Brexit: Why did Remain fail?

It is my firm belief that Consumer Rights will now come under attack!

This blog post is tagged with:

EU Referendum Remain European Union Campaigning

The burning question is: how has the Remain Campaign failed on this fundamental point?

The General Election has delivered a fatal blow to the hopes and aspirations of those who want to stay in the European Union.

In this Podcast we ask how did it get to this and what should we expect from now on. 

I have a declaration to make: I have never been a member of any political party nor have I made any contribution to a political party. I have never attended any political party meetings and my only contact with politicians has been in the cause of the Consumer, arguing for the protection or improvement of their rights.

I think that this UK neutral position has served me well and delivers I hope an honesty and the ability to freely speak my mind based on evidence.

But if there is one thing that I have noticed within the UK in this past 3 years, is how someone like me, who has a great deal to say, is either forgotten or is used less frequently by the media for fear of expressing a view which we are told is the prevailing or majority opinion.

This should not surprise anyone because I am in good company; a journey through Twitter will reveal other ‘public’ voices who express perhaps more forcibly than me, their anger at how they perceive they have been treated by the media this past 3 years; some have even called for a boycott by fellow-media contributors, of certain broadcasters, because of some odd perceived behaviour by some of those same broadcasters.

I take the view that the media has a job to do; they know that I will advocate a position or a point of view on behalf of Consumers and a reasonable person, faced with the same evidence as me, would very likely come to the same conclusions as myself about Consumer Rights. So on the important media contributions and appearances I make, I ensure that I present an opinion based on that ‘reasonable person’ evidence and simply tell it as it is, without the whistles and bells that have accompanied the ‘Remain’ Campaign.

So here is my second declaration; I am an advocate of membership of the European Union. I voted to ‘Remain’ in 1975, in those days when there was no internet and no social media; the only source of information either came from government or my local library.

I voted positively in 1975 based on my own research and the desire as a young man to strive for something better in our world, delivering a better life and rights for people; I voted for inclusivity, brotherhood and peace.

I also voted to ‘Remain’ in 2016, carrying forward my themes from 1975, but this time bringing my experience of working within the EU, actively engaging in the political process and achieving much for Travel Consumers.

Here is my third declaration: Whilst I am able to put to one-side my European views and advocate independently for Consumers, this does not mean that I cannot express my private views; and express them I have.

I have attended several of the major marches for membership of the EU in London; I have sought to engage locally with groups advocating a ‘Remain’ position; I have attended local rallies; I have expressed opinion, both in writing and through social networks; I have talked directly with some key people of the ‘Remain’ Campaign; I became a subscriber to ‘The People’s Vote’ and a one-year paid up member of the ‘European Movement’.

Through my engagement with the ‘Remain’ side of the debate, I would say, pretty much like some in the media, that my views have not been universally welcomed. I must stress that whenever I have expressed any views, to either side of the polarised European debate, I have done so with great diplomacy & care, but that is a difficult goal when you just have 280 characters!

But as is the case with first-past-the-post UK politics, with the victory, comes the spoils. I would suggest that some comments heard from the victorious have so far been perhaps somewhat muted, for example, Boris Johnson said in his victory speech that:

“You've been paying attention. Because this election means that getting Brexit done is now the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people... And with this election, I think we've put an end to all those miserable threats of a second referendum...And I say respectfully, I say respectfully to our stentorian friend in the blue 12-star hat, 'That's it, time to put a sock in the megaphone and give everybody some peace’”.

Or not!

It is for you to decide whether that constitutes a muted opinion or whether this is just a precursor for more to come?

So was I surprised with the result of the Election; no I wasn’t. Why?

Well back in 2016, when I was at the helm of the Consumer Organisation, HolidayTravelWatch, we carried out a large Consumer survey, part of which focussed on the Referendum to come.

What surprised us from the results was that when asked, 56% indicated that they would vote to leave the European Union, despite the fact that some were concerned about the loss of rights (those who would vote ‘Remain’ amounted to 49% of the poll).

What was interesting about the poll was this lack of concern over Consumer Rights; there was something obviously more important in the minds of those we surveyed, but of course the limitations of the survey did not reveal what those concerns were.

In the aftermath and shock of this election, recrimination, bitterness and a shift to a less radical form of politics appears to be the focus of politicians.

While we think about this aftermath, I just want to recall what I wrote in February 2018 about the political problem of Brexit; I said:

“I have listened, watched and considered the daily offerings of all our politicians and have watched in horror at the laissez-faire approach to Ireland and Northern Ireland. I have come to the conclusion that they all know that this is a bad idea and no matter what they say, they will not want history to judge them for their childish ways; they will turn on you, the public; you will get the blame! In the coming months, I want you take heed of the words in this article and watch those that advocate hard-brexit, soft-brexit, no-brexit; watch as they tell you that the only way to unite the country is through a General Election. I do not trust a General Election to resolve this party political quagmire; there is too much at stake, both in ordinary Consumer Rights, Fundamental Freedoms and Access to Justice”

So why did ‘Remain’ fail?

I think the principle reason is that those on the ‘Remain’ side did not see this as a battle or war for principle; in effect they had no will to win the war.

In my view there are several areas that contributed to that lack of will.

  1. I am going to start with the political opposition.Apart from notable exceptions, which I shall deal with in a minute, the failure of HM Opposition is there for all to see. Fear of upsetting the perceived views of voters led to a paralysis of policy. Personal and Political distaste led to paralysis in parliament, in failing to force a vote of no confidence and bringing in a government of National Unity;
  1. The spasms of the General Election brought forward a breath-taking failure by Labour to explain Europe and to set out a coherent policy to either support or reject the concept of Europe. The LibDems revealed their undemocratic policy of ignoring 52% of the country through revoke; how could any reasonable person vote for such a policy? These two main parties were doomed to fail; instead of actually speaking to people these past three years, they wasted that time listening to themselves!

  2. Here,it is important to recognise the notable exceptions in parliament; Anna Soubry, Dominic Greive, David Gauke, Ken Clarke, David Lammy, Jess Phillips and the SNP; these politicians were in my view the only one’s to stand up, be heard and present a tactical way to hold a government to account; with the exception of Scotland and also Northern Ireland, their voices are much diminished;

  3. It is important to acknowledge that the well-documented and admission of the infighting of the Peoples Vote which very likely contributed to the demise of ‘Remain’. With regards to the overall Campaign, in rallies I attended, it was clear that the Campaign was principally dominated by political parties; the Campaign forgot the many people who turned out, who hold no political persuasion, who were there in the hope that the altruistic Campaign would deliver on their hopes and dreams. Like many I subscribed to several campaigns but was shocked to see how badly organised they were in manipulating data to bring people together, for example, several days before the election, I typed my post-code into the Peoples-Vote site, to volunteer to get the tactical vote out. When the result came back, it suggested I help out in Cambridgeshire; I live in South Wales! The Campaign relied on ordinary people who were not equipped to deal with the enormity of the task whilst dealing with their day-jobs, resulting in poor organisation and failure to respond to messages. This was not just my experience but also of others I met. One of the ‘Remain’ campaigns has now revealed that they will refocus the Campaign in 2020; will anyone be listening?

  4. Personality became the watch word for the ‘Remain’ Campaign.There were many to be found on the social networks and on the streets, but for me, there was only one exception, Femi, who fronted the campaign for young people. In general, adoration is all well and good, but the daily angst of suffering some form of insult or trolling just didn’t deliver a real dialogue about what Brexit or Europe was about; compare that to Femi who fearlessly introduced himself into the bear pit of the British people and the sharp tongues of politicians and the media, using fact and evidence to make his point. Remain got lost in the humour of flagpoles, flags and as I found when I spoke to people at Westminster, they held a lack of understanding of what Europe is or how it works;

  5. My final observation on the ‘Remain’ failure comes back to politicians but also the police & investigatory authorities and to an extent the media. The fact that the redoubtable Carole Cadwalldr and whistleblowers alerted the UK to the illegality behind the 2016 Referendum and foreign interference in our elections has resulted in no proper criminal investigation or scrutiny. It is a failure of law; a failure of our institutions and I will not be surprised to hear in the coming days and weeks about how the 2019 General Election was similarly affected. If we really care for democracy, then why was there no public outcry to force action?

So that’s my analysis of the ‘Remain’ failure, an analysis that may not be welcomed in some quarters, but it will no doubt join the many post-mortems of this moment in time.

So the country has made its ‘decision’ and the reality is that Brexit will be delivered on 31 January 2020.

So what are the sign-posts for life after Brexit-day?

Well in the interim, we have in effect a transition period whereby the government will negotiate a Trade Deal by 31 December 2020; failure to do so will see the UK finally leave without a Trade Deal with the EU, unless of course the period is extended, but Johnson is apparently now trying to rule that out!

For a clue on where we are heading, the commentary tends to suggest that Johnson will now have a freer hand because of his large majority and keep us close to the EU; that, for the moment, has to be speculation and the key is to watch for those Johnson keeps close to him and what their political views are. So for the moment we can only consider his words when he said:

“I want to speak also to those who did not vote for us or for me and who wanted, and perhaps still want, to remain in the EU. I want you to know that we in this One Nation Conservative government will never ignore your good and positive feelings – of warmth and sympathy towards the other nations of Europe...Because now is the moment – precisely as we leave the EU – to let those natural feelings find renewed expression in building a new partnership, which is one of the great projects for next year. As we work together with the EU as friends and sovereign equals in tackling climate change and terrorism in building academic and scientific cooperation, redoubling our trading relationship, I frankly urge everyone on either side of what – after three and a half years, after all – an increasingly arid argument, I urge everyone to find closure and to let the healing begin.

This was the only extended-hand to ‘remainers’ I detected.

But, to describe working with the EU as a ‘sovereign equal’ is hardly correct; as I speak, we currently enjoy that sovereign equality as members of the EU; that’s written into the Treaties. All of the things he talks about as wanting to achieve; we already have those aspects. I am also a little puzzled as to how you ‘redouble’ a trading relationship; surely EU membership gives you the maximum that a trading relationship can give?

Perhaps it’s me?

One thing however that is inescapable, the rights that I have for so long advocated are now under real threat, but the people have made their choice. It is clear that Consumer Rights does not preoccupy people in the UK. It is a distress purchase but I expect that as righted start to either disappear or get watered down, Consumers will experience a different type of distress.

For the government, there is now no place to hide. They may blame the EU for their failures but eventually facts and evidence will prevail and perhaps at that point in time, the balance of the nation will return?

For me, my principles are still the same. I believe in the European Union despite its imperfections. I believe that we contributed a great deal but were always shy of fully embracing the possibilities of membership. An election is not going to change that; it would be odd if I were to accept this policy - that is after all the principle of opposition; the desire and ability to make contrary arguments. I am Irish. I am British. I am European. I know that I am not alone.

(This Podcast/Script forms part of the CreatingRipples™ Podcast - Brexit: Why did Remain fail?. You can listen to Frank's Podcast here)