The Brexit referendum is now decided, and the fall-out is now unfurling like a virtual-reality landscape. Nothing can be predicted; nothing is unexpected.
It has not been an edifying campaign, neither before nor after the vote on the 23rd June. During the build-up, both sides of the argument offered a only partial-truths. The extraordinary manipulation of facts and figures gave rise to a vacuum of true information. All sensible debate, thrown into a boiling pot, was overcooked and reduced down to a viscous, mono-flavoured gloop.
Now, in the aftermath, the same is happening. With fierce hyperbole, those on the Remain side bemoan the “catastophe” of the result, certain that the mistake of voting to leave lies at the feet of bigots and little-Englanders who have been hoodwinked into the wrong decision. On the Leave side, many of the claims made before the vote are being diluted as the political careers of those involved resume their personal trajectory. If those people who voted leave are now trying to remember why they did so, it’s not surprising.
If ever there was a lesson to be learnt here, it’s in the dangers of over-simplification. Despite being on the Remain side throughout, I’ve been disappointed by the reductionist tone of much of the Remain argument. What drew the Leavers to the ballot box, in my opinion, was not the wish to see the country retreat from European affairs, nor from any latent racist instinct, but because of the basic lure of autonomy. “Take back control” may have been a gross simplification too, but against it the Remain campaign offered little of deep substance.
How self-determining a county can be in the 21st century is a matter for debate. The pragmatic possibilities of unilateralism have to be balanced against the advantages of cooperation and joint-venture, and I happen to be of the opinion that compromise in these areas, if you want to call it that, is well worth it. For this reason I voted remain, and like many others, awoke to news on Friday 24th with surprise, and a distinct feeling of regret at the whole event.
Yet I have come to distance myself from the level of bitterness that has emanated from the losing side. It seems to be fuelled by sheer disbelief. It’s anger is now threatening to destabilise the democratic process. In the few days following the result, nearly four million people signed an online petition to have the referendum restaged. Presently, their is a growing call for a 2nd vote once the exit negotiations have concluded. It was the wrong result; let’s try again for the right result.
The narrative that is solidifying here tells that leave vote came from a baffled and bewildered electorate, who, being mainly poor, prejudiced and trailing behind the social and economic enlightenments of internationalism, have been easily manipulated into the wrong decision. It is a patronising and unhelpful account, and one which I think comes from a London-centric media that sees the rest of the country as a mere backwater. It pleases metropolitans to emphasise the ideological divide between cities and those outside.
My own experience of the debate was that bending of facts occurred on both sides. The Remain camp is now peddling the plotline that the Leave campaign was based on pure lies, which therefore renders the result illegitimate. From the infamous claim that Britain sends £350 million a week to the EU, to the promises made about Britain’s potential relationship with the single market, the thrust of the Leave campaign is now being labelled a sham. I don’t think there is justification for such strong and abusive descriptions. Arguments were put forward for what a post-Brexit Britian might look, what our trade deals would be, how much money we might save or lose, and so on; it is only in the negotiations that the accuracy of those arguments will be seen. I think people understood that.
What I think people voted for – if such an assertion can be made – was not a gold-plated promise of lower immigration or greater representation for the demos, but for a change in the general direction of travel. The Remain camp seems convinced that the Leave vote will be undermined by the reality of political negotiation – that for example, access to the single market won’t be achieved without accepting free movement of people – but I suspect that many people will accept a compromised outcome so long as the direction of travel away from a more integrated Europe is broadly respected.
For a Remainer like me, I hope to see as much compromise as possible.