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18 Sep, 2019

We need to convert six million Leave voters

London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg looks at what result we need in order to settle the question. That requries a campaign that talks to Leave voters and seeks to convert them. Better get started with that now.


Yes of course: a victory by one vote in the 2020 referendum would determine what happened next. But I am not interested in a victory that lasts for a day. I wish to settle the question.  If the referendum result is 52R:48L then as Nigel Farage said: it would be unfinished business.

That is important because I wish the UK to be a constructive member of the EU. If the British government is always looking over its shoulder at the half of the country who wish to leave it will not be. I do not wish to spoil the European Project.

That is important because I wish the UK to have a chance to heal. We will not heal if the debate goes on and on.

Finally it is important because I – like so many people - am sick of Brexit and wish to get back to more interesting and pleasant aspects of life in London.


1975 settled the question

The 1975 result was 67% Remain, 33% Leave. That settled the question for decades. Even Nigel Farage said in May 2016 that such an outcome would settle it.

2016 had a high turnout (72%). We need to match that, otherwise Leavers will claim that 2016 has the greater validity. So selective voter suppression – anyway immoral – would be an ineffective tactic.

I am ignoring changes in the total size of the electorate. Applying the 1975 result to the 2016 total vote would give 22.6m voting Remain, 11m voting Leave. The actual 2016 figures were 16.1m for Remain, 17.4m for Leave. So we need 6½m extra Remain voters.

Demographic change will give us several hundred thousands. The Remain lead in the polls is down to people who did not vote in 2016 and who say they would vote in 2020 being more likely to vote Remain than Leave; if these, the flakiest voters, come good, then that would give us a few hundred thousand more. But running the referendum as a turnout campaign is a strategy to get us over 50%. It is not a strategy for settling the question.

The real task is to convert six million Leave voters to voting Remain; and to do so with commitment and enthusiasm. So voting Remain because they wish for Brexit but cannot afford it, or they wish for Brexit just not the Brexit on offer, does not count. Their commitment to their vote needs to last.


That means a campaign that addresses Leave voters’ concerns

So we have to talk about the things that matter to Leave voters: sovereignty, identity, freedom, immigration.

We need to get on with it. Tackling entrenched views is hard. That is why we need a Remain campaign now.


Can it be done?

Maybe not – we have become entrenched in our views.

Or maybe. After all, leaving the EU was definitely a minority sport before 2016. From 1992 to 2008 support for Leaving the EU was below 20% - when offered a choice of  “Stay but reduce the EU’s powers”, which was generally the modal response. In 2008-2015 the Leave figure was usually in the 20s, once at 30%. It was the referendum campaign that turned euroscepticism into Brexit.

I am comforted also by Lord Ashcroft’s referendum exit poll that asked when people had made up their minds. On both sides, over half had decided in the course of 2016 (10% on polling day). That suggests that getting on for ten million Leave voters were then not so set in their ways as to be unpersuadable. 

So yes we can do this.


Nothing can really settle the question

We need to be clear. Even with a result that matches 1975 there would be eleven million Leave voters. They would be deeply unhappy. They would be unhappier than their equivalents were in 1975 – perhaps even than we were in 2016 – because identities as Leaver/ Remainer have hardened so much since.

No politician has yet come up with a serious plan for bringing the country together after either Brexit or a Remain result. The claims of May, Corbyn and now Johnson that they would unite the country were not supported by any vision for overcoming the division they were promoting.

Yet healing the country’s wounds is the key task for our political leaders.  A task that will be hard because a necessary precondition will be to obtain what has to be a victory in the referendum which the losers will perceive as a defeat. 



To settle the question requires us to convert six million Leave voters to enthusiastic Remainers. That means we have to fight a campaign to win hearts and minds, not just boost turnout on our side. So the Remain campaign had better start now.





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