Brexit

With a 51.9% (17.41 million people) majority vote versus the 48.1% (16.14 million people) opposing vote, those people throughout the UK that used their democratic voice and turned out to vote have spoken, with the voices requesting that we leave the EU speaking louder than those wishing to remain.

Whichever way you look at it, whichever side you voted for, and whether you voted or not, that is an undeniably close margin. The UK government must now take this advisory statement from the populous, and determine how best to proceed, which is much easier said than done!

Content:

Before - The Opposing Sides

There’s been a lot of discussion throughout newspapers, blogs, social media, etc., about how and why the Leave campaign won. I can’t speak for people’s personal motivations in how they voted, nor would I wish to. I’m also not a political editor, and have never studied politics in depth. So if you read this and wish to exclude my opinion, that’s fair enough. But nonetheless my opinion is quite simple: Leave had a dream.

Not to belittle Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, but the fact is, the Leave campaign had, as Nigel Farage put it, a “dream [of an] independent United Kingdom”. It sounds like quite the oxymoron, but my point is this: the Remain campaign had very little to offer leading up to the referendum, other than perhaps a promise that things would remain more or less the same as they were - that our relationship with the EU would continue, and we would continue to make efforts to better ourselves and the EU as a whole, as we have always done. All they could really do was warn us all of the stark reality of what may come if we decided to leave. Warnings that were quickly dismissed by many as fear-mongering, but that were nonetheless clearly heeded by almost half of those who voted.

The Leave campaign however had the allure of possibility and imagination on their side. They invited us all to imagine what the United Kingdom might become without the European Union weighing us down, no doubt inciting grand visions of the long dead British Empire - or at least of people’s ideas of the British Empire, as most of us were simply not alive when it existed. But it was an Empire, so it must have been fantastic, right?

The Remain campaign did try to play on people’s imaginations as well. But whereas Remain primarily tried to implant ideas of caution, and perhaps even fear, ideas of hope and possibility are far more appealing. I’m sure that all of us for at least some moment, however brief, may have imagined what the country might be able to do with the money that we spend on the EU, or what the UK’s own policies might be without the EU there to influence some of them, and impose others upon us. Politics has always been misleading, and the referendum campaigns were definitely misleading, but so are our imaginations. Some people didn’t let their imaginations take over and remained firmly planted in reality, and that reality may have swayed them to vote in either direction, while others no doubt gave into the allure of possibility.

The Leave campaign played on that possibility, and they did it very well. The UK’s claimed spending of £350million a week was a figure that appeared all over the place, coupled with, in most cases, suggestions that it could be used to fund our NHS, and in other cases, unequivocal statements that it would be used to fund the NHS. A lot was said about reducing immigration, with some implied (and no doubt some not-so-implied) statements of stopping it outright. Regardless of whether or not you think immigration is good or bad for the UK, it’s a powerful topic. The media force feeds us doom-and-gloom stories about immigration on a daily basis, and the topic has been on many people’s minds in some sense or another for a very long time. If, every day for many many years, you repeatedly said the words “I hate cats” to a person who in fact loves cats, several years later, when someone starts a conversation about cats, they may well still have a feeling of love for them, but your voice would also be there in the back of their mind telling that person that you hate cats. Just seeing repeatedly negative headlines about immigration is enough to plant an idea in your head, no matter how pro-immigration you are.

Leave were on a united offensive, with Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, and Boris Johnson equally fuelled by, as Nick Clegg put it, “a ferocious loathing of the EU”, while Remain were stuck firmly in defense. Both sides were misleading. Both sides were deceitful. Both sides employed whatever tricks and tactics they could. Whichever side you believe was more misleading or more appealing than the other, I have no doubt that the Leave campaign at the very least appeared more appealing than Remain’s efforts to most people, even to many Remain voters.

As far as I’m concerned, the simultaneously most realistic, comprehensive, and little-heeded view of what could happen if we voted to leave the EU came from an opinion article written by Nick Clegg the day before the vote (which is where I got the “ferocious loathing” quote above from). If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth a look.

The Aftermath

There’s been a massive outcry as a result of the EU referendum. If you haven’t noticed that yet, then I think there are a lot envious people out there who would like to know what hole you’ve been living in, because the political commentary on the likes of Facebook and Twitter has been constant (I’ve obviously been taking part in it, as I am also doing now).

The political and financial impact of the outcome has been staggering, especially bearing in mind that a referendum is just an advisory, and no action has actually been made on it as yet.

The most immediate impact was of course that the UK economy took a nose-dive. The impact to the FTSE and the value of the pound was enormous. However, it is now stabilising. There are lots of articles, Facebook posts, etc. out there still claiming that the British Pound is at its lowest value since the 1980s, and that was true the day after the referendum, but it’s no longer the case. That being said, the pound and the FTSE have still declined compared to their state before the referendum, and the impact of that nose-dive, however brief, still cost the country billions of pounds.

On a basic level, the level at least that most people will notice the change in the Stock Exchange, is in the value of their pensions and Internet Savings Accounts. On a more fundamental level, the change in valuation of the British Pound could impact just about all of our spending. Many companies will feel an immediate pinch as any services they use that are billed in dollars will have effectively just been increased in price, such as the use of Amazon Web Services (AWS) for server management and website hosting.

There was obviously a knock-on affect to international markets as well, and many businesses are taking cautious steps, most recently with the Institute of Directors finding that a quarter of its members plan to freeze recruitment, with 5% planning to cut jobs. These are of course just basic examples that people such as myself, who aren’t Financial Experts, can actually understand and will experience in our daily lives.

As the financial impact was becoming more apparent, the political impact began to rear it’s ugly head. It didn’t take long for the victorious campaigners to put some of their political rhetoric aside and admit to the ambiguity of their campaign. Almost immediately, Farage admitted that £350million a week would not be going to the NHS, as many Leave campaigners had claimed (some more unequivocally than others) and many of their supporters believed. This, coupled with Dan Hannan admitting that leaving the EU will not mean that immigration will be dramatically reduced, meant that the two fundamental tenets of the Leave campaign had been contradicted within hours of their victory.

(As a side note: In Farage’s defense, he never explicitly stated that the NHS would receive an extra £350million a week, although he did come extremely close to it. As with most political statements, it was largely an implication, but nonetheless, the inference that was made from it was one that caught on very quickly).

A lot of attention has been placed on these points, and rightly so, with many believing that without those claims the Leave campaign would have lost. I can’t claim to know how truthful that statement may or may not be. I think it still would have been a close call either way. Most Leave voters I’ve spoken to personally voted that way because they felt that the UK’s relationship with the EU was untenable - that the EU was too unstable, and that we were being pulled into an organisation that was (and is) not prepared for the issues that it’s facing. It’s a view I think many of us can relate to in some way. I can’t claim that the people I’ve spoken to represent the views of most Leave voters. But it is clear that many people who supported either side of the campaign were extremely disappointed with those revelations.

David Cameron then emerged shortly after 9am to give what was clearly an emotional speech, where he informed the country that he will be resigning and a replacement leader will be chosen at the Conservative Party conference in October.

Despite (or perhaps in light of) the above, other countries, and the right-wing leaders of political parties throughout the EU, quickly started to use the Not-So-United Kingdom’s example as a foundation for their own calls for Independence:

  1. Nicola Sturgeon has already stated that there may well be a second Scottish Independence vote in the coming years.
  2. There have been calls for Ireland to have a vote on unification.
  3. The Spanish government have called for joint sovereignty over Gibraltar.
  4. The German Finance Ministry has reportedly prepared a paper warning that France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Hungary could all follow Britain’s example in a “rash of anti-Brussels rebellions”.

More doom and gloom! I won’t even get started on the current state of the Labour party!

I don’t know how many of these things will actually happen. Ultimately, I don’t imagine that many of them will. Whether the countries of the UK and the EU enter bitter divorce negotiations or not isn’t really the main thing that I’m worried about as a result of this - it’s more that these statements, and the passionate statements being made by both Remain and Leave supporters all over the country, are a clear indication of the division that this referendum has created. The desire and basis for that division may have already been there in many people, but this vote has clearly sparked the fire. With a massive increase in reports of racist abuse, many people - including those who’ve emigrated to the UK from both inside and outside of the EU, and many British Citizens as well - have openly stated that they no longer feel welcomed in towns and cities that they’ve lived in for years, or even all their lives.

Considering everything I’ve just mentioned, it’s no surprise that a petition calling for a second referendum has been gaining a lot of traction. The petition states that, in the event of a less than 60% majority vote for a less than 75% voter turnout, a second referendum should be held. Naturally, many people feel that the vote would have turned out otherwise if the Leave campaign’s statements after emerging victorious had been said before the referendum took place, and that is likely a big factor in the petition’s popularity. Its traction is also owed partly to the fact that it was initially started by a Leave supporter who was expecting the Remain campaign to be victorious, and to the fact that Nigel Farage stated to the Mirror back in May, that in the event of the Remain campaign winning by 52 - 48, there would be “unfinished business”, but now that his campaign has won by that same margin, as The Mirror put it, “instead of dutifully calling for a rerun, Mr Farage hailed the victory as the first step to bringing down the entire European Union”.

Many people have also tried to laugh the petition aside with their own petitions asking for things such as decades-old football matches to be replayed because they didn’t like the result. There have also been many articles trying to discredit it. For instance, the data includes an indication of signatures by country - of the current 3,662,052 signatures at the time of writing, the count listed as being from the United Kingdom is 3,519,086, with it listing signatures from many other countries. Some of those signatures may of course be from eligible voters living abroad, but it does also include some signatures from less likely origins, such as 36 from North Korea. I have no doubt that some of the signatures aren’t real, or may be duplicates. We have to remember though, that most location mapping, whether done by postcode mapping, or via a geo-ip service, are inherently flawed due to formatting inconsistencies and the ability to spoof IP addresses (some browsers and anti-tracking add-ons even conceal your IP address automatically). Regardless of how accurate and reliable the data is, if even a quarter of those signatures are from Leave voters who would have voted otherwise as a result of any additional information that’s come to light, the result of the referendum would have been different.

Moving Forward - What Happens Now?

In the short term, nothing. The Stock Exchange and the British Pound will have some much needed time to regain their stability before the Conservative Conference in October determines our new unelected Prime Minister.

The government will now have to determine the best course of action in leaving the EU, a determination that ideally should have been made and presented before the referendum so that voters knew what to expect. A lot of questions will be asked to the PM, and Mr Cameron will present a well rehearsed dance of agreeing with their opinion and well rounded question while demonstrating his political expertise, providing reassurance, and strategically passing the responsibility of providing the actual answer to whoever becomes the next Prime Minister.

Whoever takes David Cameron’s place as leader of the Conservatives will likely be committing career suicide though, as Cameron’s Remain position, his repeated reminders that the country should enact Article 50 and leave the EU as soon as possible if the Leave campaign was successful, and his resignation, have left his potential successor with only a few very difficult options:

  1. Take control but don’t enact Article 50, therefore ignoring the result of a very public referendum that had a larger voter turnout than any general election since 1970.
  2. Take control and enact Article 50, but maintain trade and freedom of movement with the EU, therefore contradicting many leave voters expectations of what the result of the referendum would be by more or less maintaining the position we had, only with no say in EU policies.
  3. Take control, enact Article 50, and cut all ties with the EU, thereby sacrificing much of our country’s trade and stability.

Whoever chooses to run for, and ultimately take, the position of PM will do so knowing that their options are limited. So in the months leading up to the Conservative Conference, potential candidates will try to lessen this blow and at long last set more realistic expectations of the terms under which we will leave the EU, thereby attempting to prevent sacrificing their political career by becoming the next Prime Minister.

Of course, in setting such expectations, they will undoubtedly upset many people whose expectations were otherwise. So it will be done with a great deal of tact, aided by our mostly Tory-owned Press. But with the constant threat of a potential call for another general election so that the public can choose their Prime Minister, rather than the choice being made by Conservative MPs.

This process has already started, as was made clear by Boris Johnson’s article yesterday on the Telegraph’s website stating:

“There were more than 16 million who wanted to remain. They are our neighbours, brothers and sisters who did what they passionately believe was right. […] We who are part of this narrow majority must do everything we can to reassure the Remainers.
[…]
I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be. There will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields […].
[…]
British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down.”

As that article clearly indicates, Mr. Johnson’s Brexit vision is more or less exactly what we had, but with the addendum that we no longer have any say in EU policies. However you look at it, I have no doubt that a lot of Leave voters didn’t realise that this is the type of outcome they were actually voting for: not an immigration-free country and an increased-funding NHS, but a country shackled to the EU rather than tied to it, with chains we can’t move, instead of the rope that we had previously which we could at least loosen at times to make more comfortable.

The data we have available from this referendum shows that a large portion of leave voters included the elderly, those with low incomes, those with fewer formal qualifications, and those that live away from the successful urban centres. People who feel that their intelligence and ideas, and the concerns close to their hearts’, are often ignored by the young, the more wealthy, and the privately educated that make up our political system. They have demonstrated that they have a voice, and a strong one at that!

As was stated by Dr Alan Renwick of UCL, who was formerly based at the Universities of Oxford and Reading:

“If anything positive is to come of Thursday’s vote, it might be that the political class starts to listen to and care about these ignored people a little more. […] The best – indeed, only – solution is not to claim to be able to stop globalization at the borders, but to work out how to spread the benefits of globalization throughout society.”

So Get To My Point Already

I’ve tried to write this post while remaining fairly balanced. That being said, I have no qualms about admitting that I voted to remain in the EU.

I don’t think the EU is particularly stable, I don’t think the UK on its own would be weak. I do think that decisions made by our government are often to the detriment of those living in the countryside, as I certainly realised when I was living back in rural Suffolk in 2012-13 after completing my degree and the coalition’s aggressive cuts meant that I was stuck in a village with close to no public transport, unable to get a job because I couldn’t afford a car. I think that whatever happens, we will try to make the best of it.

I voted remain largely out of fear. As human beings, we resist change, and yet politically we often crave it and are willing to throw caution to the wind. I voted remain because I don’t crave political change, because in the Leave campaign I saw several very strong potential leaders who were united by their desire to leave the EU, and nothing else. I saw a campaign with no plan, and no exit strategy, that would not get my vote.

When general elections are held, through which the country elects the leading political party for the next 5 years, each party presents a manifesto detailing their plans, and ideally how they intend to achieve them. For this referendum, a decision for which the consequences could have an impact for decades to come, no such equivalent existed. On that basis, I strongly believe this referendum should be completely re-done on those terms, where we vote for something based on a properly presented strategy of what the outcome will be.

The Remain campaign’s manifesto could simply be “keep things as they are” if necessary, but the Leave campaign should have been made to present something concrete to truly demonstrate the likely consequences of backing them, and what their plan actually is, as it now seems that they had no plan. If a compelling and reasoned manifesto-equivalent had been presented, I may have even voted Leave myself. But that wasn’t the case.

Let me put it in slightly different terms:

If you get married when you’re drunk, that marriage can be annulled, because you cannot give adequate consent when your reasoning is impaired. We entered into this referendum, asked to choose a partner whilst drunk on misleading political rhetoric, and we followed through with it. They offered us no vows of commitment, they asked us to pay for the ceremony, and once it was done, our partner (and many others besides) resigned from their job because they weren’t willing to support us, despite the commitment they made. I, and many others, want a divorce from this (dis)union, and I think we’re perfectly entitled to one.

I also don’t think that a second referendum will take place, regardless of the millions of signatories that have signed a petition requesting one (although to brush the petition aside, given its popularity, could prove disastrous). Perhaps, if given the chance, as a country we would make the same decision, and if so, it would be on better, stronger, and more reasoned terms. But I don’t doubt that our MPs will commit themselves to enacting the decision that the public has already presented them with, rather than admit to the ambiguity and deception of the campaigns on both sides. I would love to be proven wrong, but I expect that I won’t be.


Posted: June 27th, 2016
Categories: life, politics