Beguiled by the irresistible prospect of overturning Brexit before it even happens, many Remainers are even more oblivious to the consequences of forcing and winning a second referendum than Brexiteers were to the fallout from victory in the first
What would actually happen in the event that there was a second EU referendum? Unforgiving timescales mean that the prospect of a second vote may be more remote than ever before, despite much salivating on the Left and in the media, but the question is still worth asking because it reveals a pathology within the Remain side which not only mirrors but now exceeds that of the most unlettered Brexit Ultras.
Whether any future second referendum offered voters a choice between accepting the government’s secession deal or remaining in the EU on current terms, or if it posed a choice between the government deal and having to apply for re-entry on likely punitive terms, the argument put forward by establishment Remainers like Chukka Umunna is that “new facts” which “we could not know at the time” would inevitably swing the vote the other way.
Why do they think this? Because the intellectual leaders (though such a term may be too grand) of the Remain movement still refuse – either on principle or through basic incompetence – to empathise with the Brexit case. They live in a world of tenuous economic forecasts and financial charts designed to portray immediate economic ruin but refuse to acknowledge, let alone properly engage with, the democratic or self-deterministic case for leaving the European Union.
Even now, the idea that someone might reasonably vote for a cause which does not personally line their pockets or send perks and opportunities flowing their way is unfathomable to many Remainers (though of course there are Remainers of good conscience who do “get” the democratic argument while disagreeing with it). So on the whole, Remainers are no better equipped to fight any putative Referendum Take Two than they were the first time round.
But it gets worse. At the same time as they failed to update their overall case for Remain (for example by finally producing a forthright and unassailable case for European political union as a valid or exclusive solution to the problems we face), there has also metastasised within the Remain camp a very ugly and shrill Cultural Remain narrative which is openly hostile to Brexiteers as people, not just because of their vote.
This much is evident in that the cultural figureheads of Brexit are people like AC Grayling, Ian Dunt, Gina Miller and other polarising types who make no visible effort to see the argument from the other side (the first rule of persuasion), as to thus engage with “evil” would offend their delicate sensibilities.
Rather than outreach and understanding, there has been a constant hum of outraged, self-entitled contempt emanating from Camp Remain, and a seething hatred of Brexit voters which does not even attempt to mask itself. This is most clearly shown in the way that some Remainers publicly console one another at the prospect of elderly Leave voters dying, while others actively salivate at the prospect:
(The “wall of gammon” is a derogatory reference to white men of middle age and upwards, for whose deaths it is now perfectly acceptable to openly pine on social media and be blessed by the imprimatur of a Twitter verified tick).
So when the starting gun is fired on any second EU referendum, the pent-up cultural anger from this angry subgroup of Remainers will produce a banshee-type wail of fury and hatred toward the 52% that all but guarantees they alienate more swing voters than they are able to win over.
But we must also consider the dynamics of the public backlash. I wrote immediately following the June 2016 referendum how unprepared I was for the extent of the anti-Brexit backlash – partly because I fully expected the Leave side to lose the referendum and so had not mentally prepared for victory, but also because Brexiteers were so used to being the instigators of populist revolt that we neither saw the Remain backlash coming nor had any experience in defending against such a wave.
What should have been obvious to us then is that given the Remain side consists of the vast majority of politicians, academia and the cultural scene, their capacity to generate and sustain a backlash (or huge public tantrum) was always infinitely greater than a disorganised, squabbling band of Brexiteers who had wanting to leave the EU (in one form or another) in common with one another, but little else.
If Nigel Farage and UKIP were able to create a lot of noise and help dictate the UK political agenda in the years leading up to the referendum – and do so on a shoestring budget while riven with factional infighting, dogged by unforced errors and PR disasters – how much louder and more persuasive would the screams of self-entitled outrage be when they emanated from nearly every artist, celebrity, teacher, professor, public sector worker and a phalanx of journalists and commentators? Most Brexiteers, myself included, completely underestimated that part.
But if the establishment’s ongoing howl of outrage about Brexit is deafening, it would be nothing at all compared to the reaction of Brexiteers to having their decision called into question and the vote re-run in the hopes of getting a different answer. Rightly or wrongly, the resulting social and political conflagration would make AC Grayling’s Twitter feed look like a mellifluous, level-headed stream of soothing wisdom.
I say “rightly or wrongly” because I have no personal hostility toward a second referendum on principle, only that we only seem to be having this discussion because the Remain side lost. Ideally, guided by a written constitution rather than machinations behind closed doors, the terms EU referendum and the consequences of each result would have been more carefully considered, and the potential need for public ratification of any secession deal built into the process. But this did not happen.
On the contrary, the expensive pro-EU government propaganda inflicted on every British household made it absolutely plain that the UK government would implement whatever result was decided in the first and only referendum, despite their strong preference for keeping the status quo. And given the uncharitable way with which they would doubtless be dealing with Leave voters had the result gone the other way, their case is not a tremendously strong one, logically or morally.
Remainers should, however, learn from the harsh experience of Leave voters following our unexpected victory in 2016. Back then, Brexiteers were so keen on winning a “Leave” vote that we didn’t think through the extent of cultural opposition we would face between the referendum and secession day. And now many Remainers are so fixated on overturning Brexit they can’t think past the daydream of a “Remain” vote in a Referendum Take Two.
We hear much wailing about how Brexit has supposedly “divided our country”. This is mostly nonsense – the country was always divided over the EU, it’s just that the side who were used to having their way for 40 years suddenly find themselves unable to call all the shots, often for the first time in their living memory. The balance of divisiveness now tilts the other way.
But the divisiveness of a second EU referendum would make the first seem like good-natured banter between best friends – and having forced a replay, the Remain side would emerge neither victorious nor with their reputation intact. They would be responsible, in the worst case, for a rending of our social and democratic fabric which would likely prove impossible to repair. And even in the very best case scenario, the price of overturning the referendum would be millions of British citizens, half the country, effectively giving up on democracy and returning to a state of resigned indifference, a toxic and self-fulfilling belief that they have neither the right nor the ability to influence national events according to their values.
Remainers, who often consider themselves enlightened and progressive, would ordinarily recoil in horror from any course of action which threatened such toxic side-effects. They just can’t think clearly right now because the (unattainable) prize of scrapping Brexit and rendering the past two years little more than a centrist’s bad dream is so desperately shiny and alluring.
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This is a really excellent blog and captures much of how I feel about the situation. Thanks Sam.
I instinctively voted Remain as an only partially informed middle-class liberal, but my views have changed since as I’ve learned and reported on the EU and UK’s relationship with it.
I’m alarmed at the levels of hysteria and propaganda from Remainers, which has made me sympathetic to the Eurosceptic cause and the anti-establishments sentiments that led to the 17.4 million votes for Brexit.
It’s nice to see Anthony engaging here in a relatively considered fashion, but, as you point out, it is the mocking and dismissing of Leavers and the Eurosceptic case that has been one of the big problems since the Referendum.
Dear Mr Hooper
You don’t however say what the Leave case is. What is it? The slogans about ‘taking back control’ and ‘democracy’ rest on mountains of falsehood and confusion: we have never lost control, the EU is more democratic than the UK – the appearance otherwise is a joint artefact of the Daily Mail and our own fault for not taking an interest in elections to the EU Parliament (by proportional representation, note) and European affairs. As you yourself say here, Brexiters were and are ‘a disorganised, squabbling band… who had wanting to leave the EU (in one form or another) in common with one another, but little else.’ Yes indeed. REmainers however share a clear view based on 40 years experience of membership of the EU, and they are not put off by the fact that so great a project as co-ordinating the interests and activities of 28 countries must have its difficulties. – You interpret the economic argument as a matter of personal (you imply selfish?) interest on the Remainers’ part. The serious consequences for the economy of a Brexit is about jobs, the impact on families of unemployment, the corrosive effect of yet further increases in poverty on communities, neighbourhoods, with fewer resources for health care and education given a smaller tax base – with respect, you talk about the economic arguments of the Remain campaign very imperceptively: it is the accumulating attrition on a society of diminishing wealth, an inevitability of leaving the world’s biggest market with literally hundreds of highly advantageous trade deals with the rest of the wold thrown in. – Alas, at least some of the impetus for Brexiters was xenophobia: intrinsically unpleasant, but further damaging to the economy, to which fellow EU citizens from other EU countries make a large contribution. They add £1.50 to every £1 spent through health and education provision to them and their families. Until Brexit, 26% of NHS staff were from outside the UK: that number is plummeting.
All economies are always undergoing transition; there are always people being ‘left behind’ by these transitions; good government should be vividly alert to this and should deal with it. Since 2010 the problem has been exacerbated, not helped, by an austerity programme. One of the most toxic things that can happen in a state is inequality, and this has grown rapidly since the crash of 2008, indeed for longer than that. The sense of injustice felt by those who have been disadvantaged by growing inequality is very real, and it is a failure of our politics that it has not been addressed. But Brexit is the very opposite of a solution to this. This is why the policy of the Labour Party leadership is so astonishing: purporting to care about the ‘left behind,’ they support a policy calculated to damage them further.
My reasons for being an ardent Remainer – and as such, why would I pull punches on the argument for Remain, and – given the swing in public opinion against Brexit – for another say? – are not only economic ones. I support the idea of co-operation, progress, joint endeavour, sharing both the benefits and the need to confront problems, that the European nations have committed themselves to. I celebrate the deep rich culture of Europe that all European nations – our own far from least among them – share. I invite you to do this: spend a few minutes on YouTube looking at footage of Europe in 1945, at the devastated cities, at the wreckage that division and difference can produce. Then look for a few minutes at YouTube images of the UK in the 70s – strikes, piles of rubbish, an economy on the slide. And then – think again. This is a serious moment in our history, and our part in the great European project is a necessary one, because the other two nodes of influence and power in our world – the US and China – offer models which are nowhere near so good as the co-operative and progressive one that the EU ideal represents.
My good wishes to you,
Given the number of EU nationals murdered on their own streets last year by the religion of peace I would say you are looking in the wrong place if it is xenophobes you wish to blame for losing the vote.
Not that I expect you to address this blindingly obvious aspect of life in this ‘progressive’ nirvana you imagine we are heading towards.
You are right to criticise the lack of clarity or vision of many on the Leave side for what they want. But you do not address, but close-to perpetuate, the lie that the creation of EU aided peace between the nations of Europe after the destruction of WW2. This historical viewpoint has been comprehensively debunked by Booker and North in ‘The Great Deception’. Without this argument, what argument is there for a supranational organisation, instead of an inter-governmental one?
What is wrong with Norway? Is it more divided, poorer, less ‘progressive’ than the UK or Germany? No. But this country is outside the EU. What most leavers resent is the political arm of the EU, which has led to a centralisation of politics, some of it to Brussels, others of it to Westminster, and a concurrent reduction in the quality of MPs, because they have hid behind the responsibilities of the EU. Just because the self-professed leaders of the Leave campaign claim they want to leave the Single Market, and operate differently to Norway, doesn’t mean that those voting leave had the same aims and ideals as those public figures, and yet many remainers attack both as one and the same.
The countries in the EU are not all that successful any more. There is rising unemployment and tensions across the whole continent, for which the only answer is ‘more EU’. And you have to ask that if the EU was a truly benevolent force for peace, why does it persecute Russia, and create division and not try to bridge the divide with one of the largest European nations? If there is European trouble ahead, it will be between the EU and Russia, and yet it does little to stop this, and shows little want to do so.
To answer what do we want from leaving? Many of us have thought about this. We want to leave amicably, remaining in the Single Market for the time being, aka Norway, via a member of EFTA-EEA, whilst leaving the political institutions of the EU. This is best set out on eureferendum.com run by Richard North.
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…’…REmainers [(Implied) ‘Every single one of them, without exception, difference of detail or a
nuance’] however share a clear view based on 40 years experience of membership of the EU’…
1 Delineate that *exact* clear view.
2. Delineate the future of the EU in similar *exact* terms and demonstrate that ‘REmainers’ all follow that exact programme.
(Note, I do not claim that you have used the word ‘exact’ in your claims. Your response, however, clearly narrates a view in which pretty much all pro-EU campaigners seem to be settled on a specific and obvious course of agreed action.)
“… it’s just that the side who were used to having their way for 40 years suddenly find themselves unable to call all the shots, often for the first time in their living memory.” —
Samuel, you have in this one sentence summed up the entire American political landscape. In the case of the US, the bureaucracy, activist judiciary and even elements of the federal law enforcement (Dept. of Justice and FBI) are working to undo what elected officials are trying to accomplish.
At least the Remainers seem to nominally support democratic decision making.
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Thanks Dave, I agree that there are certainly some parallels here. And while I am myself no fan of President Trump as an individual, certain elements of the hashtag #Resistance seem to be every bit as unhinged as the loopiest of bitter Remainers.