“The people have spoken” [… “and that’s that”] is the only response you will get from Leave advocates in response to requests for a plan. Some have even gone to far to condemn outright anyone “opposing the people” as unpatriotic, even suggesting in one case they should not be allowed to be MPs.
The notion that there is clarity behind what the “people said” on 23 June is yet another example of Brexiteers’ inability to understand the world is not black and white. There is an awful lot of grey in there. What, actually did the “people say” on 23 June?
To me, it is clear they said two distinct but related things. First, they wanted “take back control” in terms of “sovereignty”, so that it would rest solely in the UK; this line of argument is frustrating because it is in fact a theoretical thing in the modern world (as soon as you do any “Trade Deal”, for example, you in practice yield your right to use your sovereignty in certain agreed areas; in any case, it is corporations rather than states who affect our lives in huge ways technologically and economically, and non-state actors who threaten our security), but it is what they said. Secondly, they wanted to “take back control” in terms of the “border” or, frankly “immigration”; the notion that the UK should reduce immigration is economically so flawed as to be barely worth talking about and the idea that it is solely EU immigration which is the issue is fanciful, but it is in fact not as brutal a thing as is sometimes presented (for example, some did make the point that the UK should have the right to treat Commonwealth citizens similarly to European in terms of jobs, which in principle I myself am sympathetic with).
It turns out also, however, that many voted Leave on the assumption that this largely theoretical “taking back control” would come at no financial cost – indeed, the infamous bus suggested it there would also be a financial “taking back control” to the tune of several hundreds of million pounds every week. However, it is beginning to become apparent, notably in the north of England, that this simply is not true. As winter begins to hit, the direct cost of the decline of Sterling is beginning to hit.
The UK Government’s own Autumn Statement showed that income from employment income tax receipts will be an eye-watering £90 billion lower than the pre-June forecast over the Parliament – more than the entire UK contribution to the EU budget even before the rebate!
This is relevant. Many of those voting Leave did so as a matter of principle and that is their democratic right. But some, at least, did not; they believed that they would be genuinely better off, at least in terms of public spending, for having voted that way – even if they did not quite believe the “£350 million” figure on the bus, they believed the figure would be positive rather than negative and that is what informed their vote.
There is no evidence that figure will ever be positive rather than negative. Many of those who voted Leave in good faith that it would be will increasingly begin to question what they are told. As the weakness of the UK’s negotiating position becomes apparent and the serious financial cost (borne directly by people, typically by those who can least afford to pay it) becomes clear, 2017 will likely be the year in which the European debate proved to be far from over.