As you may have gathered, I am not happy about the referendum result. The Leave majority was only 2% of the electorate (1.3M), with almost 30% not voting. (I admit that the lack of any turnout threshold, or of any majority threshold, is in line with The Venice Commission guidelines on European referenda. http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2007)008-e)
There was no need to hold a referendum. It was cynically called by Cameron, for purely “party political advantage”, which showed “poor judgement” (as former *Conservative* cabinet minister Michael Portillo said on BBC TV http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jgw73).
Referenda are a poor way to make decisions on complex political and economic issues: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2092182-there-are-better-ways-to-decide-the-big-issues-than-referendums/
Unlike the most recent referendum in any part of the UK (Scottish independence in 2014), no vote was given to 1.5M largely pro-Remain 16-17 year olds. Exactly like the 2011 UK Alternative Voting system referendum, the public debate was “bad-tempered and ill-informed” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_Alternative_Vote_referendum_2011). At the start of the campaign even I did not understand all the issues properly, yet I have 2 degrees and once published a magazine article critical of the Common Agricultural Policy. So, I have few illusions about the EU.
o How many voters actually know how the EU’s democracy works? None of the ones I spoke to, nor the ones I saw interviewed on TV.
o How many people know whether the UK will be forced to accept freedom of movement of EU citizens, in return for access to the EU single market? Absolutely nobody, because that can only be decided by negotiation, after leaving the EU. I have to say this is not looking promising, and even some leading Brexiteers (Ms Leadsom) concede that it may not be possible.
o How many people understand why an unnecessary Brecession is so likely to follow Brexit? Not many people understand even the basics about economics. I understand little more than the basics myself.
o How many voters grasp how their lives have been improved by EU legislation? Precious few, I can tell you, and I’ve argued with intelligent and educated Brexiteers.
o How many people understand the legal differences between an economic migrant, and a refugee? Surprisingly few, on either side of the debate!
o Did any Brexiteer actually know that the net cost of EU membership was only half that of NATO membership last year? https://fullfact.org/europe/our-eu-membership-fee-55-million/
o Do Brexiteers know where EU spending in the UK goes? I doubt it, but Agriculture, Higher Education, and poor regions of the UK are likely to be hit hard by Brexit.
So, on the basis of lies and exaggerations we’ve voted to crash the economy, reduce the UK’s diplomatic influence, cut worker’s rights and environmental protection, and break up the UK. Why did we do it?
Some have argued that the protest vote was justified: https://medium.com/@mrianleslie/the-people-have-spoken-the-bastards-b96d01f1c808#.pjge8ikr9. I profoundly disagree. The protest by the low-paid and unwaged is self-harming (putting the far right of the Conservative party into power), and incoherent (no specific issue is highlighted).
Voter demographics and social attitudes (Lord Ashcroft Polling http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/):
o The older the voters, the more likely they were to have voted to leave the EU (65+ – 60% leave). I saw elderly women in Essex on C4 News saying that they voted to leave, and how great it was in the 1950’s before the EU. Strangely they forgot to mention low wages, smog, rationing, conscription, the Suez crisis, and illegal back-street abortion. If they think they can vote to go back to 1950 (as the negative view of multiculturalism, feminism & the Green movement held by leavers would suggest) they will be disappointed.
o The less education you had, the more likely you were to vote to leave (students 80% remain, graduates 57% remain, higher degree graduates 64% remain). I think that tells you something about the quality of the debate. Those who knew least voted to leave. Yes, the UK has “had enough of experts” telling the unpalatable truth.
o The less income you had, the more likely you were to vote to leave. The low-paid and unemployed who think they voted Leave for more jobs and higher wages are in for a shock.
o Just under half of voters “always knew” which way they would vote, so presumably did no time-consuming research before deciding. (Sometimes I wish I had not wasted days on this.)
o Leavers claim that they voted (in order, most important first) on sovereignty, immigration, and lack of control over EU expansion. Having spoken to Brexiteers I can confirm that they are very ill-informed on these topics, as are most people. I can only conclude that they have been influenced to vote against their own interests by the tabloid press.
If Leavers think they can #takebackcontrol by throwing away our influence on EU legislation (which we would still have to conform to if we want access to the single market), reduce the number of people coming here to work (without trashing the economy still further), and block the (very distant) threat of Turkish accession from outside the EU, they will be sadly disappointed.
As a result of their vote Leavers will find agricultural production moving abroad, and rising food prices, because farmers cannot get access to cheap seasonal labour, also due to a decline in the value of the pound. They will find future staff shortages in social care and the NHS. The prospects of continuing Turkish help in managing Syrian refugees just became even more remote.
The control of huge trans-national issues (pollution, refugees, climate change etc) requires powerful trans-national institutions. The 17th century nation state is unfit for purpose, we need a European super-state, just as much as we sometimes need migrant workers.
The Inequality Trust says that the protest vote was about low wages, which were not due to globalisation. https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/brexit-and-inequality-its-not-about-globalisation?platform=hootsuite
“By 1988 the UK had already become a deeply divided country with extremely high levels of inequality and this did not dramatically increase up to 2008. As globalisation took off, it doesn’t appear to have caused further large increases of inequality in the UK. … People from areas with lower wages were more likely to vote to leave, whilst those with higher wages were more likely to vote remain.” I believe that leading figures in the Leave campaign (such as Ian Duncan Smith) cared so much about low pay that they voted against the National Minimum Wage in Parliament.
Some Brexiteers have cited EU corruption, or onorous EU regulations, or lack of EU democracy as reasons to leave. We also have some of the most blatant corruption in the world in Britain, you may recall the Hillsborough and Levison enquiries (read “How Corrupt is Britain” by David Whyte). The reason we know so much about EU corruption is that the democratically elected and powerful EU Parliament became aware of corruption and forced the entire EU Commission to resign in 1999. Obviously the job is not complete, and corruption remains an issue in the EU, just as it does here.
Similarly I can assure you from personal experience that the UK Civil Service can compete with any in the world in drafting “onorous” legislation, to protect workers, consumers, or the environment. If we had passed more “onorous” legislation for the banking sector, we might have been spared the 2008 crash.
If you don’t know how the EU democracy works, do a bit of reading (http://www.gr2014parliament.eu/Portals/6/PDFFILES/NA0113090ENC_002.pdf and https://fullfact.org/europe/eu-facts-behind-claims-democracy/). That criticism might have been justified years ago, but the power of the EU Commission has been much reduced. As of 23/06/16, 29 EU laws out of about 400 laws (7%) were rejected (permanently vetoed) by the democratically elected EU parliament in the last 365 days.
Others have said that they don’t want to be ruled by “rich posh people in Brussels”. I’m sure that Old Etonians David Cameron and Boris Johnson, and former banker Andrea Ledsome, would sympathise. Indeed, many MPs are highly paid lawyers, from rich families. The proportion of MPs who were manual workers has fallen to it’s lowest recorded level since 1979.
The referendum vote was an unnecessary act of economic and political self-harm, particularly harmful to the poor communities where the majority voted Leave. If things go as badly as expected, then the next generation of pro-EU voters would have to apply to join the Eurozone, a worse position than we were in until 2016. Given that 1.5M new pro-EU voters join the electorate every 2 years that is only a matter of time, unless of course life outside the EU really is as wonderful as Brexiteers believe.