How did we get stuck with Brexit?

Jon Danzig |

DATELINE 6 JUNE 2018: Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been criticised this week for rejecting a House of Lords amendment for Britain to remain a member of the EEA (European Economic Area) after Brexit.

Instead, Mr Corbyn said Labour would push for a ‘new Single Market’ deal with the EU, giving Britain full access but without accepting all the rules, such as free movement of people.

But newspapers reported that his proposal had ‘split the party’ amid accusations that he was making a ‘fudge’ of Brexit and offering ‘weak leadership’.

The EU has already said the UK cannot have a bespoke arrangement that retains all the benefits of the Single Market without the obligations that membership entails.

But that’s exactly what both the Tory government and the Labour opposition are proposing. They are both spending energy pretending we can keep EU benefits without being a member of the EU or its Single Market.

The EU has flatly said no to such an idea.

Even before the referendum Theresa May said:

“It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy.”

And before the referendum, Jeremy Corbyn said:

“Labour is convinced that a vote to Remain is in the best interests of the people of this country.”

He added,

“The Labour Party is overwhelmingly for staying in.”

But whatever their positions were before 23 June 2016, they both now support Brexit, in one form or another.

Neither are willing to give Britain another chance to consider the issue.

Jeremy Corbyn has said that, “we have to respect” the referendum decision. Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell agreed, adding that, “We must not try to re-fight the referendum or push for a second vote.”

Theresa May has also agreed, saying it wouldn’t be right to give people another vote, adding that, “people voted and politicians should respect that.”

Even though a YouGov survey published this week found that a significant majority of voters now think that the decision to leave the EU was wrong.

According to the poll, Remain now commands a lead over Leave of 47% to 40%. It’s the biggest margin for Remain since the regular survey began two years ago.

Commented our polling expert, Professor Adrian Low of Staffordshire University, “This translates into a 10.7% lead for Remain.”

And a recent poll of over 200,000 local newspaper readers showed that most Britons would now vote to remain in the European Union if there was another referendum.

But like a broken record, both May and Corbyn are stuck in a time warp, repeating their mantra of having to ‘accept the will of the people’ as expressed two years ago.

On this, both of Britain’s two main parties seem to be locked hand-in-hand with each other. Brexit has been decided, so we must stick with it, regardless, they say.

It seems so odd, since before the referendum, both the Conservative government and the Labour opposition were in complete agreement with each other: Britain should remain in the EU, because Brexit would be damaging to our country’s best interests.

How on earth did we get stuck with Brexit?

After all, Brexit used to sit on the far side-lines of politics. Indeed, the word ‘Brexit’ was only invented in 2012, and until the lead up to the 2016 referendum, most people didn’t even know what it meant. (Now it’s in the Oxford English dictionary.)

For over 40 years Britain didn’t want to leave the EU.

Britain’s membership of the EU was never previously a majority interest subject. Some on the fringes of the Conservative and Labour Parties thought Britain should leave the EU, but they were small in number.

The vast majority of MPs and members of the House of Lords strongly supported Britain’s membership of the EU, and most of them voted for Britain to remain in the European Union.

With the notable exception of the current Tory government, every single UK government and Prime Minister since we applied to join the European Community back in 1961 has supported our membership of the EEC/EU.

And for most of our membership, the vast majority of people in Britain also didn’t want Britain to leave the EU. We’d been members for around 40 years and it was not a big deal. There was not a groundswell of opinion for Britain to leave.

Even one year before the EU referendum, polling showed that support for our continued membership was running at three-to-one in favour.

Nevertheless, Britain – to the shock of everyone – voted for Brexit two years ago, and we are now on the road to leaving the EU in March next year.

Now Brexit is on the news every single day, most often the lead news item.

Parliament, politics, the news, discussions at work, in the pub and in living rooms across the country, are often dominated with talk of Brexit.

How did it happen?

It started when politicians, who should have known better, got scared of a little Eurosceptic party called UKIP. A party so fractured, small and splintered that they have now sunk into oblivion.

But senior politicians in both the Conservative and Labour Parties were fearful of UKIP.

Instead of bucking the UKIP trend, they fell for it; they unwisely helped to promote and prolong it, along with the majority of British newspapers, also guilty of inciting UKIP’s message of xenophobia.

Just before the 2015 general election, the BBC reported on the rise of UKIP:

‘David Cameron’s historic pledge to hold an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU if the Conservatives won the next election was interpreted by some as an attempt to halt the rise of UKIP, which senior Tories feared could prevent them from winning an overall majority in 2015.’

(Repeat: Previously hardly anyone in Britain was concerned about Britain’s EU membership – it was a minority issue on the side-lines of politics.)

In 2014 Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP told The Telegraph:

“Parts of the country have been taken over by foreigners and mass immigration has left Britain as unrecognisable.”

It was complete nonsense of course. Most Britons didn’t have a serious problem with migration before the likes of Nigel Farage, UKIP’s on-off-on-off leader, told them they did.

If you look at a map of where UKIP had the highest support, it was mostly in the areas of Britain where there was the least migration. And conversely, in the areas with lots of migrants, UKIP mostly had the least support.

The foreign-born of Britain only represent about 12% of the population – that’s a normal proportion for most modern, thriving western democracies. Even among those 12% of foreign-born are many considered to be British, such as Boris Johnson, born in New York, and Joanna Lumley, born in India.

And citizens from the rest of the EU living in the UK represent only 5% of the population – that’s small and hardly ‘mass immigration.’

Tory MP, Sir Oliver Letwin, agreed. He said that British politicians “made a terrible mistake” in failing to take on the argument about immigration, the argument spread by UKIP.

He told The Sunday Times just after the referendum result:

“We all, the Labour party and the Conservative Party alike … made a terrible mistake, which was not to take on the argument about migration.”

He added that UKIP exploited the failure of mainstream politicians to “put the counter-argument” that “migration enriches the country in every way.”

But even Mr Farage, who married a German and has a foreign name, probably doesn’t believe most of what he says. What he really means behind his Ukipish words are:

“Scaring people and the other political parties about immigration has spectacularly worked for us.”

Gandhi got it right when he said:

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.”

It’s time to stop being fearful. Brexit came about because of unfounded fear.

Now our leading politicians are too fearful to challenge Brexit; scared that they would be going against the ‘will of the people’ as expressed on one summer’s day two years ago, without any interest in finding out what that will is today.

We need to let the politicians know, clearly, loudly and boldly, that Brexit is not our will.

Our political leaders should have the courage to state what they already know in their hearts and heads to be true: it’s in our country’s best interests to #STOPBREXIT.

Especially now that polling confirms that the country agrees: Brexit is a big mistake.

  • Related interview with Jon Danzig: The tide is turning on Brexit:



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