Brexit Summer Reads


Now that summer has finally arrived here are a few reads that you might want to smuggle away in your case to balance your more typical holiday reads.

First up is a speech given by Theresa May in defence of remaining in the EU that she gave during the EU referendum campaign. The PM has since made clear that Brexit means Brexit, but her April 25 speech gives a helpful insight both into how she approaches big political decisions and also her understanding of key concerns that are going to be recurring features during the Brexit negotiations.  The speech shows her to be a pragmatic multilateralist who recognises that in some instances the pooling of sovereignty is necessary to protect and promote the national interest.

Next up is a 2,000 word article by David Davis on the Conservative Home website setting out his views on how the Brexit negotiation should proceed. The article was posted last Monday before Theresa May was confirmed as PM and before he was appointed as the Cabinet Minister responsible for spearheading the Brexit negotiations. It’s worth a read not least because government officials across the Europe will no doubt be poring over the piece.

Davis suggests holding of triggering formal negotiations until the end of 2018 and using the next 18 months to negotiate key trade deals with Britain’s non-EU partners. His preferred option is continued tariff-free access to Europe’s single market, but suggests that if the EU is irrational during the negotiations then the UK should accept restrictions on free movement and shift to World Trade Organisation rules and levies, including 10 per cent levies on car exports.

You can make your own mind up on whether this blueprint represents a credible strategy and we will have to wait and see whether it survives the scrutiny of Whitehall mandarins but the article does provide a useful insight into David Davis own views on how the UK should exit the EU.

The third piece of holiday reading is a detailed analysis of the state of the UK economy from the Centre of European Reform written by Christian Odendahl and John Springford. This is not for the faint of heart as it calmly dismantles the optimistic outlook of the Leavers and explains why the UK may be heading for recession.

It’s the type of piece that if read when holidaying abroad might encourage you to stay. The analysis appears confirmed by the latest IMF World Economic Outlook published this week which downgrades its economic growth forecasts for the UK.

Odendahl and Springford remind us that the Brexit negotiations won’t take place in a vacuum but against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty and wider financial stress. It draws into question whether Theresea May will be able to deliver on the ambitious social agenda that she set out from the footstep of No 10 last week.. ‘One Nation’ government costs and sadly Britain’s coffers remain empty.

To complement this reading I also recommend downloading on to your Ipod the BBC Radio 4 Point of View: After the Vote series which consists of a series of thoughtful reflections from leading thinkers including Onora O’Neil, Roger Scruton, Peter Hennessey , Mary Beard and John Gray.

You can take your pick but I found Peter Hennessey’s contribution particularly helpful especially his suggestion that in the wake of Brexit we need two Royal Commissions: one to explore the question of Britain’s role and the other to look at who we are as country and how we should relate to one another. Britain might have an entered an age of uncertainty but such uncertainty, where worlds are in flux, can be particularly creative time and can lead to a renewal of the body politic.

The final recommendation for summer reading is a short report published this week by Policy Exchange a center right think tank based in London.  Authored by Professor John Bew of Kings College London the reports warns that Brexit cannot be allowed to become the latest instalment of a narrative of decline in Britain’s influence on the world stage that has been building up in recent years.

Bew says that the government must ignore the ‘siren calls’ that Brexit equals isolationism and swiftly and decisively reset the UK’s relations with key allies, especially the United States, Germany and a number of other EU member states, particularly those in the East. The report holds it is critical to reassure those key allies that Britain will not look through a short-term, narrow lens and adopt a ‘neo-Elizabethan’ age approach to foreign policy by simply favouring bilateral relations with emerging markets.

In the short-term, it recommends the UK reasserting its commitment to NATO by signalling an intent to raise defence spending above the 2% GDP target, appointing 20 more trade negotiators to work with the new International Trade Secretary, bringing forward the scheduled 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to autumn 2017 and to seek a special summit with the next President of the United States.

Let me know what’s top of your post-Brexit summer reads.

Happy reading!

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The shape of things to come


Britain’s political establishment is slowly recovering from the aftershock of the June 23 referendum decision to leave the European Union. In the space of a few weeks the country has a new Prime Minister and a government that is radically different to that which went before. Much still remains uncertain, not least a vision for Britain’s new relationship with Europe, but the changes to date do give an insight into the shape of things to come.theresa-may-no-10

The Prime Minister entered Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon promising to address directly the country’s deep divisions and to respond to the needs of struggling working class families. Some commentators have described this as akin to parking the Conservative bus on Labour’s lawn and as an intentional move to capitalise on the internal turmoil that continues to rip Labour apart. If the Conservative Party is to win big as Theresa May has signalled then the Tories will need to occupy more broadly the centre ground and appeal to those on the disillusioned centre left.

Yet, her promises were so much more than a blunt electoral tactic. The focus of her words outside No 10 were those who feel that the country works for a privileged few rather than everyone one of us. It was designed to send a clear signal that she intends to address the concerns of those who voted for Brexit out of a sense of general disenchantment with politics.

Reconnecting the public with their political system is a public good in and of itself, but her comments recognised that for many, voting Leave was first and foremost a protest vote against the political establishment. Our membership of the EU was simply the lightening rod that gave expression to the deep levels of disenfranchisement and alienation that many feel with contemporary Britain and had very little to do with our membership of the EU.

Her focus on the cost of living and education shows an awareness that Brexit on its own is unlikely to resolve the underlying pressures facing ordinary working class families. Most evidence appears to suggest that without compensatory mechanisms Brexit could actually make their lives that much harder. It remains unclear, however, what measures she has in mind when she said that “we will do everything we can do to give you more control over your lives”.

In her only campaign speech for the Tory leadership which she delivered in Birmingham on Monday she promised to preside over a more responsible form of capitalism tackling boardroom excesses and predatory corporate takeovers. She highlighted the need to tackle problems on productivity and indicated that government backed project bonds could be used to boost infrastructure. At the heart of her speech was the need for a Heseltine style “proper industrial strategy” and a plan to develop all of Britain’s great cities rather than the one or two singled out by George Osborne.

Delivering on this strategy is not in itself dependent on Brexit but it will determine how much room for manoeuvre she has over the Brexit negotiations.  Delivering a Brexit which secures access to the single market while accepting some it not all of its costs will only be possible if the Prime Minister is able to show to the country that she is making progress addressing the concerns and grievances that led many to use the EU referendum as a cry for help. At the very least, she needs to be able to say that their concerns have been heard and are being addressed.

This strategy will take time which is why it comes as no surprise that she has appointed David Davis to lead the Brexit negotiations and Liam Fox to be international trade secretary. Both campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, and have impeccable Brexit credentials, but neither of them favour an immediate trigger of Article 50. Their appointments alongside that of the flamboyant Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary gives a clear signal that Brexit means Brexit but that Brexit will be played out over the long-term.

The UK’s exit from the EU represents the biggest upheaval in British foreign and economic policy in decades. The early signs though are that the new PM is determined that Britain should not just survive but thrive outside the EU and is determined to assemble a team that can unify both the party and the country and build an economy that works for everyone.

Many will question Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary but he is the consummate salesman and it is clear that he has been tasked with selling Brexit to the world as an amazing act of national self-confidence rather than self-harm. If there are concerns it is that the whole foreign policy machinery of government now appears to have been recalibrated to deliver on Brexit and that it will have little bandwidth to deal with anything else.

These anxieties become most marked in the field of international development. The Department for International Development might have survived, but it now has a woman at the helm who questioned in 2013 whether it should be renamed as the Department for International  Trade and Development with Britain’s aid budget being used to support British trade deals.

We now know that Brexit means Brexit but we must be careful that we don’t allow Brexit to become an end in and of itself.

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Brexit, integralism and the Counter-Enlightenment


k6967As part of my efforts to make sense of last month’s referendum decision to leave the EU I’ve been reading Integral Europe by social anthropologist Douglas Holmes published in 2000.

Holmes explores how the secular and cosmopolitan agenda of advanced European integration has been accompanied by the emergence of hard-line populist movements with goals diametrically opposed to the ideals of a harmonious European Union.  He argues that movements such as Le Pen’s National Front Party are philosophically rooted in, what he calls ‘integralism’, a sensibility that, in its most benign form enables people to maintain their ethnic identity and solidarity within the context of an increasingly pluralistic society.

Taken to irrational levels by the likes of Marie Le Pen, however, integralism is being used to inflame people’s feelings of alienation and powerlessness generated by a ‘fast capitalism’ that ‘flattens’ our pre-existing frameworks of social meaning upon which our understanding of industrial democracies rest. The consequences are seen in an invidious politics of exclusion that spawns cultural nationalism, racism and social disorder.

Holmes does not explicitly study Britain’s disillusionment with Europe, but many of the process that he identifies through right-wing activities echo the way some British politicians, Nigel Farage and his associates to name but a few, have shrewdly discerned ruptures in the experiences of belonging that threaten various registers of European identity.

What made Leave such a potent political movement was that its advocates unashamedly offered a Union Jack draped package of measures to Britain’s working poor as a quick fix solution to their profound sense of alienation and dislocation from the world. It invoked a working class solidarity against a stark individualistic ethic and a cosmopolitan agenda based on universal values and a borderless style of living.The culprits were seen as a remote and uncaring Westminster political elite and Brussels based technocratic managers of the single market. The result was a popular pluralism that found expression in an invidious doctrine of difference and a renewed sense of British exceptionalism.

A striking feature of the Leave campaign was that it relied on enigmatic inner truths for its legitimacy. Like other counter-enlightenment movements, it defied rational appraisal and frustrated external scrutiny.  Holmes recalls Le Pen saying in 1997 that “that there are other reasons for our fate than Reason” which echos Michael Gove’s claim during the referendum campaign that “the people have had enough of experts”. The Leave campaign intentionally turned its back on complexity and nuance to embrace a counter-factual world. Brexit was seen as the master-key which unlooked every door of reality. Sadly, its advocates have became incapable of distinguishing among the different levels of reality.

For many on the Tory right, however, who trace their ideological roots back to the ‘Maastricht Rebels’ this was always going to be a marriage of convenience and political opportunism. Going forward, it is far from clear that Brexit will provide the working poor with any real comfort against what Joseph Schumpeter has famously described as the “gale of creative destruction” represented by liberalised markets and fast capital. Brexit will not restore the relationship that binds the poor and disadvantage to a wider social nexus. After all, it’s not just the poor who are finding that social relations and meaning have been flattened by globalisation.

The level of economic interdependence between the UK and the EU suggests that without some compensatory mechanism Brexit will hit the working poor – the back bone of the army of Brexiteers – the hardest. Perhaps then the most notable announcement on Monday from Theresa May, Britain’s incoming Prime Minister, was not so much that Brexit means Brexit – even now no one knows what Brexit means – but that Britain needs a new industrial strategy. This is a welcome development, but it remains to be seen whether this strategy will provide a clear formula for the reintegration of the working poor into the land of hope and glory or whether, as under Blair, the ‘workless class’ are written off yet again as the ‘worthless class’.

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The Conservative leadership election and the slow death of party democracy


ndrea329 Conservative Members of Parliament have determined that Britain’s next Prime Minister will be either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom.

The final choice as to who will be Prime Minister rests not with the 53 million people eligible to vote in a General Election, but with the 150,000 ordinary members of the Conservative Party.image

72% of the electorate voted in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, but less than 1% of the electorate will actually get the chance to put a cross against one of the two names for Prime Minister.

This election is first and foremost a contest to see who will become the next leader of the Conservative Party. It is only by virtue of the 2015 General Election result that the leader of the Conservative Party will also be the next Prime Minister.

But let’s remember here that 66% of the electorate took part in the 2015 General Election that saw David Cameron returned as Prime Minister. You might not have voted for him but at least you had a vote. Unless you are a paid up member of the Conservative Party you won’t have a say on the outcome of this leadership contest until the next General Election. This is currently scheduled in 2020. No Conservative MP I’ve spoke to since the referendum has expressed any appetite for an early General Election.

It is fashionable to paint the June 23 Referendum as a vote against the political establishment and against vested interests that have for too long thwarted the voices of marginalised communities. If true, the Conservative Party leadership election reflects a stark return to business as usual which can only disappoint and anger those that voted last month. For so long as this situation lasts there will always be a role for protest style politics whether that be in the shape of UKIP or the Corbynistas.

The strength of Britain’s parliamentary system has always been depended on political parties being the established vehicles through which citizens express their political preferences as to who should rule them. The current Tory leadership contest shows that this is self-evidently no longer the case. It might have held true in the early 1950s, when 2.8 million Britons were paid up members of the Conservative Party, but there are now barely 150,000 members and even this is optimistic as there is no comprehensive, accurate or up to date membership list.

imageThe scandal currently engulfing the Tory party as to the falsification of election expenses during the 2015 General Election is in part due to the weakness of the party locally. Extra capacity now needs to be bussed in for elections. The party’s base is shrinking fast and ageing. It is certainly no longer representative of modern Britain. This isn’t just a Tory predictament or even a British one. Party allegiance and voter enthusiasm is declining across the board.

One of the best commentaries I’ve read on this democratic crisis is that provided by the political scientist Peter Mair. His book, Ruling the Void, published after his death in 2011 opens with this declaration: “The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”

What we are left with is a governing class, a political elite, marked out by education, class and profession from the people they are meant to be representing. There are exceptions to this, but as in the case of Jo Cox they are all too rare. This arrangement was tolerated when living standards were rising, but since the financial crash of 2008 the era of government by elites has increasingly being called into question.

Despite the media circus that will accompany the Conservative leadership election, we should be in no doubt that what we are seeing is a further nail in the coffin of Britain’s party democracy. What is supplanting it is an unholy coalition of elites and cults that has little interest in serving the wider public or in encouraging the human flourishing of all in society.

Commentators have been quick to claim that Britain’s decision to leave the EU is the most significant event in British history since the end of the Second World War. This may well be true. But if Britain is to successfully negotiate this transition then it will require politicians and the public to re-engage with one another in a way that they haven’t for years.

Britain’s democracy cannot work without parties. But when political parties cease to play their proper role, democracy itself is at stake. Brexit is an opportunity to reinvent our politics. Sadly, the process by which Britain will choose its next Prime Minister is not the best of starts. It smacks of business as usual and weakens our democracy when we need its protection most.

Whatever the long term future of party democracy here in the UK the immediate crisis as to who should be the Prime Minister to negotiate our exit from the EU is far too important a decision to be left to 150,000. If the next PM is to govern with any degree of legitimacy then she would be wise to seek a wider democratic mandate at the earliest opportunity.

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Towards a new European diplomatic strategy


How might Brexit impact on the UK’s European diplomatic strategy and its place in the world more broadly?

The short answer is no one really knows as the terms of Britain’s exit have yet to be determined. Uncertainty reigns. What follows then is nothing more than a first attempt at sketching a few initial thoughts to a question that this blog will return to repeatedly over the coming months, if not years.

Ever since Britain applied for membership of the European Economic Community successive British Governments have tried to shape the process of European integration to reflect the national interest. Brexit reflects a significant departure from this core tenet in Britain’s European engagement and in turn its foreign policy.

Unless the UK pursues a Canadian style model of relating to the EU, then the key short-term ambition will be to secure the maximum access to the single market with the minimum cost. The government needs to be willing to use the leverage which Britain has in the field of defence and security to break the emerging stalemate over market access.

Even this linkage and attempt at leverage might not be sufficient and in the end Britain might need to accept that we can’t negotiate a little less access to the single market for a little less immigration. Either way we need to avoid the scenario as highlighted by Gideon Rachman this week in the Financial Times, that the negotiations don’t head south into a deep well of bitterness and anger.  The negotiations will be robust but both sides need to work hard to make this an amicable rather than an acrimonious or agonizing divorce.

When taking forward these negotiations the next PM would do well to remember the results of the Balance of Competence review undertaken by the Coalition Government. The reviews undertaken on foreign policy, enlargement, trade and investment, development cooperation and humanitarian aid all underlined that it is “generally strongly in the UK’s interest to work through the EU”.

Even if working through the EU is no longer available, Britain needs to maximize the ways of working with the EU. It will remain in Britain’s interest to work with the EU on issues that threaten our collective security whether that be Russian aggression in Europe or the refugee crisis from North and Africa and the Middle East. These issues are not going to miraculously disappear with Brexit.

The same holds true for the EU. Britain still contributes 0.7% of GNI to aid and 2% to defence. It is still a member of the G7, G20, NATO, OSCE, Council of Europe and a Permament Member of the United Nations Security Council. It is also a member of the International Syria Support Group and a host of other contact groups.

Brexit might diminish the EU’s economic and political weight as well as its international standing, but it is certainly not in Britain’s interests for there to be a wider unravelling of the EU. Comments by Nigel Lawson and others that post-Brexit the UK needs to be a shining light of democracy and liberty to other member states tied to a doomed authoritarian project need to be ignored. They are aggressively shortsighted and if given weight can only damage our future relationship with the EU.

At times, Britain, like the United States of America, will need to be a critical friend to the EU. There are parallels here with how the UK encouraged and supported the Eurozone governments to find a resolution to the Greek debt crisis even if the UK remained for the most part aloof from any rescue package.  Brexit provides the UK with an opportunity to balance its special relationship with US with a new special relationship with the EU.

Negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU will be a tough and complex affair where power politics will come to the fore. But, if the manner of our leaving will shape how we work together in the future then it is important that both sides recognize that their respective futures are in no small part tied up with the economic, political and social wellbeing of the other.

Negotiating Britain’s exit is too important an issue to be left to a small specially created unit in Whitehall. The complexity of the negotiations should not diminish their transparency. Parliamentary scrutiny is important as is the wider involvement of civil society. Civil society has a particularly important role to play  both in critiquing the content of the negotiations, and in pressing all sides to adopt a conciliatory tone and to where possible find solutions that encourage mutual compromise and concessions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s intervention in the House of Lords on Tuesday criticizing Tory leader candidates for using the position of EU nationals legally resident in the UK as bargaining chips in any future negotiation is a good example of the type of interventions that will be needed over the next few years. These intervention need also to involve religious figures and civil society leaders across the EU. If ever there was a time for the Churches to use their bilateral and multilateral European ecumenical relationships to good effect then this is it.

Even as we separate, we need to build bridges of reconciliation to ensure that we can still work together for the wider common good. Embedding the negotiations within a wider national conversation would give them legitimacy and help shape a narrative as to Britain’s role in today’s global political economy.

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Brexit, nativism and the victory of petty parochialism


What does the referendum campaign and subsequent decision to leave the EU tell us about modern Britain?

The EU referendum saw the UK unexpectedly voting to leave the EU, with 17.4 million (51.9%) casting their votes in favour of Brexit compared to 16.1 million (48.1%) in favour of continued membership. Turnout was higher than expected at 72.2% which is the largest electoral turnout in the UK since the 1992 General Election (77.7%).

England voted strongly for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%, as did Wales, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%. Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU. Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave. In England there were some areas that bucked this trend such as London which voted by 59.9% (2.26 million) in favour of remaining in the EU.

The referendum divided not just the regions but also families and communities. Areas with high numbers of degree educated people tended to vote Remain. Unsurprisingly, areas with large numbers of people in jobs requiring a degree also leaned Remain.

The highest Leave vote tended to come from low-income areas. Before the vote several polls identified a common finding: people intending to vote Leave were much more likely than Remain voters to say they felt Britain’s economy was either stagnant or declining. This helps explain why Remain’s economic arguments made little headway with this demographic and why in turn messages such as ‘Taking Back Control’ and ‘Breaking Point’ made such impact. The economic costs of Brexit were seen as distant and remote for a section of society that feels it has already lost out on globalization.

Age was another key factor. The generational divide on Brexit was common knowledge throughout the campaign. Three quarters of under-25s that voted supported Remain, but only 36% of this age group voted. Compare this with 81% of those aged between 55 and 64 and a stunning 83% of those aged 65 and over. University students and the recently graduate might be leading the post-referendum anti-Brexit marches and rallies but they went AWOL on referendum day. The irresponsibility of youth!

The generational divide overlaid with education and income levels points to a widening gap in Britain between cosmopolitans and nativists, between those whose understanding of community stretches beyond the nation-state and those that fear technology and market liberalization has left them behind. Not surprisingly, perhaps, those that didn’t have a passport were more likely to vote Leave than Remain.

All of this points to high levels of social exclusion in Britain which is more likely to be homegrown rather than the result of policies from Brussels.  It is erroneous to believe that it is the EU and the free movement of people from Eastern Europe, rather than Government policy that is the principle driver of economic insecurity and falling disposable incomes among the low-paid.

Ten days before the referendum, the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank, published a report asking whether Leave voters may be “Brexiting [themselves] in the foot.” One of the core points was that parts of the UK which rely most heavily on the EU for exports were predicted to be the most anti-EU, based on analysis of the British Election Survey.

This point was born out in the Referendum, the regions with the highest share of votes for Leave also tend to be the most economically intertwined with the EU. A higher percentage of East Yorkshire and Northerm Lincolnshire’s economic output is sold to other EU countries than is the case for any other UK region, and yet, 65% of its electorate voted to Leave. Go figure!

A similar picture holds true when it comes to immigration. Those parts of the country with the highest levels of immigration are those that are the most cosmopolitan and most integrated into the global economy. Rather than voting Leave these areas voted overwhelmingly Remain.

Studies might show that immigrants pay far more in taxes than they take out, but during the referendum the underlying fears of large sections of society made such facts unimportant. The disdain with which experts were treated throughout the campaign meant that the false assumption that immigration depresses wages and piles pressures on public services went unchecked.

Wildly inaccurate claims that 80 million Turks were on the brink of gaining EU membership and that Britain’s weekly contribution of 350 million Euros would be directed towards an ailing NHS stirred up a virulent populist nationalism that invoked the warm nostalgia of a bygone age. In reality, all this nativism has done has been to rob nearly half the country of their cosmopolitan futures. On its own Brexit will not see a material improvement in their socio-economic condition.

The relentless focus on immigration kept the public’s attention on the costs of immigration. It also injected a heavy pinch of class identity and class politics into the campaign which played well  with those regions outside of London that have been struggling since the crash of 2008 and the subsequent era of austerity.

The problem going forward however is that without some compensatory mechanism those sections of society that voted Leave and feel most undone by the impact of the financial crisis are most likely to suffer the costs of Brexit. They are unlikely to find much support from the Thatcherite Tories and the Maastricht Rebels  – the architects  of the Leave campaign. For them Brexit has always been about restoring British sovereignty which is seen by many as a prerequisite for deregulating the economy and liberalising the labour market.

Only time will tell but one suspects that Brexit is unlikely to deliver what either in this shotgun wedding might have side wanted out of this referendum.

 

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Awkward dinner conversations in Brussels


Today, the Prime Minister David Cameron travels to Brussels for his first face-to-face meeting with his fellow EU Heads of State following last week’s referendum vote to leave the EU.  There will be the ritualistic discussion about Article 50, but EU leaders will also be interested to hear the PM’s assessment of how he lost the referendum.

Depending on the mood the PM is in, he might well draw on one or more of the explanations explored below.

  1. For the British – whoever they might be – the EU has always been an accounting exercise of the mind rather than a love-affair of the heart. Economic pragmatism was the trigger for Britain’s application to join the European Common Market and a heavy dose of British pragmatism was a determining factor in shaping its leaving. Rightly or wrongly, the electorate calculated that the costs of continued membership of the EU outweighed the benefits. The backdrop to this vote was a Europe in crisis – refugee crisis, debt crisis and a stagnating Eurozone economy.
  2. This pragmatism cannot be divorced from a sense of British exceptionalism that has shaped the way we write our island’s history and tell our story. David Cameron hinted as much in his Bloomberg speech of 2013 committing the next Conservative Government to a referendum: “It’s true that our geography has shaped our psychology. We have the character of an island nation — independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty. We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.”  British exceptionalism and the emotive echo back to past imperial glories was evident throughout the campaign.  In this sense at least, the decision to leave the EU was as much head as heart.
  3. Since the mid-1980s, the British media’s reporting of the EU has been predominantly Eurosceptic and this has shaped public perspectives. How can one forgot the wonderfully witty Sun headline of ‘Up Yours Delors’ that called on its ‘patriotic family of readers’ to tell Jacques Delors – the then President of the European Commission – “where to stuff the ECU”, the single currency that would later become the Euro. Behind such shockingly direct tabloid headlines, however, Britain’s broadsheets were cutting back on staff such that by the time of the referendum few actually had a Brussels correspondent. Against this background the lies, rumours and misinformation put out by both sides during the campaign were never really challenged.
  4. In hindsight, despite the evident economic benefits to be gained from immigration most political commentators now acknowledge that it was a mistake not to follow Germany’s lead and impose restrictions on the movement of people from the 10 new member states following their accession to the EU in 2004. Even Sir Stephen Wall, who was Blair’s most senior EU adviser between 2000-2004, frankly admits an error. “We simply didn’t take account properly of the pull factor of England for people with skills who could probably find a bigger market [in the UK] for their skills – you know, the Polish plumber.” This political miscalculation finally came back to haunt the British establishment last week.
  5. The Prime Minister’s decision to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU to resolve marital problems within the Conservative Party was a strategic miscalculation. Britain would not be looking at a future outside the EU if he had been able to manage his party more effectively. He didn’t want to hold one and for years he resisted the idea, spending time instead trying to detoxify the party. Then on the morning of January 23, 2013 his party forced him to deliver the Bloomberg speech that foreshadowed his own political destruction and Britain’s exit from the EU.
  6. Even after having made the decision to hold a referendum the Government should have made provision in the EU Referendum Act of 2015 for 16 and 17 year olds to vote. This would have countered the greying Eurosceptic vote. The Government feared that this would set a precedent for the General Election and that enfranchising left leaning students would only benefit the Labour Party. This was a short-sighted position to take.
  7. If Cameron had delayed the referendum until 2017 and used the intervening time to negotiate a better deal then maybe, just maybe, the outcome would have been different. There was not sufficient political drama surrounding the February 2016 deal to reassure those that needed it most. The PM could have returned from Brussels, consulted Cabinet and Parliament and then rejected the deal on offer before launching into a further round of negotiations. Delaying the referendum would also have separated the campaign out from the London Mayor elections that drained the political energy from both the Conservative Party and Labour Party.
  8. The paucity of the deal that the Prime Minister brought back from Brussels underlined the popular impression that the EU was incapable of reform. In his negotiation, Mr Cameron did secure an “emergency brake” on in-work benefits for EU migrants. But Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor,  and François Hollande, the French President, opposed bigger curbs on free movement that could have assuaged voters’ concerns.
  9. There is no doubting the Boris factor. By the end of the referendum campaign Boris Johnson was the de facto head of the Leave Campaign and the heir apparent to David Cameron. He became the politician most trusted by voters on Europe. As late as March 2016, there were hopes that Boris Johnson might back the Remain campaign. Johnson does not deny writing two articles for the Daily Telegraph on March 16 making contradictory arguments, contingent on which side of the campaign he finally joined. Could more have been done by the Prime Minister to have brought the politically ambitious Johnson into the Remain fold?
  10. The British electorate did not find convincing the arguments put forward by the Remain camp. Britain’s politicians have for too long blamed their own political failings on the EU and the Brussels machinery. The British electorate were always going to treat with suspicion a pro-EU counter-narrative to the Eurosceptic discourse they have been fed by the Westminster elite for the last 20 years. Who the politicians will now blame for their own failings is a somewhat moot point.

Seen against this background, the Prime Minister’s dinner companions tonight will, I suspect, be both horrified by the bungling of the campaign to keep Britain in the EU and relieved that the dynamics leading to Britain’s exit are for the most part home-grown. They might also wish they had been a little more generous back in February.

This is not to suggest that they should ignore the growth of right-wing populism across Europe or the deep sense of alienation that many feel towards the EU. But, the idea that Brexiters are somehow part of an inexorable pan-EU movement or that Brexit could be replicated in other counters is far-fetched.

Such a Whiggish narrative of Britain’s referendum decision to leave the EU might give us comfort post-Brexit that we aren’t alone, but it is very unlikely that other countries will follow Britain’s lead. If anything, it once again, shows a very British misreading of Europe.

Why do you think the remain campaign lost the referendum?

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