The Government’s Brexit is not what people voted for
The Leave campaign promised different results to different voters. We should be able to detach protectionist voters from the Government’s Brexit project by highlighting to them Theresa May’s commitments to Global Britain. Michael Romberg, a member of the Committee of London4Europe, writes.
Different Brexits on offer
It is a bit of a simplified taxonomy. After all, for some Leave campaigners Brexit was merely a step on the way to their ultimate goal: the break-up of the EU and the return to a world where nation states competed aggressively with war accepted as an instrument of policy. President Putin is the hero of this section of the Leave campaign.
Moreover, surely almost all support for Brexit was rooted in that mix of on the one hand nostalgia for an Imperial past, when Britannia ruled the waves, the globe was coloured pink, Britain was the manufacturing workshop of the world, and on the other hand of misunderstanding of the EU as some alien imperial organization imposed on us rather than a club where we are on the managing committee.
But the Leave campaign won by targeting different sections of the public with messages that worked for them. However, as these messages are incompatible it is not possible for Brexit to satisfy all its supporters. That is our opportunity.
Open or closed
At the heart of the contradiction is the difference between the elite Brexit (open to the world, relaxed about immigration, usually keen to deregulate, especially to reduce labour market and environmental protections, going along with austerity) and popular Brexit (protectionist, anti-immigration, seeking less engagement with a threatening world, wanting higher public spending).
The elite have the right morals in their openness to the world, but are intellectually incoherent in that Brexit is at the very least unnecessary to achieve their global aims (though Brexit would be necessary in order substantially to reduce social and environmental protection).
The popular rejection of foreigners is morally unsound, but at least Brexit is a coherent response if you want fewer foreigners and less competition.
Will Leave voters like Brexit?
Working class Leave voters wanted change, but surely a change away from the Britain that the elite had created. A movement whose most prominent backers include Old Etonians Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg is not a threat to the elite. They back the Government’s “Global Britain” line. Although it is hardly a well-defined concept it must mean something about being outward looking and supporting free trade.
It is hard to see what “Global Britain” offers the bulk of Leave voters. As Tony Blair put it in his March 2018 speech to Parliament: “The qualities which lighten our path … also include creativity, innovation, openness and engagement with the world. The more intellectual proponents of Brexit can pretend that these latter qualities drove the case for Brexit. But, come on. The pretence is ludicrous. Sure, there are those who believe Brexit will herald a new ‘Global’ Britain. But the coalition which delivered the Brexit vote had, as its base, sentiment that was anti-globalisation, isolationist and particularly anti-immigration. And this sentiment was ruthlessly exploited by the Leave campaign. … don't tell me that the Brexit mandate derived from a desire to intensify globalisation.”
Implications for campaigning
Theresa May has of course anchored herself in the hearts of populist Brexit voters by her dislike of immigrants and human rights. Nonetheless, it should be possible to damage popular support for the Government’s Brexit by emphasising Theresa May’s elite statements.
So we should show to protectionist Leave voters Theresa May’s calls for Global Britain, for example from her January 2017 speech on her Plan for Britain:
- “June the 23rd was not the moment Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to build a truly Global Britain.”;
- “Many in Britain have always felt that the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union came at the expense of our global ties, and of a bolder embrace of free trade with the wider world”;
- “It was a vote … to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.”;
- “But the great prize for this country – the opportunity ahead – is to use this moment to build a truly Global Britain. … A great, global, trading nation. And one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world.”;
- “Since joining the EU, trade as a percentage of GDP has broadly stagnated in the UK. That is why it is time for Britain to get out into the world and rediscover its role as a great, global, trading nation.”.
We can also highlight her calls for a low tax (and hence low public spending) economy.
Boris is also keen on “Global Britain”: “Brexit emphatically does not mean a Britain that turns in on herself. … [Brexit Britain should] be more outward-looking and more engaged with the world than ever before.” (December 2016).
We should also point up Boris Johnson’s calls for deregulation – noting that presumably part of the reason why he is not specific about which regulations to bin is that if he was his call would be wildly unpopular.
Blogs on this page represent the views of the author and not necessarily those of London4Europe.