Winning the referendum is not enough
London4Europe Committee member and former Home Office senior civil servant Michael Romberg believes that the divisions – and the causes of divisions - in the country will persist long after the referendum, whatever the outcome. Our campaign can aim to alleviate them. We can also – behind the scenes, and in our individual capacity as members of political parties – urge the parties to adopt policies that would heal the country. These should be on the theme of a better version of “Take back control!”.
This blog sets out the problem; companion articles show how we should conduct the campaign; the need for a Prime Minister to unite the country; and specific policy proposals for the political parties to consider.
It would be a mistake to believe that winning the referendum means that we will go back to the way things were before 2016.
It is not just that we will have spent four years making ourselves poorer, more divided. The opportunity cost of four years not addressing real issues will make itself felt.
But both the winners and the losers will be fundamentally disappointed.
We will be disappointed because we will not go back to a world where we could take some things for granted. Pre-2016, EU membership was just not a salient part of political discourse. But we are now Leavers or Remainers. That is not going to go away anytime soon.
If we have won a narrow victory, then Farage will say “unfinished business” and we will have to fight another referendum soon.
Even if we have won a convincing victory like 1975 that means another referendum is off the agenda, eleven million will have voted Leave and their discontents will need to be addressed.
It was for "Leave" that Leavers voted
That is not about ending austerity or changing the government or helping left-behind communities. Nothing that is the normal stuff of politics is going to address the division. There were circumstances that made people unhappy and that needs to be addressed. But that is not why people chose voting Leave as the means to address their problems.
In 2016, 7 million Conservative supporters voted Leave. That really was not a protest against Cameron and Osborne’s austerity policies. Nor did everyone hit or concerned by austerity vote Leave – the point that most Labour voters in Leave constituencies voted Remain.
Leave voters voted Leave because they wished to Leave the EU. Even those whose discontent was triggered by austerity etc chose to find the solution to their unhappiness in nationalism: concerns about sovereignty, community, democratic representation and immigration.
If we win the next referendum, then, in addition to their grievances about the EU we will have their grievances about the process. They were promised that the 2016 referendum would be “implemented”. It will have been in the sense that the Government tried for years to make sense of it. But they will still see the 2020 referendum and the Remain vote as a betrayal.
Nor will every 2016 Leave voter who votes Remain in 2020 be a convinced pro-European. Many would prefer Leave but think we can’t afford it. Putting up with something you do not like because it is all you can afford does not make for happiness.
So the day after Remain win the referendum will not be a happy day for the whole country. We can remember how we felt on 24 June 2016 and for the years after; Leavers will feel as bad after a Remain victory.
Re-uniting the country and healing the divisions will take time and dedicated effort.
The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author, not necessarily of London4Europe.