Two years ago today – that fateful day when the UK voted, by the slimmest of margins, to leave the EU. I’d loved to have gone on the People’s Vote march in London, even though I’m ambivalent about whether there should be another vote. But domestic circumstances, which I won’t go into, mean I’m here in Dorset instead – beautiful sunny Dorset.
I just re-read the piece I wrote a day after the vote result was announced, an angry piece called Turkeys have voted for Christmas. It was far and away the most widely piece I’ve written on here – a fact which does, on reflection, provide no solace to me. I talk about the older “working class” voter and how they wanted to leave the EU in order to rekindle some notion of past British glory. I haven’t changed my views in the intervening 2 years.
Sociologists have looked in detail at who voted to leave and why – yes, fears of immigration played a part, as did “taking back control” from supposedly unelected Brussels bureaucrats. Vote leavers were also older and less-well educated than the average. But aside from these (which are easily influenced by the media and propagandists) the strongest correlate with voting leave was supporting the reintroduction of the death penalty. and to a lesser extent corporal punishment. According to one sociological theory, this desire to beat and kill people who transgress the law identifies the Right Wing Authoritarians among us. Not much a surprise there.
What I hadn’t appreciated at the time of writing (no-one had) was the extent to which both the official Vote Leave campaign; and the unofficial Leave.EU campaign, cheated. Vote Leave, led by the execrable Dominic Cummings, deliberately flouted the rules on funding by creating a fake campaign called BeLeave, then channelling over £600,000 through it to an obscure Canadian company called AggregateIQ, who used it to help target social media ads towards voters, to sway them to vote Leave. This was illegal and the Electoral Commission will publicly confirm this in the next couple of weeks. In fact there is plenty of evidence that Vote Leave broke electoral law, presumably knowing that even if they were eventually caught, the Referendum vote would not be overturned. There’s also the small matter of another £435,000, which was channelled to AggregateIQ via the party in power, the DUP. It is still a mystery where this DUP dark money originally came from and both the DUP and the Government have moved mountains to keep this a secret. Why?
And then there’s Leave.EU – the rival campaign set up by UKIP donor Arron Banks, with Nigel Farage. The stories swirling around Banks and Farage have darkened with each passing month since the referendum. Leave.EU has already been heavily fined by the Electoral Commission for cheating. It now seems pretty clear that Banks and Farage were working both with the far and libertarian-right in the US – think Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer; and also with the Russians. And of course it’s perfectly possible that those are in fact one group working together (who helped install the deranged puppet Donald Trump in power.) It’s still unclear exactly how much influence the Banks/Farage campaign had over the poll result, but does that really matter? That both external malign influences from the US and Russia deliberately worked to sway the poll, using methods Goebbels would have been proud of (and indeed Banks’ wingman Andy Wigmore specifically referenced the “very clever” Nazi propaganda machine). I could go on, but one thing which is still a mystery about leave.EU is where the money came from. Banks poured millions into it, but has never given a straight answer as to where that came from. And his claims to be a multi-millionaire also face some very serious questions.
UPDATE: this morning (monday 25th), Bloomberg is running a story claiming that the EU Referendum results were used by Hedge Funds, some close to Nigel Farage, to make millions by “shorting the market,” and in particular Farage’s bizarre concessions that the vote had been lost, on the night.
What of all those promises made by the various leave campaigns? We now know the £350M a week for the NHS on the side of the bus was a fiction. There is no Brexit Dividend and the NHS has been starved of cash since 2010, for ideological reasons. Now the tap will be turned on a bit, though it won’t make up the big shortfall of underfunding. And taxes will rise to pay for it.
What about “taking back control” from the hated EU and giving it to the Mother of Parliaments? well that hasn’t worked out so well either. Far from taking back control and giving it to Parliament, this Government has taken control away from Parliament in Westminster, as well as grabbing powers that had previously been devolved to Edinburgh and Cardiff. As for the devolved Parliament of Northern Ireland – conveniently, that collapsed thanks to the DUP running a renewable heating scam for their members. As the ongoing car crash formerly known as the EU withdrawal bill crawled through the Houses of Parliament, it became increasingly clear that Parliament would be prevented from having any meaningful say on the Brexit negotiations outcome. Parliamentary conventions have been thrown away, debating time has been curtailed and rebels bought off with hollow promises. Thanks to Brexit, our Parliamentary democracy has been badly wounded, while the devolved administrations are seething with anger at the betrayal.
The big concern of many leave voters was immigration. And how that has played out – stoking the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment has also fuelled the return of the far-right, only this time they are adopting the tactics of terrorism. EU nationals are now afraid to speak their mother tongues in public lest they be verbally or physically attacked. It is no surprise really that they are leaving in droves, leaving holes in our society and economy. Farmers (a significant chunk of whom voted leave remember) are now crying out because key workers in the food industry, from fruit pickers, to meat packers, to vets, are leaving. Who can blame them? Being offered “settled status” ie second class citizens – at best (assuming a deal can be done with the EU) – what would you do?
Interestingly, with Sajid Javid, the son of an immigrant now in charge at the Home Office, the tone is changing. And that’s hardly surprising after the Windrush scandal. But of course it’s too late. Anti-immigrant sentiment was whipped up by the leave campaigns (especially the hateful quasi-fascist Nigel Farage) and once that Pandora’s Box has been opened, it’s very difficult to close again. The truth is we need people to come to the UK to contribute to creating a thriving society and economy.
Quite apart from any ideas about being an open outward-looking society, it’s simple demographics. The post war baby boomers are retiring, and by 2030 around a quarter of the population will be over 65. Meanwhile the birth rate for white British people is declining. Ergo, if we reduce immigration (from wherever) to the “tens of thousands a year” which Theresa May continues to cling to, presumably to appease the Right Wing Authoritarians in her own party, then who will look after the elderly? Perhaps Mr Farage will propose a scheme to forcibly pair up suitably white young people, to produce copiously large families. It’s been done before; and there are plenty of eugenics advocates around.
Finally, let’s look at the Economy. Brexit was going to free us from the chains of the Single Market and the Customs Union. We were assured that The Good Ship Britannia was going to sail away onto the Oceans of Free Trade; we could do new deals that were far better than the ones we had within the powerful EU bloc. The USA for example. Just one problem – Trump the protectionist. Trump isn’t interested in free trade. He wants America First. This means we have to buy chlorine-washed chicken and whatever else the US decides we need, if we want the City to carry on making money from arranging mergers between US-based multinationals. Suddenly the idea of getting a great Trade Deal with the USA doesn’t seem quite so alluring, unless you’re the Atlanticist and disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who’s leading our charge on Trade. Actually there’s a much bigger problem in the way of these great new trade deals – the Northern Irish Border. What no-one seemed to realise at the time was that a Free Trade Brexit would mean breaking the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Meanwhile, as we lurch from one Brexit-crisis to the next, with no clear end point in sight, the Economy is struggling. Brexit caused a big devaluation in the pound, boosting exports. That boost has now gone. Now we just have uncertainty. And, as we move ever closer to Brexit day, that uncertainty will magnify and multinational businesses that need to be in the EU, will leave. Airbus might stay, but plenty of others will go. Brexit also creates domestic uncertainties. It’s no surprise that High Street, Britain is in trouble. Who wouldn’t put off those big purchases, or think twice about going out for a meal, if you don’t know if you will have a job, or reduced hours/pay in a few months time.
I won’t dwell on things like Brexit’s impact on the Environment -as I have a piece on that particular aspect on Lush Times today.
Where does this leave us? Yes Brexit was a con trick. David Cameron sealed our fate, I guess in the hope that he could go down in history as the Tory leader who lanced the Europe Boil that had festered in his party for the past 50 years. Others then stepped in to exploit the situation, the Vulture Capitalists like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Neo-Libertarians from the shadowy world of Think Tanks – the IEA, Tax Payers Alliance, Legatum Foundation and the rest. They saw, and see, Brexit as a great opportunity to deregulate Britain – effectively creating a “free-market paradise” otherwise known as an Offshore Tax-Haven/dark money laundromat, on Europe’s doorstep. Sell off what’s left in public ownership; turn us into a small version of the states. A new version of Airstrip One, as Orwell called it.
I applaud all efforts to try and reverse Brexit, but I think it’s going to happen. And I think we all need to prepare for it. Without wishing to be alarmist, I am worried. I am thinking about getting solar panels and a generator. We will definitely be stocking up on food staples (and firewood) well ahead of Brexit day. I wouldn’t be surprised if, given Theresa May’s authoritarian streak, there is some sort of martial law imposed, or Parliament and elections suspended.
Bloggers such as myself may find we are not able to publish what we want any more. What do we do then?