DEBUG: blog_post
Tackling entrenched views
12 Aug, 2019

Since the referendum, views have hardened

London4Europe Committee Member Michael Romberg asks how we are going to shift people from deeply held views. Just getting out the Remain vote is not going to settle the question.

This blog is about content and we recently published a blog with tips on techniques for how to have those difficult conversations with Leave voters.


Where we are

The country is still at half and half on the merits of Brexit.

Professor John Curtice showed that the Remain/Leave preference is part of our sense of self.

Yougov showed that most people are even more sure that they had voted the right way.


Winning the next vote is not enough

52R:48L on the back of demographics or boosting Remainer turnout would be "unfinished business by a long way". In order to settle the question we have to do as well as we did in 1975 (67R:33L). That means converting 6 million Leave voters to Remain.


Our focus so far

Many campaigners have made respectful and serious arguments. But it seems to me that a number of Remainers have prioritised:

  • the 2016 referendum should be rejected because of process flaws or just because the electorate got the answer wrong;
  • promoting the economic benefits of single market membership but without mentioning freedom of movement;
  • instrumentalising the Brexit vote for other purposes;
  • setting out the harms of Brexit, with a particular focus on trade and the immediate harms of no-deal.

These lines have not persuaded Leave voters. So we need to try something different.


We should not be seduced by false routes 

We cannot deliver any particular EU reform. We may point out that from the inside we can influence it.

Nor can we deliver a UK policy agenda. Only the political parties can hope to have the majority in Parliament to do that.  What we may do is explain that if we Remain in the EU it will be easier to address problems: more time, more money, possibility of pan-EU action. 

It would also be tactically inept to associate the Remain movement with a particular party's ideology because we would give the adherents of other parties cause to vote Leave.


The lines we should pursue

Respect Leavers and 2016

On process, we have to stick to a line that does not criticise Leave voters or their 2016 referendum victory. A neutral approach is to focus on 2016 being a vote for an idea. There was no Leave plan. Standard project management: after agreeing to explore an idea you look at options and then come up with a plan. Who better to review that plan than the same electorate as launched the process. We can make clear that the Brexits now on offer were not presented in 2016.

We can explain that the politicians have tried to implement what was put forward in 2016. That they have not succeeded reflects the problems of implementing an idea without a plan. Theresa May's Brexit is a real world Brexit (controlling immigration at the lowest cost); rejectionist Leaver MPs are still on the dream.

We can talk about trying new methods to resolve the impasse together, such as citizens' assemblies.

We have to find a way of addressing Leave voters that respects them and leads them to see us in the same place as they are (we are consulting on a referendum campaign pledge of good conduct). We can show that we all, including all the political parties, have learned a lot:  fighting against the burning injustices was Theresa May's speech.


A new identity

But fundamentally, we have to have offer a new and better identity. It has to be grounded in issues that concern Leave voters: sovereignty/ democracy and community/ immigration.

In an inter-connected world it is through multilateral organisations that countries are empowered to realise their sovereignty. The EU can stand up to tech giant corporations in a way that individual countries cannot unless they are the size of the USA and China. By working together we can improve the environment - air pollution crosses borders - without putting jobs at risk of being undercut by neighbours who choose lower standards

The EU offers both direct democracy in the Parliament and a democracy of member states in the Council of Ministers. There is nothing confident about leaving a partnership where we work with others; that is hiding out of weakness. The Leaver view of the UK as some poor victim of the EU is a declaration of weakness. The reality is that we have a large voice in the EU. So we are able to help to shape the block. Sure, no EU policy is the same as the UK's policy would have been. But it will be near enough - we are not that different from the other EU countries. The benefits of having the same policy across the EU outweigh the costs of compromise. Subsidiarity means that policies better decided at the national level are decided there.

We all have multiple identities: father, daughter, supporters of a football team, our professional role, Londoner, English, British. These add to who we are. European also adds; it does not diminish.


Freedom of Movement

We have to glory in freedom of movement. And we have to show its benefits for people outside London.

Some of that is about British users of freedom of movement. It's not just about business and the rich retiring to their gîtes while their student children enjoy Erasmus. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet was about construction workers including 3 Geordies and one Londoner. Erasmus+ is available for those in vocational training and apprentices. Everyone should value having an option, even if they have no plan to use it.

We should not go on about the economic benefits of immigration: people do not believe us. Expressed economic concerns may be a cover for culture-based views. Anyway, EU citizens do not have to justify their existence any more than a British national does. But where someone claims that immigrants are a burden we should challenge them by intuitive means: the age distribution of EU citizens means that they are more likely to be of working age, while public spending goes disproportionately on the old ("Their taxes pay for your pension and your NHS care"); local services are generally funded per capita, so a Hungarian girl joining a school means another cheque for the school.

We can point to a sense of Britishness that is strongly entrenched and that therefore sees the appearance of a Polish supermarket on the High Street not as a threat but as the opportunity to try something new. We can show how immigrants assimilate


EU for hope

We can make the positive case for the EU: the underpinning of peace, democratic renewal, individual freedom, prosperity, safeguarding our common heritage and way of life. It is not just about protecting jobs and wallets - important though those are. The freedom of movement of individuals contributes to international understanding, co-operation and peace.

For many on both sides the best argument of all: only a decision to Remain can actually make the whole Brexit debate go away, since any Brexit would leave us arguing for years about what it meant and how to make it work, crowding out any room for hope.



The Remain movement has been successful in putting a referendum (People's Vote) on the agenda. But that has been talking to ourselves. 

To win the referendum we need a completely new approach.




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