DEBUG: blog_post
Brexit means Brexit
18 Jul, 2019

It’s not about austerity

We will get the campaign wrong if we fight it solely on domestic issues just because that is comfortable ground. What motivates Leavers is the loss of sovereignty and identity, whether actual or real. London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg looks at the evidence.


Our psychology problem

We all wish to talk about things we are comfortable about. Many Remain campaigners are happy talking about the economy, austerity, inequality, the left-behind. So that is what we talk about.

But the task in the referendum will be to persuade Leave voters to vote Remain. So we have to talk about what they wish to talk about.


Instrumentalising Brexit

Relatively few people – even Remainers – actually make Brexit/ EU membership their main objective. Most people instrumentalise it for something else.

  • Theresa May’s one constant desire has been to cut immigration; that is why she is happy to deliver a particular version of Brexit which cuts immigration at the lowest economic cost.
  • The SNP desire Scottish independence. Their question is whether they will get to that end better if Brexit happens or if it is prevented.
  • Jeremy Corbyn would prefer Brexit but what really matters to him is getting into No 10. His problem is how to use Brexit to get him there. Saying the 2016 result was a vote against austerity helps him in many ways. It reinforces his campaign against the Conservatives; it enables him to say that Brexit is a second order issue and talk about subjects where he is on safer ground; it justifies Lexit; and he thinks it makes his “jobs-first Brexit” claim plausible (a view not shared by a majority of his members).


Campaigning ethics: only promises we can deliver

The Leave campaign made a raft of promises that they could not deliver. Some were about Brexit itself and were wrong. Others were inconsistent with the promises of other Brexit models. Still other promises were about domestic policies which the Leave campaign had no authority to deliver.

The Remain movement can deliver neither UK domestic reform nor EU reform. Any promise to do so would be false.

We can truthfully say that reforming the EU is possible and you can only do it from the inside. However, compared with promising a specific different EU that is boring.

We can truthfully say that if we stayed in the EU then UK domestic reform would be easier (more money, more time, possibility of pan-EU action, ability to learn more easily from EU partners). But any campaign cannot promise any specific reform, or even to press for it. Only the political parties have the authority to do that.

It would misrepresent the nature of democracy to claim that the Remain campaign had agreed on a common programme beyond Remain. If it were true, then all Remainers would have formed a single party with a single programme.


It is tactically inept for the Remain Campaign to support one party

If we present the Remain movement as supportive of the domestic policies of a particular party, then we drive the supporters of other parties into the arms of Leave. For example there are 3-6 million Conservative Remainers – so the Remain movement should avoid criticism of the non-Brexit policies of the Conservative Government, unless we can justifiably point to the policies as being a direct consequence of the Conservative’s pursuit of Brexit.

A recent YouGov survey suggests there is a risk of driving some Remain voters into the arms of Leave if we are not careful. YouGov asked how sure people were about their 2016 vote. The great majority are still sure. But Labour Leave voters and Conservative Remainers are most likely to be having doubts and changing their minds. Presumably that is a mix of party loyalty, the people they meet/ newspapers they read and the perception that the Remain movement is a Labour front.


Good manners: don’t tell Leave voters they cannot read

Sure, austerity made some – not all - Leave voters unhappy and that provided an opportunity for the Leave campaign. We do have to show that politicians have heard them and are offering a range of solutions to domestic problems.

But let’s not tell Leave voters that they were too stupid to answer the question.  They did actually wish to leave the EU.

Indeed, Leave voters despise Remainers for voting out of what they perceived as their own financial self-interest. They are more concerned with higher goals. Many would accept real financial loss to achieve them.


What the evidence shows 

Since Brexit is so popular amongst Conservative members, Conservative austerity cannot be the reason for their support.

What do Leavers care about? Sovereignty (including national identity, status, being listened to, democracy, freedom, independence) and immigration (including sense of community, sense of order).

That is clear if you go to a Leave event – as Sandra Khadhouri, one of our members, did. You can read the write-up of Leavers’ views here.

It has also been clear in the evidence since the time of the referendum. The National Centre for Social Research published their report Understanding the Leave Vote in December 2016; Professor Kaufman of Birkbeck showed that the Brexit vote was driven by social values rather than economic inequality in July 2016.

Later research has confirmed that weighting. But many Remainers are uncomfortable with the sovereignty arguments. We have published several blogs that both relate to the evidence on what Leavers think and provide counter arguments: here, here, here and here.

The Centre for Social Investigation looked at both Leavers’ motivation and Remainers’ beliefs about Leavers’ motivation. The title tells us a lot: “Leavers have a better understanding of Remainers’ motivations than vice versa” (LSE blog; full report; L4E blog). Over 90% of Leavers ranked “I wanted to teach British politicians a lesson” last of four reasons for their vote; 40% of Remainers attributed a higher position to that reason in their view of what was in Leavers’ minds.


Views are becoming more entrenched

We have no ground for optimism that it will be easy. Views are becoming more entrenched. So if we are not talking to Leavers on their ground then we are wasting opportunities that we are anyway short of.



We have to persuade more Leavers to vote Remain if we are to win with enough of a margin to settle the question. That means making our arguments on their ground. So we have to win on sovereignty and immigration. Claiming that the Brexit vote was about austerity and other domestic issues will be a distraction.





The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author not necessarily of London4Europe.