It’s not about asking the same question over and over till we get the right answer, the problem with Brexit is no-one’s asked the public the right question.
I wrote this blog originally to talk about how the Brexit we are currently headed towards is one that not even the Leave Leadership were expecting. To summarise that blog it’s pretty clear that most of the “intellectuals” (quotes are on purpose) in Leave believed either:
- We would stay in the single market in a “Norway” style EEA model or
- We’d use our trade deficit with the EU to force a free trade deal
Whether by cynicism or incompetence Vote Leave won the day by grossly misrepresenting reality and therefore didn’t win support for this Brexit but for some impossible fantasy Brexit. Since then however a couple of surveys have appeared which have been used by Brexit supporters on the Right & Left to support the position of “look, Brexit is settled, even Remainers have accepted it now” but which, in reality, reinforce this misrepresentation.
Fundamentally and at every turn Vote Leave promised that Brexit would be simple, straightforward and cost free. The only impact would be the fat dividend of £350 Million per week. This is what people agreed to, the vision for Brexit that beat Remain & “Project Fear”. Regardless of what was on the ballot paper the UK public had a perception of the question which, for many, was the below:
- I want to stay in the EU
- I want to leave the EU because there are many upsides & the only significant financial impact will be a bonus of £350 Million per week
Yes, people felt strongly about FoM, less so perhaps about the EU contribution & less so again about the ECJ and there are strong arguments to say that all 3 were overblown or misrepresented. But, even with that said, all of these were definitely factors in the voting decision and they cannot easily be dismissed. That said, this is the Brexit that the public may or may not “accept”.
However, it is meaningless to talk about these 3 factors without talking about the most important one, that the public expected that Brexit would be free and simple. Regardless of the cries of “we knew what we were voting for” the public have never been fully informed of the real impacts of Brexit and, most importantly, have not been asked the right question, which is:
- I want to stay in the EU
- I want to leave the EU, however I accept that there will be likely significant impacts to the economy and to me personally. I also accept that some of those impacts are not yet known and the overall effects have not & cannot be quantified. I also accept that even some Leave supporters believe it might take a decade or more before the UK returns to it’s economic position pre-june 23rd and that the UK may never recover its diplomatic standing & influence in the world. I also accept that if Brexit is handled badly the impacts on the UK could be severe. Finally I accept that Brexit means either years of uncertainty in a “transition” period or the significant negative impact of a hard brexit, there are no options in between.
I appreciate this is a long question – but it is the question, even the government accepts it. What’s more, Leave supporters know this is the right question which is why they are worried about it being asked, and fall back to “we voted, get over it, why do you hate ‘democracy'” whenever it’s raised.
Asking people if they accept a consequence free Brexit of their choosing is not a valid question. Asking them to choose from for a set of Brexit options (without a remain one) presents a flawed view of Brexit “acceptance”. Hiding the real impacts and compromises of Brexit does the public no favours, whether it’s done by politicians, the media or pollsters.
So actually, no, Remainers don’t want to to ask the same question over and over again until we get the “right” answer. We just want our politicians to have the honesty to ask the right question, once. How it’s asked doesn’t really matter at this point, but it needs to be asked.
We’re pretty convinced we know what the answer would be.
Vote Leave false vision for Brexit
Vote Leave won, so we have to assume, especially given the closeness of the result, that a significant number of people bought into the Vote Leave vision (and therefore the Vote Leave version of the “question”) and that this swung the result their way. So what was the Vote Leave vision?
Well, we have Sir Digby Jones promising that “not a single job would be lost” from Brexit.
We have Andrea Leadsom promising “No impact on UK economy“.
Michael Gove said there’d be a few “bumps in the road”
We have Boris Johnson with his “sunlit uplands” & “even better deal than we have now” rhetoric.
And of course “that bus”. Yes, the £350 Million on the bus has been derided but it’s also important, because the consistent message was that Brexit would cost us nothing, not a single penny. The only impact would be a return of up to £350 Million per week depending on how trusting of Vote Leave you were.
Of course, not everyone believed this vision but a significant number did, as the posting below from September last year indicates.
What’s more , a significant number, perhaps even a majority still do believe largely in the Vote Leave “Vision”, as this recent poll from MORI indicates:
Above, a majority of respondents want to stay in the Single Market, have no FoM & pay no contribution. These 3 are incompatible yet majorities still see this as achievable. We can blame the public for this but really, this is down to our politicians, who are too scared or too cynical to tell the truth & our media which is too dumbed down to inform. There is, as far as I know no survey out there which shows a majority for “hard brexit” or even a relatively medium cost brexit over remain if remain is given as an option.
In reality this position is also being reinforced by both major parties who are peddling identical “Jobs first”/”Best Deal for Britain” Brexits which both imply there is a cakeism option available.
“Brexit is accepted” surveys
Take for example this extensive LSE Survey. Now, to be fair to the authors (though, to be honest, not too fair because really they should have known better) the results were given to Buzzfeed early who then made a significant error in interpreting them. This led to headlines in the press along the lines of the below:
This was a complete misinterpretation of the results due to misunderstanding of the methodology, such that “most leavers & remainers are not keen on repatriation of EU nationals” became “even 29% of remainers want EU nationals deported!”.
However, even when looking at the results properly the survey itself was deeply flawed as, like the referendum before it, it fundamentally asked a version of the same, wrong question as Vote Leave did.
The authors explain their methodology in the link above but essentially they took 8 possible features of a Brexit deal, randomised them and asked people to choose the most attractive grouping of outcomes. The noble idea was to avoid people selecting outcomes (“less immigration” for example) in isolation. Unfortunately they failed in my opinion, for 3 reasons.
- None of the outcome options included Remain. Clearly remain is still a possible outcome and is supported by significant numbers, notwithstanding the result from over a year ago.
- The options as presented give the illusion of choice, we want this but don’t want that from Brexit. This doesn’t reflect the reality of our Brexit position but instead encourages “Cake & Eat it” thinking (“Cakeism” as it’s being called).
- Most importantly, the options don’t include “negative” ones. They don’t include economic impacts, issues with travel or healthcare in the EU, the inability for British Nationals to live in the EU or any number of negative impacts that will arise from Brexit.
These surveys presents Brexit as a rich set of consequence free choices & this in turn helps reinforce “cost free brexit” in the public’s mind. However, its most interesting and relevant findings are found in the conclusion:
While there appear to be few aspects of the negotiations that Leave and Remain voters demand at all cost or reject at all cost, there are aspects of the negotiations that are very important to them. Leave voters are particularly concerned about control over immigration and opposed to deals that give Britain less than “full control” over immigration. They are similarly concerned about legal sovereignty and any “divorce bill”. They also strongly prefer scenarios where EU citizens are able to apply for residence more than scenarios where all must leave. Remain voters care much more about the rights of EU citizens – indeed, no other aspect of the negotiations appears to matter more to them. They also agree with Leave voters that trade terms with fewer barriers and lower tariffs than a “no deal” scenario would bring are preferable to a hard break from the common market. Yet, ultimately, citizens are indifferent about many aspects of Brexit.
Firstly, Leavers & Remainers agree that some deal is preferable to a hard brexit and secondly, that most people are pretty indifferent to most aspects of Brexit. Put simply, for Brexit to work control of immigration (at a time when immigration numbers are likely to be falling) will have to become more important to the public than the corresponding negative impacts. But most people are already indifferent to Brexit even when those negative impacts have not been outlined in the survey questions. This implies Brexit has an uphill battle over the next 18 months.