The mantra that leading Remain supporters come out with nowadays is that, while “of course” they support the democratic vote on June 23rd, we poor buggers hadn’t got a clue what we were voting for when we voted to Leave. Yes, we voted to leave the EU, but we didn’t know our “destination” because no one had told us what our destination was. This is of course bollocks writ large. Voting to come out of the EU naturally meant leaving the EU and all its associated institutions. We knew we would be leaving the Single Market because we were told this. Not just by the two co-leaders of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, but also by Nick Clegg, David Cameron and George Osborne. Don’t believe me? Spend thirty seconds watching this video…
It was clear as night follows day that we’d leave the auspices of the European Court of Justice. If we wanted to negotiate our own bilateral trade deals, by definition we’d need to leave the Customs Union. There was nothing unclear about it. ‘Take Back Control’ meant just that. But politicians like Tony Blair, Tim Farron, Nick Clegg and Peter Mandelson have developed a narrative that the Leave campaign hadn’t told us the truth. It was all lies. And worse than that, they had lied by omission. They didn’t tell us the exact consequences of what leaving would mean. “No one voted to make themselves poorer,” they trill, as if leaving the EU would automatically make us poorer. In actual fact, there is an argument that it’s perfectly logical to vote Leave if sovereignty if more important to you than a percentage point or two onto GDP. Remain leaders by and large take it for granted that leaving the EU must by definition make us poorer, ignoring the fact that they can’t possibly know, any more than I, as a Leave supporter, can 100% guarantee that the opposite is true.
Leading Leave supporters have failed to answer this point. They almost shrug their shoulders as if they don’t care. “We won, so suck it up,” is often the attitude. They don’t even really take on the argument that the £350 million a week “promise” wasn’t in any way a promise. The words on the bus actually said “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.” Now you can argue if you want that this is a promise to spend £350 million extra every week on the NHS, but it didn’t actually say that, did it? “Let’s fund our NHS instead” certainly means more money for the NHS but it doesn’t necessarily mean all of the £350 million would be spent on the NHS. And even if it did, Vote Leave was a campaign, it wasn’t an alternative government. But saying this is, I know, like pissing in the wind. But even if people did take it as a promise, how many people actually voted Leave purely because of this promise. 1%? 2%? Well, given the margin of the final result, maybe it really was that ‘wot won it’. Dominic Cummings certainly thinks so.
But how is this any different to the kinds of pledges and promises made in a general election campaign, which are then later ditched. Student tuition fees, Mr Clegg? To say that we were all gullible and that people voted for all sorts of reasons, including to give David Cameron a kicking, is not only to insult voters, it’s to fail to recognise that people vote in general elections for all sorts of reasons – a lot of them incomprehensible. Some just vote with their gut or their heart. Others study manifestos. Others vote on which party leader they fancy most. believe me, I’ve heard it on the doorstep. Should those people be denied the vote? Is that really what Remain leaders would argue? It just goes to demonstrate why many people now treat mainstream politicians with contempt. It’s in part why Trump won. Political leaders have in large part become an elite, which has lost touch with normal people and their motivations. Don’t believe me? Look at Nick Clegg’s rhetoric at the moment, and then compare it to the language in this leaflet from 2009 when Clegg was an articulate exponent of an In-Out Referendum…
If the LibDems had been successful in pushing the Labour government to hold such a referendum, and then the voters had said OUT, would Clegg then have been arguing what he is now? Trusting the people is something you either believe in or you don’t. If you don’t you go back and ask them again until you are able to scare the voters into giving you the answer you wanted in the first place. Ask the people of Ireland, France or Denmark. Or maybe Scotland.
But that’s all a side issue. Theresa May, David Davis and Boris Johnson need to take on those who argue that we didn’t know the destination when we voted to LEAVE. And they need to throw the argument back on Remainers. Even some ardent Remainers now recognise the Remain campaign was so negative that it put people off. Project Fear was a massive mistake. I remember during the campaign commenting on the fact that there was only one person in Britain Stronger In Europe who was able to articulate a positive case for EU membership, and that was their Head of Press, James McGrory, someone who used to do the same job for Nick Clegg. No one else put forward any vision, and positivity or any idea of what the sunny EU uplands might look like.
So imagine if we had voted Remain on June 23rd. What would we have voted for?…
* A federal Europe?
* A European Army?
* Membership of the Euro?
* More EU?
* Less EU?
* A reformed EU, but in what way?
* EU expansion and if so by how much?
I could go on. The Remain campaign didn’t address most of these issues for obvious reasons. We were told there were no plans for an EU army, despite the fact that there was a meeting the following week in Brussels to take the idea forward. They denied any prospect of Turkey joining the EU, despite the British Embassy employing designated staff to help push forward Turkey’s application, and despite the fact that meetings were scheduled in Brussels in the weeks after the vote to make progress on negotiations. Clearly what happened next with the coup and more crackdowns mean that it will indeed be a long time before Turkey gets membership of the EU, but it looked rather different a year ago. David Cameron kept denying he was in favour of Turkish membership, but this video rather gives the lie to that…
I do understand why Britain Stronger In Europe couldn’t address the issue of ‘more Europe’, an EU army, etc. They couldn’t because even most of their own supporters might have had a pause for thought. But it showed a distinct lack of courage and leadership.
Just because Leave won the referendum that doesn’t mean the arguments are over. I don’t blame Remain supporters for continuing to defend EU membership. Does anyone seriously believe that a 52-48 Remain result would have shut up the Eurosceptics? Of course it wouldn’t. Over the next two years Remain supporters will continue to warn of the dangers of leaving the EU, without seeing any benefits whatsoever. And that’s fine. But the tide is turning against them. 68% of the British people, according to ICM want the government to get on with it. Even 44% of of Remainers support that view (compared to 33% in December).
If the government is frustrated in its wish to trigger Article 50 or to commence negotiations Remain leaders should prepare themselves for a backlash. It would be yet more evidence of the elites dividing themselves from the will of ordinary people.