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Take back control 1
08 Aug, 2018

We have to talk about sovereignty

We talk too much about the economy and underestimate how important sovereignty is to Leave voters, writes London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg. The next post in the series shows how they can really take back control: all the political parties have made relevant manifesto commitments.


***  Update 17 July 2019. Following the 2019 European Parliament elections no party group had a majority of seats. Nor did the European Parliament rally round one of the Spitzenkandidaten (lead candidates). In the light of that inconclusive result,  the European Council (Heads of Government of the EU Member States) proposed  Ursula von der Leyen to be President of the European Commission. She is a member of the German CDU party, which is part of the EPP - the largest Group in the European Parliament. On 16 July 2019 the European Parliament approved her appointment by a majority vote. Later on, it will be for the European Parliament to decide whether to approve the Commission as a whole. So, although the Sptizenkandidat system did not operate in 2019, the EU showed its commitment to democracy by having one body made up of elected governments propose the candidate for EC President and the directly elected Parliament decide whether to approve the choice. The UK equivalent would be for a new Prime Minister to show that they had the confidence of the House of Commons by winning an appropriate vote. ***


We misread Leavers

Most of our campaigning misses the point. That is because we do not address the issues that concern Leave voters; instead we talk about what matters to us. But to win the people's vote (a referendum on the terms of Brexit with the option to Remain) we have to persuade 2016 Leave voters to vote Remain in their own best interests. Rafael Behr in the Guardian makes the point that we need to offer a proposition to Leave voters so that they Remain.

So what matters to Leave voters? The LSE published this analysis by Noah Carl which rated their top issues as shown at about the time of the 2016 referendum:

  1. Sovereignty
  2. Immigration

Remainers’ top issues were:

  1. Economy
  2. International co-operation

A 2018 survey of Leavers’ showed their top issues to have been:

  1. Immigration
  2. Sovereignty
  3. Stop sending money to EU
  4. only a few said: to teach politicians a lesson

The survey then asked Remain voters to rank these four choices in their order of importance to Leave voters. The order was the same but Remainers overweighted immigration and “teach politicians a lesson” and underweighted sovereignty.

The survey asked Remainers for their own top issues:

  1. Economy
  2. Workers’ rights and environmental protection
  3. UK should not abandon partners
  4. Believe in the European project

Leavers were pretty accurate in their assessment of what motivated Remainers, though they overstated attachment to the European project.

One has to be careful with polls. They are very susceptible to the exact phrasing and to the options presented. So while the relative importance of immigration and sovereignty seems reliable I am less convinced by the low marks for the rather dismissively phrased “I wanted to teach British politicians a lesson”.

Nonetheless, there are some clear lessons.

There must have been real unhappiness that led electors to vote for such a big change. The EU has never been a particularly salient issue for most voters. So most of the unhappiness will have come from UK issues.

We need to offer real change. We have to talk less about the economy. Instead we need to talk about immigration and especially sovereignty. A July 2018 poll shows the rising importance of sovereignty to Leave voters.  A long article by Anthony Barnett on Open Democracy makes much the same point in a different way.

The EU and Sovereignty

Some previous blogs include arguments that we can make:

A long article by Anthony Barnett on Open Democracy discusses the nature of regulation in the modern world and what that means for sovereignty.

Political parties’ promises to enable voters to take back control

But we can also point out to voters that there are better ways of taking back control that are on offer. The next post in the series will show what the political parties are saying.


We will not win the People's Vote if we present an argument for the status quo. We have to show that we are addressing the concerns that led to the 2016 result.

Without picking sides, we have to show that the political parties are working on the issues of concern to voters such as how to improve social conditions, fairness, democracy.

EU membership makes it easier to address the issues that voters raised.




Articles on this page reflect the author’s views, not necessarily those of London4Europe.