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The day England turned blue

It was in the early hours of that Friday 13 December 2019 that we learnt the results of the third general election in four years: the Tories had won a landslide, with an 80-seat majority.

England had turned predominantly blue.

It wasn’t so much a shock that the Tories had won – Labour was trailing behind for some time, even though the Tory government was considered by so many to be the worst that any of us could ever remember.

No, it was the size of the Tory majority that shocked and stunned – because they won their huge win with practically the same number of votes that they got in the previous general election of 2017, in which the party lost their majority entirely.

Clearly, something was terribly wrong with the country’s voting system to return such a distorted result, unrepresentative of the nation as a whole.

But, on that day, there were other things on people’s minds.

For one thing, it was over for Remain. Until Friday 13 December 2019, hopes were high among Remainers that Brexit could be legitimately, legally, and democratically reversed in a new referendum – a ‘People’s Vote’.

The European Court of Justice had ruled that, up to the expiry of the UK’s Article 50 notice to leave the EU, Brexit could be cancelled, and we could remain a full member of the EU as if nothing had happened.

But it was not to be. England turned blue. And so did the mood of Remainers.

(I immediately closed my Reasons2Remain campaign, but did relaunch it six months later as Reasons2Rejoin).

It was also over for Jeremy Corbyn. Labour had suffered its worst defeat since 1935.

And it was certainly over for Prime-Minister-wannabe, Jo Swinson, the LibDem leader who lost her seat, her credibility, and reduced her party’s presence in the Commons from 21 seats to 11.

▪ WHAT TO MAKE OF ALL THIS?

Well, those of us who still support the UK’s membership of the EU, and who also support socially progressive polices for the country (i.e. not Tory policies) need to make something of it.

Otherwise, we will never learn from the mistakes of the past five years, and how to democratically turn them around,

Below is my contemporaneous analysis of the General Election result of 2019, written and published on 13 December 2019.

On re-reading it today, one year later, I think my conclusions were correct, but you can judge for yourself.

As a direct result of what happened in that general election of last year, today the UK is about to crash out of the EU Single Market and Customs Union with a no-deal or a skinny-deal Brexit, even though Boris Johnson promised us a ‘fantastic, oven-ready deal’.

It’s going to cause chaos for us all, on top of the devastation already being caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Would people have voted the same way a year ago, if they knew then, what we know now?

IF IT HAD BEEN A REFERENDUM,

REMAIN COULD HAVE WON

DATELINE 13 DECEMBER 2019: The LibDems, then the SNP, followed by Labour, made a catastrophic error of judgement in agreeing to hold yesterday’s general election.

Instead, the three parties – and others – could and should have worked together to resist Mr Johnson’s desperate plea to hold a new election.

Then, they could have bargained with the Tories to see through their Withdrawal Agreement, subject to it being put to a new referendum – a People’s Vote.

But they went ahead, almost gleefully, and acceded to Mr Johnson’s request, and in doing so (with the glittering exception of the SNP), fell on their swords and lost what was almost undoubtedly our last chance to achieve a democratic reversal of Brexit.

If only the general election yesterday had been a referendum, almost certainly Remain would have won. On the data now available, we know for sure that a majority voted for politicians calling for a new People’s Vote on Brexit.

History analyses are peppered with ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ – and this pivotal and historical moment was a big one.

The mistake by the LibDems, SNP and Labour in agreeing to the general election, instead of pushing together for that People’s Vote, will now fundamentally change the course and destiny of our country.

A destiny that millions in our country – probably a majority – do not want.

A Brexit that will hurt Britain and Britons, and change us into a more insular and xenophobic country, cut off from the mainland of our continent, pretending that everything is fine, when it won’t be at all.

▪ A LYING, RACIST PRIME MINISTER

In Boris Johnson we have a liar and a racist for Prime Minister. We have known that for some time, but he amplified it when he complained earlier this week that EU migrants here have been able for too long to “treat the UK as if it’s part of their own country”.

That was shocking. Citizens here from the rest of the EU should feel that this is their country. They have made our country their home. And they should be welcomed. We need them, probably much more than they need us.

But in the same speech, Mr Johnson also claimed that “there’s basically been no control at all” of EU migrants coming here.

That’s untrue. EU migration to the UK is well controlled. Nobody from the EU can just arrive in the UK and claim benefits. They mostly come for jobs, and in the main, if there are no jobs, they either don’t come or don’t stay.

Under current rules, EU migrants can only stay for a limited time if they come here and can’t find a job, and they can be ejected or deported if they pose a threat to the country.

We’ve needed larger numbers of EU citizens coming here in recent years because we have millions more jobs than Britons to do them. It’s as simple as that. As we will all discover when Brexit continues to reduce their numbers here, severely hurting our businesses, our NHS, and therefore, us.

Yet, even so, EU migrants currently represent only around 5% of our population – that’s small and hardly mass immigration.

Is Mr Johnson’s new administration really, as he claimed today, ‘the people’s government’? Hardly

Because of the archaic nature of our first-past-the-post system of voting, most people didn’t choose the Tories to be their government with Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister.

▪ LABOUR’S MISTAKES

When the general election was announced, I predicted that Labour would suffer its worst defeat since Michael Foot led his party to disaster in 1983. I got that slightly wrong. Yesterday was a worse defeat for Labour than that.

Labour’s wishy-washy policies on Brexit in great part lost them the general election. Some of their manifesto policies were brilliant, but offering so many radical changes in one go scared the public. And, of course, the public did not warm to Jeremy Corbyn.

Many of those who voted for the Tories did so not because they want Brexit, but because they wanted a government led by Mr Corbyn even less.

That’s the tragedy. Labour, with a different Brexit policy, and with more sellable, albeit radical, plans, under a different leader, could and should have won yesterday’s landslide.

▪ LIBDEM’S MISTAKES

The LibDems were bold – some might say cocky – in having a policy simply to ‘cancel Brexit’ if they won power. The policy might have had more traction if the party had spent serious energy on properly and lucidly explaining to the country precisely why Brexit should be cancelled. But they didn’t.

Jo Swinson, the beleaguered new LibDem leader who is now their ex-leader, thought it would be enough to say that ‘cancelling Brexit’ was what the party believed to be right. But she was wrong.

It’s not enough for the party to believe in an exit from Brexit. The party also needed to work much harder in persuading the nation that this was the right course.

Jo Swinson, in putting herself forward as the next Prime Minister, was also seen as ridiculous grandstanding by many.

Instead – using the same winning principle as the basis of the European Union – all the anti-Brexit parties should have worked united and closely together to see off both Brexit and Boris.

Together, they could have represented a magnificent and winning force against a formidable enemy. Instead, divided, they have given the Tories an easy win, and have to take some responsibility for the bleak future our country now faces.

(Yes, I know, Brexiters will say I am being too pessimistic, and that Brexit will herald a new golden dawn for Britain. Well, let’s see what they say in a couple of years time).

▪ SNP’S VICTORY

The SNP have done well, but their win won’t see off Brexit for Britain – and they could have resisted Johnson’s call for a snap general election. Instead, the new, stronger position of the SNP could see a successful attempt for Scotland to separate from the UK.

With Brexit, we now risk the break away of our country from two unions – the European one, and ours of the United Kingdom.

Some Brexiters respond that they don’t care. We don’t need Scotland, or Northern Ireland, or even Wales, they say.

We might end up as Little England, surrounded by EU countries. Is that really a prospect we can relish?

▪ REMAIN’S MISTAKES

From the start, the Remain movement has been on the back foot, with inept, inefficient and unfocused campaigning.

We wasted the thirty years before the referendum in not seeing off the lies of the tabloids, that led a vicious, daily deluge of hate against the EU and migrants.

And we squandered the three years since the referendum, in not tackling the grotesque and continuing lies of Brexit politicians, and not properly explaining and promoting the positive benefits of EU membership.

The mainstream parties – Conservatives and Labour – should also be blamed for failing to take on Nigel Farage and his nasty, racist, dog whistle populism in the years before the referendum.

Instead, some leading Tory and Labour politicians pandered to his racism and anti-EU rhetoric, when they should have defused and defeated it from the outset.

That lost opportunity, however, directly led to us having a referendum, and to Remain losing it.

Remain should have won the referendum, but after losing, we should have won the chance to have a new referendum on the details of Brexit.

We failed, and many future books and essays will explore why that was the case.

▪ LACK OF AN EFFECTIVE PRO-REMAIN CAMPAIGN

There has never been in the UK (and I really mean never) a proper, effective national campaign of awareness to promote and explain to the nation the positive benefits of EU membership. Many millions across the country are still completely unaware.

Many have no idea that the EU is a democracy, democratically run by its members for the benefit of members. Worse, they believe the exact opposite. That’s our fault.

If we didn’t tell them the facts, who would? Our enemies? Of course not.

I have been campaigning against Brexit since the word was invented (by a Remainer) back in 2012. It’s been a lonely and unrewarding journey.

Despite reaching out to all the main anti-Brexit groups (the ones with money, offices and salaried staff) none of them have wanted to embrace my work or to make use of it, even though it was all freely offered. Subsequently, my reach has been limited, my voice a small one.

Maybe they didn’t think my work – my 2,000+ articles and posters, and 200+ videos, aimed at providing the facts, evidence and arguments for EU membership – was any good. Fair enough.

But why didn’t they themselves launch an awareness campaign to explain about the positive benefits of EU membership? After all, they had the funds (and People’s Vote had 60 members of staff).

During the referendum campaign, the pro-Remain focus was on project fear. That strategy horrendously backfired.

Then, after the referendum, the main pro-Remain campaigning was about getting another vote, but hardly any resources or energy put into winning another vote.

We now won’t get another vote, but if the resources instead had been spent on winning the arguments to remain in the EU, the ensuing mass call for another referendum on Brexit might have been unassailable.

Other anti-Brexit groups, such as Infacts, have done sterling work, but they also had limited reach, and for unknown reasons, they never wanted to use my work (even though I first offered my help to them several months before the referendum).

So many lost opportunities; so many unanswered questions.

▪ THE END OF REMAIN. THE START OF REJOIN?

As I wrote on the eve of yesterday’s general election, if the Tories win power with a working majority, it’s over for Remain.

Well, the Tories have won a landslide majority. We can no longer be Remainers, but we could be Rejoiners – although that is likely to be a long and difficult journey ahead.

Thank you to all our supporters. It’s the end of the road now for the Reasons2Remain campaign. We tried our best, with just a small team of volunteers (to whom I am hugely grateful) and with no funding or resources, or interest from the main players.

Maybe there will be new groupings and opportunities ahead for a resurgence of a pro-EU campaign. I won’t close doors, but it seems now I need to find new pastures, after 7-years of campaigning for the cause.

Despite our huge setback, we should all hope for the best, and if new and credible opportunities arise to undo the terrible mistake that Brexit represents, we need to embrace them firmly, but at the same time, to learn from our previous mistakes.

Best wishes and (hopefully despite everything) a Merry Christmas to you all.

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That was my analysis written one year ago, on 13 December 2019. Since then I have re-launched Reasons2Remain as Reasons2Rejoin.

  • Video: Why the EU was started and why Britain joined:

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