Over the last few days I’ve potentially been one of the “vocal but unrepresentative minority of Remainers” who has given you a hard time over your brexit position. I did give a tweet response to your article “Why I’m a remainer who accepts the result” as shown below, because I felt, and still feel, that you were raising straw men rather than discussing your own radically changed position (and, in my opinion, complete passivity) towards the brexit process.
That said, I’ve seen your piece described as “powerful” & “well argued” – with respect I don’t believe it is, hence this follow on blog. I’ll try to be brief.
Xenophobia & Racism
The official Leave campaigns made the strategic decision to wage a poisonous xenophobic campaign which scapegoated migrants and refugees
As you stated in your blog this was and remains a major concern, in fact for me it’s one of the principle reasons to fight Brexit because of what a win means to these people and what it says about the UK.
However, we’re already seeing the same low level migrant bashing emerging from the left.
What there wouldn’t be is the wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry.
foreign workers would “come here on the basis of the jobs available and their skill sets to go with it”
These are direct quotes from Jeremy Corbyn. Below is a tweet from Paul Mason:
FoM is progressive by definition, it gives agency and freedom to the individual. There may or may not be exploitation of workers but that must surely be addressed via the employers, however it appears Labour now wants to fix this by taking away the rights of the exploited. It should also be said that one of the worst aspects of Thatcherism is how it had a tendency to see workers as simply a flexible resource pool, to be dipped into as needed. How is it progressive to take agency & freedom away from foreign workers? What happens if their job disappears, do they get deported?
The point being is this is victim blaming and immigrant bashing, the implication is that foreign workers can and are overwhelming & undermining us (and “wholesale importation” is an ugly and dehumanising phrase). The exploited are being targeted because of their exploitation. Overall this can literally be interpreted as “British jobs for British workers” & Mason’s tweet is so wrong on so many levels that I’m not sure where to begin. Fundamentally, to shore up their vote, Labour are dabbling in the language of UKIP & reinforcing the divisive language of the referendum.
Polling concerning Remain Voters
You’ve quoted this poll in defense of your position, i.e. most people are now in favour of Brexit being enacted and so your position is reasonable. This in my opinion is flawed on 3 points.
- The poll has been discredited. The “Remain” option is confrontational as it begins with “ignore the result”. Very few people would be comfortable with selecting “ignore the result” as their preference.
- The poll only covers Brexit, not its form. It doesn’t for example say “I choose a brexit which favours economy over immigration control/I choose a brexit which favours immigration control over economy”. These are the very real choices as you will be aware, & without asking them the poll is not helpful in any way.
- Even if a majority favours Brexit, so what? You’ve been in a minority position your entire political life, yet it hasn’t stopped you fighting for what you believe in.
Onto your 8 points. For clarity, I’ve taken the first line of each of your arguments as the header.
“First, questioning the intelligence and ability of the electorate…”
It’s not “elitism” to say the majority of people don’t understand Brexit, it’s a simple fact. I’ve been actively following it for 18 months & I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface. Our chief negotiator & Leave campaigner didn’t understand Brexit. You may as well say it’s elitist to say the public don’t understand brain surgery.
It’s not that the public are stupid, or lacking in ability, it’s that Brexit is hellishly complex and its impacts are far reaching. To pretend otherwise is populism.
“Secondly, describing the referendum as advisory…”
I’m actually with you on this one though I know others feel passionately about it. Yes, technically the ref was not binding and yes it was set up badly (no 60% or 2 thirds majority) however I personally agree the debate has to move on, though I respect others feel differently.
“Third, the referendum result is illegitimate because of the lies of the Leave campaign…”
Those who led the leave campaign, who based their entire campaign on lies and stirring up bigotry in this country, that’s who we’re taking on…how dare they, how dare they”
Your words Owen, from the “March for Europe” where you spoke passionately about the many lies of the Leave campaign for 2 minutes.
You’ll be aware that Leave lied on “an industrial scale”. You’ll also be aware of the biggest lie of all which was that Brexit would be free, that the only net result would be a £350 Million weekly bonus for the NHS. You’ll be aware that even the Leave campaigners didn’t actually believe we’d be heading for this Brexit.
You cannot fail to be aware of what happens when the results of those lies crystallize, when job losses begin and living standards fall, and people who were misled blame the EU (and in some cases EU citizens here) rather than the people responsible.
Yet you’ve moved from that passionate decrying of Leave lies to the limp “Unfortunately there are many elections — let alone referendums — across the world (let alone this country) which are full of lies”. You are even hinting at the Leave false equivalence of “well Remain lied just as badly”. They did not, you know they did not. Most remain predictions are coming true if they haven’t already, almost all Leave predictions have so far proven false.
This is poor – you need to explain how the person on that video passionately decrying leave lies is the same person as the one who now implies “well, lets face it, everyone lies and it could be said Remain was just as bad”.
“Fourth, imagine if Remain had won by 52%…”
I’m not sure what your point is here. The result was close, the referendum should have been set up with a clearer majority for change and if Remain had won Leave would now be demanding a rerun. Honestly, so what? Brexit is a mistake & it needs to be fixed regardless.
“Fifth, I’m accused of hypocrisy…”
If I can campaign against the government which came to power in the last election, why can’t I campaign against the referendum? The critical difference is that, in our democracy, parliamentary elections are inherently transient….That is not the same as a one-off referendum on a single issue, where the result was accepted in advance by all key protagonists on both sides
In September last year, in the above video:
You don’t have an election where 1 party wins & the other party says “OK we’ll just shut up now for the next 5 years”
Fighting Brexit was apparently legitimate and in fact you, in that speech, to all those people, drew a direct equivalence between elections and the referendum. Now you passively accept it. What’s changed, because, honestly, it looks a bit like hypocrisy.
“Sixth, would you support decriminalisation of homosexuality if the majority voted for it?…”
Yes, fair enough, this is probably an unfair & too personal comparison however the point stands. This thread posits an entirely reasonable analogy around the NHS:
The point being there are many feasible issues which may have been won on a majority referendum but which someone such as yourself would not accept lying down. If the majority voted to sell off the NHS, bring back hanging, stop same sex marriage or a host of other issues you would still fight those decisions. Yet on Brexit you’ve completely caved, not only on the issue itself but even how it plays out and the route we take.
“Seventh, sorry, but I’m convinced that overturning the referendum result would cause catastrophic, possibly irreversible damage to our democracy…”
You keep using this “overturn the referendum” language and I admit I find it interesting. The implication again is that the majority would be ignored by brute force. But few people are suggesting this. Remainers fully understand that the public need to be convinced that Brexit a) is a bad call for the UK and b) can be reversed.
Yes of course ignoring the result would cause damage to our democracy. Equally however, so will pretending (as both major parties are) that we can have our cake and eat it – the illusion cannot continue and the longer it does, the harder the disillusionment will be later. Honesty, openness and transparency are all that remainers are asking for from our representatives. To be blunt, if you’re not part of this drive, if instead you adopt the party line of “brexit is settled”, you’re part of the problem.
To reiterate, you persist in using the confrontational “Overturn the Referendum” language, when most remainers accept that it’s not the referendum that needs to be discussed but what happens next. This feels like you have moved into the Leave position of saying that resisting Brexit in any way is undemocratic.
“Eighth, didn’t Labour’s unexpected successes have a lot to do with Remainers?…”
It did, of course it did. The figures show it & it’s disingenuous to say otherwise. Elections are complex but tactical voting played a huge part in this election. I’ve personally had 10-15 twitter conversations with Labour supporters who were convinced, beyond doubt, that Corbyn’s Labour is pro soft brexit or even pro remain. I was told to “have faith” and to “wait and see” on many occasions and by some senior Labour figures.
To summarise – your overall concern about Xenophobic messaging is actually being reinforced by Labour figures today. Of your 8 points
- is a straw man
- is fair comment (in my view)
- is undermined by your own previous comments
- is unclear (in my view)
- yes, you do appear hypocritical based on your previous comments
- is demolished once sexuality is substituted for another possible issue
- is a straw man
- is plain disingenuous
Ultimately Owen, the concern is your move from passionate fighter who spoke at the March for Europe rally to passive observer. You accept Brexit and have nothing to say (at least recently) on what form it should take, despite this being the most important political question of your life time. Your article says nothing about the single market, the customs union or trade (the words don’t even appear) and simply list all the reasons why it’s OK for you to be passive.
There is a massive disconnect between the words of the passionate speaker at the march for Europe and the passive observer we see now, all the “Brexit fighting” links you provided are 12 months old and only highlight your current relative silence. Specifically therefore your 8 arguments must be seen in the context of who is saying them and what they said previously. The situation if anything is worse now than it was at that march, so what’s changed your view?
The fact that this has happened at the the same time as it’s become clear that Labour are adopting a hard brexit approach is the real story, and goes to the heart, frankly, of your credibility. When seen in this light, I’m afraid that your blog comes across as weak self justification for simply adopting the line of your leader.