September 1, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
As you may know, there is a strong and well-supported movement to reverse the EU referendum result. In one sense I understand the strategy; people who lost the referendum don’t want to lose the benefits to them (and in their view, the country), of EU membership. But I think their tactics are all wrong. They argue that their fight now is for the benefit of their children and grandchildren. But to successfully reverse this referendum result (not just win a vote but deliver the result in a way that doesn’t bring a form of civil war) is going to need their children and grandchildren to help them in the future. Patience has never been more of a virtue than it is now.
17.4 million people voted for Brexit. They did it for a variety of reasons. For some it was immigration, for some it was sovereignty, and for some it was a desire for change in their lives that was never going to come about under the cosy electoral cartel that our current election system really is. It is the latter group I want to focus on, because their journey to Brexit (detailed in chapter 9 of ‘How to Lose a Referendum’ is the most contentious.
It is a complicated journey, but I will put it as simply as possible. Many had seen their local community devastated, either by de-industrialisation, foreign holiday travel or pooled fishing rights (to name a few causes). They saw a succession of Governments (Labour and Conservative) abandon them. They saw the financial crisis go by with those who caused it bailed out and even enriched, mass immigration of cheaper and higher skilled labour encouraged, and austerity imposed, and their life opportunities and living standards dropping. When they complained, they were told they were lazy and bigoted. When they voted UKIP as the only party who promised any change, they got one seat in Parliament for four million votes.
Along came the referendum, and suddenly they had one chance to send a message that change had to come. Whether that change was good or bad was by-the-by, as long as it was change. Brexit will provide that change.
So when Remainers complain that the result was achieved with lies, they are totally missing the point. I am happy to argue both ways on this, as I can build a strong case that nobody actually lied, but to the extent there were lies, they were in both directions. It’s just that the Remain lies were ineffective. Announcing that households would lose £4,300 a year by 2030 was an ineffective lie, and a significant one. GDP and household income cannot be linked like that. The Treasury used the 2016 number of households as the denominator, which wasn’t an accident. Not making it clear it was actually that they would GAIN £4300 less, not LOSE it was also a distortion.
But that’s not even the point. £4,300 was such a large number that prospective Leave voters simply ignored it. Also, telling people whose lives were already blighted that it could get worse was pointless. Finally, GDP is not the economy to most people. The economy is schools and hospitals and their local jobs. Leave were saying Brexit would open the way to those being improved. Remain just relied on Project Fear to people who had fear fatigue.
What has this got to do with a second referendum? It is this. Brexit will take time. To extricate ourselves from EU interdependency and regain the sovereignty that is possible could take well over ten years. To see if it works could take 30 years. So the next referendum should be in 40 years. This is the same gap between the last EU referendum and the 2016 one, incidentally.
Instead, Remain campaigners tweet about betrayal and lies and Leave voters’ stupidity, but say nothing about what they would do to address what caused them to actually vote that way in the first place.
What Jeremy Corbyn did in the 2017 election was to present a vision of what is possible outside the EU. Corbynism is only possible outside the EU by the way, because the level of State Aid, the enlargement of the deficit, and the freedom to tax anything is blocked by many EU agreements. What was noticeable is how many Labour Leave voters went back to Labour. Not UKIP. They never left Labour, they still believe in what Labour can do for them, but on the subject of the EU Labour were a pro-EU party, and they lived in safe Labour seats so the General Election could never give them a chance to achieve the change they were looking for.
Trying to reverse the referendum result now will simply say to many of the 17.4m people who voted Brexit that democracy only matters if it suits a certain group of people. Democracy doesn’t and shouldn’t work like that. Instead, we should do our best to make Brexit work for everyone, and if it doesn’t, well we do always have the option of going back. But it shouldn’t be for our generation to decide.