Every intelligent person – and it is partly a question of intelligence, however much Brexiteers may resent the imputation – now knows that the Brexit referendum was a cheat, with blatant lies, too many and too familiar to list, peddled on the ‘Leave’ side; criminal breaches of electoral law, shortly to be prosecuted in the courts (but too late, of course); Machiavellian new social media technologies employed to skew the vote; and the strong probability of foreign interference. In other words, it was at least marginally illegitimate. This, I predict, will be the aspect of it that will be highlighted in tomorrow’s history books. There’s also a general acceptance that the real villain of the piece was not any of the obvious and more clownish ones, like Boris and Nigel, but the smooth and polite Old Etonian David Cameron, who for internal Conservative party reasons decided to gamble the fate of his country on an over-simplistic democratic process that could not bear its weight. History may not be kind to him. In addition to all this, many people have also come round to the view – which was my original explanation, even before the vote was taken (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/), but is now widely accepted: not my doing, but because it has become obvious – that the ‘Brexit’ vote was in reality a cry of desperation by people who resented other features of modern British life, especially ‘austerity’, and simply wanted to ‘get at’ the ‘establishment’ or the ‘elite’ which they held responsible for their woes and disappointments. Hence, originally, the mess – almost comic, if it weren’t so serious – that we’re all in now.
The ‘intelligent’ solution, of course, would be for the country to be allowed a re-think, and a re-vote, on the issue of EU membership now that the implications of Brexit are far better known, and shorn of the illusions that clearly misled 52% of the people’s – those that is who bothered to vote – original decision. The single reason why that now seems unlikely is the irresponsible assurance Cameron gave that the outcome of the 2016 referendum would be set in stone and honoured come what may, which has become the Brexiteers’ main argument – no longer the merits of the case – for why it must be honoured now. Hence all the braying by the popular right-wing press about ‘traitors’ and the like; slogans like ‘leave means leave’, ‘you lost – get used to it’, and ‘what part of leave don’t you understand?’; the idea that is being put about that two referenda are somehow less ‘democratic’ than one; and the scarcely disguised threats of violence in the streets, even civil war, backed up by a resurgent ‘popular’ Right that has already caused the death of one good woman MP: and which is thought to be so potentially dangerous that Theresa May has already alerted the Army, including Reservists, to prepare for it. Again, all this has nothing essentially to do with Europe, which is simply the issue that has brought to a head decades of simmering national discontent.
This must be one reason why Jeremy Corbyn, whose Labour Party is more attuned to the feelings of its natural constituency in the more devastated parts of Britain than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats can be, is reluctant to come out clearly in favour of either ‘Remain’ or a second referendum at this point; for which he is being widely criticized. The point is that if he did come over to ‘our’ (the Remainers’) side it would immediately put him on the side of the ‘elite’, and be seen as a betrayal. It might also lose Labour votes in its northern English constituencies. (This is quite apart from his genuine Euroscepticism.) And for Corbyn, as a democratic socialist first and foremost, the issue of Europe can’t be regarded as the crucial one for Britain, just as it wasn’t for most of those Brexit voters. In a way it’s an unfortunate and possibly damaging distraction.
Britain’s deepest problems currently are to do with Victorian degrees of poverty, homelessness, the underfunded NHS, her only semi-democratic electoral system, the public schools, poor industrial performance, burgeoning inequality, rising crime (especially knife-crime), the impact of ‘austerity’, a bought, lying and corrupt press – probably the worst and least truly ‘free’ in Europe; growing racism – even incipient fascism; and a host of other things that any solution to the ‘Brexit’ problem is unlikely to address. Either in or out of the EU, things are only likely to get worse.
Which is why I, enthusiastic ‘Remainer’ that I am, suggest that giving way to the ‘Leavers’ a little way – I’ve mooted the Norway option before – may be the only way out of the present impasse, if it can push the European issue back into the shadows, where it lay before 2016. We also – despite my opening sentence, which I hope none of them will read – need to lay off painting the Brexiteers as ignorant, even if they are: in order to avoid antagonising them even more. Then we can direct our attention to the underlying problems that gave rise to Brexit in the first place, with the possibility of a return to something like the social democracy that didn’t work out too badly for us before Thatcher came on to the scene. The first step would be a properly socialistic new government. Which is why Corbyn should not be condemned for putting this – a General Election – first. As well as hopefully delivering Britain from the terrible effects of late-stage capitalism, it might also solve our ‘European question’ along the way. Two birds, one stone.
As you make clear Bernard a great deal of Brexit has little to do with the economics of EU membership, but has been a pretext for many other resentments. The referendum released the resentments of the dispossessed against the ‘Establishment’, including their marginalisation and suffering after years of austerity, which deliberately which targeted the poor to pay the price for the bankers and financiers who the Tories always protect, and their fears about immigration making things worse. These coalesced with the romantic mythologizers on the Tory right who think the Treaty of Rome replaced Magna Carta, wanting to recover a full sovereignty they feel must be indivisible. So both sides couldn’t care less about the economic consequences of Brexit because one side feels they have nothing to lose, and the other that any price is worth paying to recover full sovereignty. Their fears and resentments have been compounded by the lies and hysteria of the right press whose owners have their own agendas for getting the UK out of the EU and its regulations. Cameron seems to have been stupid enough to think the referendum would settle his internal Tory Party problems, the coalition would continue, and all the above remained buried.
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