was not sustained. Margaret Thatcher’s famous reforms of the 1980s may have improved the working of parts of the British economy, but at the price of weakening or entirely destroying the rest.
EU membership has to some extent insulated Britain from this reality, attracting inward investment to Britain and allowing the City of London to position itself as Europe’s financial capital. All this is now at risk. Talk of Britain once again becoming a great trading nation following Brexit ignores the reality that Britain’s economy though appearing large is uncompetitive so that Britain has been running large trade deficits in its trade on tradeable goods since the 1980s.
Brexit might in theory energise Britain, forcing Britain finally to confront its many structural problems and finally turning its economy around. Certainly the means to do it are there.
However that will require the British to be honest with themselves about the state of their society and economy, and about Britain’s profoundly diminished place in the world. Of that unfortunately there is no sign.