the people have spoken
– or have they?

* * *
An essay by
Malcolm Potter-Brown

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford, 2016

Copyright Malcolm Potter-Brown, 2016
During the 2016 negotiation period anyone may reproduce this article in whole or in part, provided that due acknowledgement is made that the test is by Malcolm Potter Brown and published by Auksford.

The referendum

    The result of the EU referendum was a very narrow victory for the Leave campaign, with a difference of only 3.8% on a 72% turnout.  How the voters divided was encapsulated in a television news item the following day.  First came an interview with some bright, intelligent Cambridge students who were almost in tears at the way their future had been blighted.  This was followed by an interview with some inhabitants of Peterborough, people with stupid, closed faces, barely able to string two words together, in fact barely conscious. Their reason for voting to leave was that their high street bakery had recently closed, and for that they blamed a Polish grocery shop that had opened in the same street.  It did not occur to them that the only way the Polish shop could have helped to close their bakery would be if they themselves had forsaken it to buy their bread from the Poles.  Given their open xenophobia this seems unlikely, so it is probable that the shop closed because they preferred to buy from Tesco or one of the other supermarket chains. Clearly the Brexit vote was a victory for stupidity.
     In the following few days we heard of young people devastated by the leave victory who had wanted to remain but hadn’t bothered to vote because they thought remain would win easily.  We hear of others who had voted leave as a protest against the Westminster establishment with no thought that leave would win and no intention that it should.  The lesson here is, if you have a vote use it, use it sensibly, and never underestimate the stupidity of the British public.  Both these groups, if given a second chance, would undoubtedly vote to remain.

The campaign
    One cannot, I suppose, entirely blame the barely conscious denizens of Peterborough and their fellows in other parts of the country.  They have been led astray by a sustained campaign of xenophobic propaganda from lying politicians and irresponsible journalists.  From the gutter press one can expect no better, from the Express with its obsessive anti-European outlook, or the Sun with its puerile insults, and from the Mail too, always eager to stir up trouble and anxiety to increase sales.  One might have expected better from the Telegraph, which at least included on its financial pages some of the likely dire results of a vote to leave, but on its news and comment pages it totally ignored these, just as it ignored or scoffed at the predictions of the Remain side, to pursue an obsessively Little-England policy of one-sided propaganda.  Its former editor, Charles Moore, once an incisive political analyst, and still, in old age, a man who can write far more elegantly and persuasively than most of the grammatically-challenged younger generation of journalists, also adopted this one-sided view and seemed oblivious of any possible detrimental consequences, despite their detailed presentation by the Remain side, an obsessive mono-mania that might perhaps suggest the beginnings of senility were the delusion not shared by so many of his younger colleagues.
    The results of all this hysterical journalistic stirring up of xenophobic hatred has not only brought about the close-run victory for Leave, but also an considerable upsurge in hate crimes against foreigners of all kinds, and may well have been instrumental in tipping over the edge the madman who murdered a promising young MP.
    If journalists have been irresponsible, what are we to think of politicians?  Nigel Farage has at least devoted his political life to his one aim of getting Britain out of the EU, but Boris Johnson’s adoption of the Brexit leadership seems to have been a cynical move to further his own ambitions: would he be in a better position to become  Prime Minister if he stayed with Cameron’s gang and sought adoption as anointed successor (unlikely) or might he make more of an impact as leader of the Leave campaign?  Boris’s lovable clownish image as Boris the bumbling buffoon is revealed as merely a mask for overweening ambition, and he is shown to be a man prepared to inflict incalculable damage on Britain, even to risk the disintegration of the United Kingdom, if it brings him closer to the top job.  No longer Boris the buffoon, he is revealed as Boris the Hypocrite, Boris the Liar.  As for his treacherous toady, the slimy Gove, the only word of truth he has spoken throughout the campaign has been to declare Boris unfit to be Prime Minister.

The lies
    Let us now turn to the lies propagated by the Leave campaign
    The first is that Britain contributes £350 million per week to the EU and that this money will be available to spend on the NHS, and indeed to spend over and over again on reducing taxation and other favoured projects.  Deducting the rebate, which is not paid at all, our weekly contribution is £250 million, and with EU grants this is reduced to £136 million.  This still leaves us as a net contributor, like Germany, but it is only right that richer areas should contribute to the development of poorer areas, as happens within the UK where the prosperity of the south-east helps to subsidise less affluent areas.  However, although on the basis of contributions we are a net contributor, the additional prosperity from being an integral part of probably the wealthiest single market in the world more than outweighs the contributions deficit.
    The second lie is that if we leave the EU we will have access to the single market without having to agree to freedom of movement for money, goods and people.  Politicians on the Brexit side who think that it will be easy to make the EU agree to this appear to be living in cloud-cuckoo land.  47% of our exports go to the EU, only 7% of their exports come here, so, although German car-makers may wish to retain free access, overall the EU is in a much stronger position than the UK and will have no reason to agree to our demands that they should simply surrender the basic principle of freedom of movement.
    The case of Switzerland is instructive.  The Swiss, with a similarly high rate of exports to the EU, wished to have access to the single market and other EU benefits, but a plebiscite voted not to become members.  The EU than imposed the following conditions for access: Switzerland has to contribute to the EU budget, Switzerland has to accept about 75% of EU regulations with no voice in determining them, Switzerland has to accept the principle of free movement of EU citizens, and also the Schengen agreement on open borders, which the UK has been able to reject.  A further Swiss referendum voted to restrict immigration, and the EU reacted punitively, withdrawing many of the privileges of associate membership, including expelling Swiss students from the Erasmus scheme for study at EU universities.  Student distress was extreme, and the Swiss government has had to agree to fund the remaining years of study.
    If the EU can treat Switzerland like this, why should the UK expect anything better?  Switzerland merely voted not to join, we have voted to leave, possibly destabilising the whole project and opening the way for the advance of far right parties like the French Front National led by Marine Le Pen.
    A third lie was that Turkey was about to join the EU and that this would mean millions of Turkish Muslims flooding into the UK.  Turkey is not about to join the EU.  Because of its geographical position the Americans wish to bind Turkey into the West and, as part of this policy, they have pressed for its admission to the EU.  The only EU government that has seemed at all sympathetic to that idea has been the British.  Other EU countries do not regard Turkey as European.  Greece has never been in favour of its admission, and the continuing dispute over Cyprus is an immovable obstacle.  The oppressive dictatorship established by President Erdogan since the alleged attempted coup and his move towards a closer relationship with Russia have made any further advance towards even associate membership impossible.
    A fourth lie was that the predictions of financial instability made by the Remain campaign were unfounded and could be dismissed as project fear.  Now, while it is true that the Remain campaign concentrated only on the negative effects of withdrawal and largely ignored the positive advantages of membership, and that there has not been an immediate catastrophe, it does appear that international companies are biding their time to see what the negotiated arrangements will be.  Nissan, for example, may move much of its manufacturing from Britain to the continent, threatening the future of 7,000 jobs in Sunderland and 40,000 across the country.

The future
    The decision by politicians that “the people have spoken and we must follow their decision” has more to do with uniting the political parties that were in danger of fragmenting than with the future of the country.
    That decision having been made, what must now happen is that the Brexit team should try to negotiate the best possible agreement with the EU.  It seems unlikely that this will be any better than our present position as members.  If we want access to the single market we will have to accept freedom of movement, including very possibly the Schengen open borders agreement, accept much of the corpus of EU regulation without a voice in any decision-making, and contribute to its budget.
    It must therefore be open to Parliament to scrutinise the agreement and either to accept or to reject it.  If Parliament believes that the only way to determine whether or not it should be accepted is to refer the decision to the people in a second referendum, then this should be done before there can be any question of initiating the withdrawal process.  If the conditions agreed between the Brexit negotiators and the EU are favourable, then, doubtless, the people will accept them, but if they are unfavourable, we must have the option to reject them and retain our existing membership.  This is especially important as certain parts of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland, may choose to secede if they lose access to the single market.
    The unwise, and in many cases unintended, decision of the British people to leave the European Union, was stirred up by lying politicians and a campaign of xenophobic hatred by the press.  The dire consequences predicted by the Remain campaign may yet come to pass if access to the single market is not granted without unacceptable conditions.  It is evident that leaving the EU will not in itself allow us to take control of immigration, which will require radical reorganisation of our benefits system, equally possible whether we are in or out of Europe, and that the conditions for associate membership may well be less advantageous than those of full membership.  We must therefore have the option of choosing to remain, and the EU must take genuine steps towards reform.

For permitted uses of this text see Copyright and Concessions.
During the Brexit negotiation period anyone may reproduce this essay in whole or in part proving they make due acknowledgement that the it is by Malcolm Potter-Brown and published by Auksford.

Essays by Malcolm Potter-Brown

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