What did the people say on 23 June?

“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.


2 thoughts on “What did the people say on 23 June?

  1. While, as a ‘Remainer’, I have a good deal of sympathy with much of what you say, Ian (as I regularly do), it is also time for thinkers on the Remain side to start to pay attention to why such a substantial cohort of the populace voted for Brexit. After more than 40 years of living together, the people of a relatively conservative country voted, against the advice of almost all of the establishment to leave the EU. This represents a massive failure of the EU, over a long period of time, to reach out to its own people and, as 2017 will likely show, it is not a problem restricted only to the UK. There is no indication that the EU is reflecting on its failures in this regard, and the consequence will be a further deterioration in public confidence across the continent. Indeed it is by no means clear what sort of EU will remain when by April 2019 the UK is outside of it. There are wider global waves of thinking, and while it would be simplistic to equate the election of Donald Trump with the vote for Brexit, many of the same comments that I have made with regard to the EU leadership could also be levelled at the global ‘liberal’ establishment (which is not actually very liberal at all). We have actually no idea what the economic consequences will be for the UK, though clearly a move away from free trade will not be good for the global economy, but when the same people who have complained for some years that the UK was too dependent on the financial sector are now the people who are talking up the disastrous consequences for the country of a reduction in the financial sector, it is not hard to see why many ordinary people are sceptical of economic experts. Indeed these are also the people who declared the beginning of the end of the UK when we did not join the euro, and yet few of them have publicly addressed why they were wrong on that front, as indeed few of them could answer the question put by The Queen – why did they not see the economic tsunami before it broke upon us? Part of the reason is that the success of science and the scientific method in areas like fundamental physics, and aspects of medicine, has given an undue confidence in making predictions about things which function at a level of complexity that makes most predictions impossible. That set of attitudes in, for example, economics and political science is bad science, and I think that it has contributed to the loss of faith in ‘expert’s and in knowledge. A couple of weeks ago Joan and I stood in Berlin on the site where the books were burnt in the 1930’s, and pondered whether Trump’s comments about ‘loving uneducated people’ are part of us sliding back towards the abyss. We need to think more about why the Remainers (here and elsewhere) are failing to stop this political tsunami and not just criticize the success of our opponents who feel that only splitting off and separation can sustain their sense of identity – the real driver in all of this.

    • I could not blame you for not reading ever yet colon of what I publish, but I have long made the same point. Indeed I got a whirlwind of abuse for suggesting that it is just possible Trump won based on the votes cast under the system long established rather than because of Russian hacking. The “Liberals” of whom you speak are often somewhat illiberal once things stop going their way!

      That said, it is not good enough either for people to cast motivations upon Leave voters. We are actually genuinely unclear what they said. I have suggested a Constitutional Convention, for example, as a way of finding out. The real risk here is that the nouveau Establishment, charged with delivering what they said, will actually be no better at it than you or I would be.

      And I have to cast the blame primarily on Leavers for that. When asked simple questions, like why would we want to do our own Trade Deals, they abjectly fail to provide any answers. It is impossible to play the game if the other team does not even agree the shape of the ball!

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