The ironies of Brexit

In my previous post earlier today (I know, I should get a life) I described how authoritarian people (who value order and national power) voted for Brexit on 23 June.  This set of values is very ironic in the light of the consequences of the Brexit vote.

Brexit has directly caused a significant period of political, and criminal disorder.  We’ve lost the prime minister David Cameron, and almost all of his cabinet.  The Brexit referendum outcome has also triggered a melt-down in the main opposition party.  The spike in hate crime shows no sign of lessening, although that could be just increased awareness and reporting.

Confirmation by the new PM of the UK’s decision to leave the EU has already cost us good will, and political influence, in Europe.  Brexit will embolden an expansionist Russia, particularly if a newly enfeebled EU decides to drop sanctions against the illegal seizure of Crimea.  Presumably such sanctions are something that the smaller group of NATO nations cannot do effectively?

A period of short-term economic turmoil was expected by both Brexiteers and Remainers.  This has now happened, and the value of the pound has still not fully recovered a month later.  That will make exports cheaper, but will also push up the prices of critical imports, such as oil and food.  The price of oil will of course push up the price of everything else.


So much for “order”, but what about national power?  

The longer term economic impact of Brexit will not be clear for many months, or years.  Most comentators expect it to be bad.  Predictions by various bodies independent of UK government suggest that the loss of national economic power will be much worse than any  terrorist attack could have achieved without serious weapons of mass destruction. The IMF The IFS

Loss of economic power leads to loss of military power.  The decades of failure of any party in government to regulate the banks properly led to the UK not having the money to commission aircraft carriers after the crash of 2008.

“The taking back of control” after Brexit is partly an illusion.  

Gain in power at Westminster is at least balanced by loss of power in Brussels.  After Brexit is complete we will no longer have a say in legislation across the EU.  We will become able to pass our own legislation on air pollution and fisheries within the UK, but those pesky fish and chunks of air will still keep moving around Europe!  We will still need international cooperation on many issues, both at EU level, and more widely.  The kind of “control” that we are taking back will end at the UK’s borders.

Before the EU referendum, we already had control of non-EU migration, and yet Theresa May allowed such immigration to the UK to continue at the same average level while she was Home Secretary, because the economy needed those migrants.  The economic benefit of inward migration will not go away, however much some Brexiteers might wish it to.  Again, “taking back control” is an illusion here as well.

(see page 13)

We will still import large numbers of students and tourists, yet we will still have no national ID card to prevent them from overstaying and working illegally.  The amount of “control” of migration being taken back has been oversold.


The Psychology & Sociology of Brexit


Despite the 2:1 majority vote to remain in 1975,,_1975

according to 2 Sociologists  James Dennison and Noah Carl

The ultimate causes of Brexit: history, culture, and geography

“the UK has been the least well-integrated EU member state, and so the closer the EU was moving toward political union, the more likely Brexit was becoming.”

People in the UK were the least likely member state citizens to identify themselves as “European”.  They are amongst the most distrustful of the EU, and the least likely to live in other EU counties.

The UK trades less with other EU countries than most other EU members trade with each other, and has less investment to, or from, most of the other EU countries than they have with each other.

They claim that the reasons for this are:

o “Britain is the only allied European power not to have been occupied during the Second World War.”  But, unoccupied neutral European powers now inside the EU include: Spain, Portugal, and Sweden.  Of these only the Iberian pair suffer from Euroscepticism, due perhaps to the Eurozone economic problems.

o Geography – the UK is relatively isolated (checking other EU islands for myself, Cyprus comes out with similar figures, but curiously not Eire)

o The English legal tradition.  This is completely different from the Code Napoleon basis of most of the continent.  However, I must point out that Scotland has a hybrid system closer to the European ones.

o An established national church.  This would not apply to secular France, but they do not mention that other smaller EU members also have national churches.  I’m not convinced this difference from continental Europe is relevant here.

Their conclusion: “Britain is the least well-integrated EU member state” and “as the EU moved closer toward political union, the UK’s fundamentally less European character meant that Brexit was increasingly likely”.  Obviously (as the authors admit) other factors provided the immediate trigger for Brexit.


There is an underlying variable behind the apparent statistics on what sort of people voted for Brexit, in my previous posting.  According to Eric Kaufmann (Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College):

It’s NOT the economy, stupid: Brexit as a story of personal values

the underlying variable is authoritarianism.  “For me, what really stands out about [the British Election Study 2015] is the importance of support for the death penalty [in predicting Brexit voting intention].”  It outweighs all demographic data and party loyalties.  “… 71 percent of those most in favour of the death penalty indicated in 2015 that they would vote to leave the EU.”

According to Stian Westlake, Head of Research at the think tank Nesta “If you look at attitudes to questions such as, ‘Do you think criminals should be publicly whipped?’ or ‘Are you in favour of the death penalty?’ – those things are much better predictors [of Brexit voting intention], and you get over 70% accuracy,”.

As Ben Shimshon of Britain Thinks (which advises businesses and political parties on how to communicate with the public), broadly agrees with Westlake. What united Leave voters in focus groups in the run-up to the referendum, he says, was support for a whole set of “traditional” values.

“They tended to value things like order, stability and safety against things like openness, modernity and other social-liberal values that were more popular among Remain voters. Often it’s about harking back to the past – sometimes a feeling that they don’t belong to the present.”

Which previous demographic findings does this explain?  Young people are generally less authoritarian, and were thus less likely to vote for Brexit.  The same applies to people with experience of higher education, who were also much less likely to vote for Brexit.  Authoritarians may tend to be concerned about national identity, and less accepting of transnational bodies like the EU.  They may also be more prone to “aggression towards sanctioned targeted minority groups”.

According to Lord Ashcroft Polls

How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why

“By large majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the EU; those who saw them as a force for ill voted by even larger majorities to leave.”  These too seems consistent with underlying authoritarianism.

According to “30 years of British Social Attitudes self-reported racial prejudice data”

there has always been much more low-level racial predjudice in the UK than I would ever have imagined.  This is apparently similar in other EU countries.

The EU referendum was like turning over a stone.  Some very unpleasant things were revealed lurking underneath.

The People have spoken – Heaven help us!

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.

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

Referenda are a poor way to make decisions on complex political and economic issues:

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” (  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?

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:  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

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.

“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 ( and  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.