I know what you’re thinking – there are a lot of things missing from the Brexit debate. Some realistic form of what post-Brexit Britain might look like, some of you might say. What I’m going to talk about here is what Remainers are getting wrong – and why that makes Brexit almost certain to happen, whatever you might think. In fact, the only thing that would stop Brexit now would be it simply being impossible to actually pull off given the personnel involved (this is theoretically possible), not anything the anti-Brexit crowd are doing.
Remainers keep coming back to Labour and Corbyn’s position on Brexit. This is because it feels like most Remainers still beating the drum these days are centre-left. I’ve explained this many times, but here it goes again: Corbyn and McDonnell’s position on Brexit makes perfect sense given their politics. It isn’t a stance taken to appease a certain old school portion of the Labour vote, it is how they actually feel about the UK’s membership of the EU. Many Labour figures go on about how you can run a perfectly left-wing country while being in the EU – look at Sweden and Denmark, for example. But that’s the point: Corbyn and McDonnell don’t want to be Sweden, however much you keep projecting that onto them. They want to be Venezuela and you can’t do that from within the EU. You can’t “requisition” people’s property from within the EU. You can’t chuck mounds of public money at corrupt crony capitalists from within the EU.
What Remainers are missing is a solid, centre-right argument for avoiding Brexit. This is the only thing that might have a chance of working. And here’s the thing: it isn’t hard. In fact, it’s much easier than constructing a reason for why remaining in a capitalist club like the EU is a good idea from a left-wing perspective. Leaving the EU will cause disruption and is in fact a major revolution in how the country is run – not something that could be described as conservative in any way. It will almost certainly hit the economy, at least in the short term, all for a theoretical long term gain that is starry eyed at best – a centre-right argument against this constructs itself. It will almost certainly result in less free trade, at least to begin with – again, the centre-right argument for why this is a bad idea doesn’t even need to be formed. It is just there.
But most people on the centre-right have settled into Brexit being something that just has to now happen. The fact that all of the anti-Brexit noise is coming from the centre-left just confirms them in this thinking. The only group that had a shot at counteracting this was the Liberal Democrats, and they decided instead to crawl into a left-wing, pre-2005 safe space where it was assured that everyone was going to completely ignore them – and so it has come to pass.
Remainers need to accept that they need to appeal to the centre-right – or else just accept that Brexit is going to happen and move on with their lives.
Such an argument would be pretty easier demolished by Leavers, as it effectively boils down to ‘don’t rock the boat’ and all Leavers would have to do is ask the public, ‘but is the boat’s destination, ie, a much more tightly integrated Europe of the type envisioned by the Junckers, Tusks and Macrons, somewhere you want to go?’
(Honestly, the exact moment the UK left the EU is probably when Juncker was installed, thus demonstrating (a) just how little notice the EU pays to the objections of the British PM, and (b) making plain that the aim behind the spitzenkandidaten process, of trying to make a single European polity, had the blessing of the majority of the Eurocrats)
But yes, it is interesting that the fact that most Remainers are way to the left of the UK population generally (like the Lib Dems you mention), and therefore would feel dirty even making such an argument, means that it’s not even being attempted.
You are right, of course – I think any argument put forth by Remainers would struggle much more than the Remainer bubble thinks they would. Thus why they feel so certain a second referendum would be won – despite evidence to the contrary.
I just find it amazing that Remainers don’t even want to make the most convincing and possible fruitful argument – nor do the Lib Dems, who continue to lurch further and further to left in a sort death spasm.
I think it’s because of what was identified a few days ago, of the issue hardening into a culture war.
For the people on the left, it’s not just about stopping Brexit: that has simply become rolled into the whole post-Trump narrative of ‘the rise of twenty-first century fascism’ and no compromise can be made with the cultural enemy. I honestly think there might even be some who want Brexit to happen, and for the results to be terrible, in order to bring the country to its knees and send us begging back to the EU, promising to adopt the Euro and join Schengen and be good internationalist Europeans from now on.
While for those Remainers on the right, well, none of them ever really loved the EU. It was useful, but not a part of their identity in the way it was for those on the left. their support was always conditional on: do the benefits outweigh the costs? And the thing is, now to the ‘costs’ have been added ‘deepening the divisions, making a messy situation messier, etc etc’. It’s no longer a question of ‘benefits of being int he EU versus costs of being in the EU’, ‘it’s ‘benefits of being in the EU versus (costs of being in the EU + costs of fighting to reverse the referendum decision)’. And that extra term changes the calculations a lot.
Those sorts of people dislike uncertainty most of all. And while they may think that Brexit will leave the UK worse off, it is at least a reasonably concrete scenario (even if the details remain very very hazy) that can be factored into plans. whereas reopening the whole thing (a) immediately puts us back into the uncertain situation of June-July 2016, immediately before the referendum and the stunned reaction in the wake of the unexpected result, and (b) risks getting even worse because of everything that has been mentioned passim to do with turning the Cold Culture War hot, a possible challenge to the challenge, either in the courts or at the ballot boxes or both, etc etc etc.
Basically, the centre-right are the ones who ride Leviathan, and when Leviathan turns, even if you don’t like the direction, you don’t try to tame Leviathan because the alternatives to Leviathan range from ‘worse’ to ‘unthinkable’. Pace Mr Hobbes.
It’s interesting to speculate how different the debate might be if Clinton had been elected instead of Trump. In that less febrile international climate, would lefties feel more secure doing the pragmatic rather than the ideological thing? Would righties be less scared of the whole thing erupting into open warfare if they had seen the USA keep a lid on its own internal divisions for another four years, and therefore not put as high a possible cost on going against the referendum result?
I guess we’ll never know.
Paul W says
“It’s no longer a question of ‘benefits of being in the EU versus costs of being in the EU’, ‘it’s ‘benefits of being in the EU versus (costs of being in the EU + costs of fighting to reverse the referendum decision)’.”
M – Funnily enough listening to a bit of the debate in the House of Lords today, the same thought occured to me. After three years of heated, passionate argument, why would the electorate suddenly turn round and dump Brexit in a second referendum – “Well, that was fun while it lasted wasn’t it?” – particularly if voters perceive the unwelcome prospect of a ‘United States of Europe’ as being on the horizon, however dimly discerned at present.
I think the key test for Brexit will be whether the final Agreement is of ‘merchantable quality’. I think we must assume that it will be so because, if it isn’t, why would any government acting in good faith waste time putting it before the nation in the first place?
A suggestion Nick – I think it would useful to explore the growing ‘culture war’ angle to Brexit in more depth in another piece,
Laurence Cox says
Although still a Remainer, the spitzenkandidaten process was a major concern for me about EU democracy and one that I could never get senior Lib Dems to take seriously. We rightly complain about the iniquities of FPTP and call for PR in UK elections, but the EPP’s 29.4% of the seats on a turnout of 42.5%. meant that Juncker became President with the support of a mere 12.5% of the electorate. The EPP and S&D between them could dictate that one of their spitzenkandidaten was going to be President, simply by agreeing between themselves beforehand to support the candidate of whichever of their party groups won most seats in the European Parliament. By doing so, they could deprive all the other party groups in the EP of any say in the selection of the President as both groups knew that even before the election they would between them control slightly more than half the seats in the EP.
Is Nick still a member of the Lib Dems
Is Nick still a member of the Lib Dems