It’s not quite 6 months since the momentous Brexit vote, but by the exact (demi)anniversary I will hopefully not be thinking about writing (possible), or thinking about Brexit (unlikely), and now seems as good a time as any to think about where we are.
First to recap – out of a total UK electorate of 46.2 million, 17.4M voted for “Brexit” – no caveats, nothing about the Single Market the Customs Union or the Free Trade Area, just Brexit – leaving the EU. No timetable, no deadline.
16.1M voted to Remain. 13M who could have voted did not, while another 5 million of voting age were not allowed to vote either because they were UK nationals not on the electoral register (800,000 disappeared when the electoral register was changed to individual registration), they were the 3 million UK resident EU nationals, or because they were some of the 5 million UK nationals living abroad who were disenfranchised. There is no agreed figure for how many UK nationals were disenfranchised – this report suggests 2.2 million.
Another 1.5 Million 16 and 17 year olds were not allowed to vote, even though they had been enfranchised in the Scottish Referendum – a good example of Scotland thinking more seriously about democracy than Engand.
Why all the figures? Because I read time and again that the The Majority of the British People Voted to Leave the EU (and yes it often is typed in capitals and bold). This falls into the category of “If you repeat a statement often enough it becomes true”, a bit like “we can take £350M a week back from the EU and use it to fund the NHS.”
17.4M of 46.2M is 37.6%, nowhere near a majority of the British electorate.
Taking the figures of the disenfranchised from the changes to the Electoral Register, the overseas UK citizens that were disenfranchised and the 16 and 17 year olds together, makes 4.5 Million people. Adding these into the total electorate (without considering whether they would vote Remain or not), means the 17.4M becomes just 34% – taking into account the 3M EU nationals, that figure becomes just 32%.
We know from the opinion polls that UKIP usually gets between 12 and 17% support, let’s say average of 15% – so roughly half of the Brexit vote can be put down to UKIP supporters. I will make no bones about UKIP – since the demise of the National Front and the British National Party, UKIP is the home of the racist and the xenophobe, the “little englander” who still believes that Great Britain can become truly great again – and pines for the lost golden days of the British Empire.
I’m not suggesting that all kippers are racists and xenophobes but a lot of them are. So UKIP are the main source of the campaign about Immigration. Again, not everyone who is concerned about immigration is a racist or a xenophobe. There are a small number of communities where there is a legitimate concern about the impacts of immigration, but these are few and far between. Kippers like Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttalls and Arron Banks have used immigration to whip up anti-EU sentiment, very effectively.
On the economy, the Brexit vote and Brexiteers are split. On the one side there are the neoliberals/libertarian “Free Traders”. These people – people like Dan Hannan and Jacob Rees-Mogg, want to get rid of all the tiresome burden of regulation which they see the EU as having imposed on the UK. Rees-Moog went as far as to suggest that the UK should lower our environmental and health and safety standards to the level that India has. Brexiteer John Longworth thinks that by removing standards we can get access to cheap food from round the world. If we don’t care whether that food was produced using slave labour, illegal pesticides or harbours human animal or plant diseases, let alone destroys nature, then he may be right. Their champions in Parliament are the disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox. Brexit Minister David Davis is also of this ilk as is Iain Duncan Smith. They want the UK to leave the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union. They believe that we can set sail on the good ship Free Trade, making deals with whoever we like – turning our back on our European partners and seeking the cheapest products the world can offer. This group believes in the necessity of freedom of movement – movement of capital and movement of people. They aren’t interested in immigration controls, indeed their economic model depends on a growing resource of cheap labour – zero hour contracts, no workers rights, the “gig economy.”
In another economic corner there is an altogether different gr0up of Brexiteers – they want immigration control first and foremost, along with things like forcible integration into British (or rather English) society of immigrants, and to elevate something called “British values” (which are really English values), which is as yet undefined but undoubtedly includes Christianity and the promotion of predominantly white (male) culture. This group appears to be anti-neoliberal in that they claim to speak to the downtrodden, the left behind; and attack global corporatism. This group claims to be anti-elite.
In reality though people like Arron Banks, Lord Ashcroft and Nigel Farage are part of the very global elite and establishment they claim to despise. So there is some very clear political cross dressing going on here.
These Brexiteers are latent or blatant authoritarians – they are cosying up to both President elect Trump and President Putin. They are often Islamophobic and see the need to challenge a perceived threat from Islam as possibly the single most important cause of the current times – authoritarians need a “hate” figure or group they can blame for society’s ills. They are also socially very conservative, often align with the alt-right in their hatred of social justice and identity politics – whether it be feminism, anti-racism, redistributive socialism or indeed environmentalism. This group are avowed climate change deniers, though they may not all agree with Trump that it’s a Chinese conspiracy.
There is another small Brexit corner – the leftists who believed that leaving the EU would mean the UK escaped from the very real problem of corporate regulatory capture of the EU (Lexiteers). This group correctly identified that the EU was vulnerable to corporate lobbying which worked against the interests of the European public, on a number of fronts. They believed (still believe?) that we will be able to improve the lot of the working person, that we will improve protection of workers rights, the environment, and social justice, outside the EU. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are both Lexiteers.
So I think I have shown that the Brexit camp is split into at least three groups – possibly more. And they have very different views on what Brexit looks like.
Now consider how many people who voted Brexit would do so if the Referendum were held now, after 6 months of confusion, legal challenges, real and predicted shocks to the economy and the devaluation/inflation that has already happened.
Given all these conflicting and confusing positions from those seeking to influence her, it is no surprise that our new Prime Minister, who remember has no electoral mandate, nor is working from a manifesto, has no plan. Theresa May is hiding behind a disguise which is becoming thinner by the day. She may be holding her cards close to her chest, but the hidden cards say nothing except banalities like “we will have our cake and eat it.” Meanwhile the various elements of the EU are organising, marshalling their considerable forces. They have one goal – to punish the UK. We must be punished, to encourage the others.
The one thing the EU has to avoid is for other countries to follow suit and if the EU makes it abundantly clear that the UK will be significantly worse off outside the Union, that will focus the minds of the electorate in the Netherlands, France, Italy and Germany, all of whom have elections in 2017. No wonder the EU wants us to trigger Article 50 asap, so the blood letting can be begin. We will be the Christians cast into the Arena with the Lions, so the European electorate, watching from the cheap seats, can consider whether to convert to Christianity.
So all this talk of transitional deals, and taking our time (five years, ten?) to leave the EU is nonsense, a distraction. The EU will laugh out of court anything that reduces the punishment that has to be inflicted, has to be endured. Unless, unless….
What if Article 50 did turn out to be reversible? A new court case brought in the Irish courts is asking the European Court of Justice to determine exactly that question. If it rules that Article 50 is reversible, this may give May the get out of jail free card she clearly desires. She could start the ball rolling, then – when it becomes clear just how badly the UK is going to suffer for our “freedom”, she could call a general election and ask the country whether it still wants to go ahead with our Martyrdom on the twin crosses of “Free Trade” or “White British Values”.
If she does follow that route, she will be denounced by the extreme faction of the Brexit movement – what I call the Brextremists (which I would suggest speaks for only a fraction of those who actually voted Brexit.) The problems will really come from the element of Brextremists that lurk within her own party – the likes of Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox; the old guard of John Redwood and Peter Lilley; and the UKIP/Tory fringe of Stewart “suck it up” Jackson, Peter Bone, Phillip Davies and their ilk.
And so we will have turned full circle and be back to where we were before, when Cameron so foolishly committed to the EU Referendum, to try and cauterise the wound that has been festering within the Tory party for the last 25 years (and more.)
Still, with Labour in such total disarray, and likely to be staying that way for some time (until they realise the folly of the Corbyn experiment and get rid of him and his camp followers), she must feel confident that she can get a larger majority in a new Parliament Or at least the Tories will get a larger majority. She may have to fall on her sword to satisfy the Brextremists who will be incandescent with rage at her treachery.
Of course if the EU’s plan to punish the UK to keep the rest of Europe on side fails, and eurosceptic populists/authoritarians do take power in 2017, then there may well be no EU for us to decide to rejoin. If that happens, there will be an awful lot of people pointing to the UK and saying “This is where it all started. If it hadnt been for Brexit….”
And we can expect a quite different punishment altogether.