I observed both sides of the debate and discussed the issues with friends and colleagues in the run up to the referendum.
I listened to and witnessed the lies and exaggerations of the Brexit side regarding what the EU is, its purpose, its costs and its detriments. I also regularly heard their statements that only a soft exit was intended.
Although the terms hard and soft in relation to the exit were not in use at that time, the statements most typically coming from the leave campaigners would lead one to believe they intended the UK to be a member of the EEA (European Economic Area). There was never a public endorsement of what is now called a “Hard Brexit” or a “No-deal Brexit” prior to the referendum.
In fact the Brexiteers never really presented any coherent vision of what the result was intended to look like, just a lot of complaints and an incoherent set of purported benefits from multiple points of view. They tried to be everything to everyone. The leave campaigns (and yes there were multiple leave campaigns) could be summed up as “EVERYTHING will be better for Britain and Britons when we take back control of our own country”.
I saw that the official remain campaign never published any strong endorsement of EU membership and identified no clear set of benefits that the UK received and receives through its membership. The entire official remain campaign could be summed up as “it would be difficult and expensive to leave, so better to keep things as they are”. I later learned that this was due to the direct instructions from the Prime Minister at that time – David Cameron, who was also the head of the official remain campaign.
The entire campaign was conducted in a manner similar to that of the earlier Scottish referendum. The remain campaign used logic and reason, while the leave campaign had all the emotional arguments and symbols on its side. It was a campaign of emotion versus reason. As any marketing expert will confirm, in a contest between logic and emotion, emotion wins most of the time.
During the campaign, I saw the British government doing what all the governments of the other EU member states do. They claim all the benefits of EU membership as being the result of their own government policies, and blame all the negative effects on the EU, variously labelled as “Brussels” or “the (European) Commission”. In the referendum, the consequences of that political cowardice really helped the Brexit campaign.
There is no consensus about what we are trying to achieve, either amongst the Brexiteers or among the Remainers. Both sides are factionalised with deep divisions and everyone pulling in different directions. The European leaders aren’t going to agree to the ‘Chequers Deal’, it is dead in the water, only Mrs May is delusional enough to think that it is still a realistic possibility. So it looks like we are heading for a ‘No Deal Brexit’, and this is the worst of all possible outcomes.
When this is all over, everybody in the country is going to be saying “This not the Brexit I voted for”.
I voted to remain in Europe.
Since the referendum I have watched the core Brexit politicians reveal themselves as duplicitous manipulators who will say and do anything to promote their interests and the interests of their class and the interests of the lobbyists who are lining their pockets, rather than act for the good of the country as a whole. I think certain factions within the Conservative party have a hidden agenda to fundamentally change the nature of British society to entrench the privileged elites.
A hard exit from the EU is simply the first step. After this, there will be a concerted, sustained attack on the worker and social protections that the EU has fostered. When I hear people like Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg or James Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame) talk about freeing British industry from red-tape and unnecessary regulation, I believe they mean to eliminate things like job security, paid vacations, the minimum wage and other worker protections.
In fact, previous Conservative governments have already made a start on this. In recent years there has been a proliferation of “Zero hours contracts”. This is a pernicious contract which allows the employer to bypass almost all employment rights. This type of contract should not even exist in a developed country.
The division between the rich and the poor is getting wider. Some progress had been made in recent years, John Major, building on some of Margaret Thatcher’s changes made some hesitant steps forward. The Labour Party, under Tony Blair, appeared to accelerate this trend. But in the last decade in the name of austerity these improvements have been reversed and the Conservative party has reverted to form, this coincides with the rise of nationalism in many countries. Brexit is just one more step in this process and it is likely to be a exceptionally painful step for the majority of people.
I have come to the conclusion that the hardliners in the Conservative party are a significant threat to British liberty and to the British economy as a whole (at least outside the financial centre in London, and perhaps in the Tory heartland). The fact that the strongest advocates of a hard Brexit have significant wealth (much of which has been moved out of the UK, at least until the dust settles) or are seeking / have obtained bolt holes in other countries in Europe (e.g. Farage in Germany, Lawson in France) should be taken as a strong warning by the rest of the country.
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is just marking time. It is simply waiting for Brexit to happen under Tory responsibility so it can win the next election and form a government. I see Corbyn as very similar to Gordon Brown in that he lusts for power, but hasn’t got the slightest clue of what he wants to do with it – he will just drift aimlessly, simply reacting to events.
The greatest political disaster for Britain in the 20th Century has been the collapse of the Liberal Party (I mean the real Liberal party led by the likes of David Lloyd George, not the current joke called the Liberal Hypocrites Democrats). The Liberal Hypocrites Democrats lost all credibility when they cosied up to the Conservatives in the Coalition. When that occurred, the result was, as Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”.
Britain is a country divided, and it’s getting more divided. There are damned few politicians even admitting the divisions exist, never mind actually attempting to resolve any of them. The Liberal Hypocrites Democrats are living in cloud-cuckoo land, Labour is ducking and dodging any responsibility while it waits to take over in the aftermath of what will probably be an unmitigated disaster, UKIP is happily pouring nationalist petrol on the fire while the Conservatives are happily expanding their internal dispute into a national crisis.
Is there anyone out there worth voting for ?