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28 Apr, 2018

Social stresses? We ain’t seen nothing yet.

London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg wonders whether in practice Brexit will change things. If it does not then the real problems will start.

I have wondered where the Brexiters would like to take us, and did not care for the destinations on offer. But at least full-on socialism would be a real change. So would joining the Vatican and the quasi-dictatorships Belarus and Kazakhstan as the only other European countries outside the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. Leave voters could tell themselves that they had achieved something, even if they did not like it.

But what if nothing changes?

Some Brexiter Ministers have gone out of their way to emphasise how little will change. In his February 2018 “Mad Max” speech David Davis emphasised that Britain would not lead a race to the bottom on labour, product or environmental protections. Michael Gove has called for a new seasonal workers scheme for farming. Theresa May’s policy is to maintain alignment with the EU in many areas and pay a price including on immigration. So it may well be that not much does change.

For sure the rhetoric will change. Ministers will say that a new Act of Parliament is a wholly British sovereign decision, even if it slavishly follows a new EU directive so as to maintain access to our largest market.

For a time rhetoric and symbols will be enough – think of the euphoria that greeted the blue passport, for which we did not even have to leave the EU.

But then will come a reckoning.

The problem of radical change

The government – any government – faces the problem of reconciling the rhetoric of Brexit (or whatever utopian solution is being peddled) with the cold realities of power, of life, of how things actually work. Governments are pragmatic because that is what reality requires. Radical change is rarely a realistic option.

Brexit is a religion, not a policy derived from analysis. So the unrealistic claims of Brexit are particularly hard to reconcile with reality.

But change must come

The Leave vote was a great expression of dissatisfaction. It was a call for a huge change. It was misdirected at Europe and immigrants. But the dissatisfaction was real.

What if nothing real changes to address the dissatisfaction? How will the Leave voters react once they find out? Will they just apathetically shrug their shoulders? Will they feel deceived by the democratic system and turn to non-democratic means? Will they turn to a new party that this time promises new, radical, revolutionary change?

Remain is not the answer either

For an electorate that voted for an enormous change, promising to go back to the status quo ante is not much of an offer. There has to be change

So the Remain political nation also needs to develop more policies that would address the real grievances of Leave voters. All these would work better if we Remained. But without true action to enable people to meet the challenges of the future better (early years, schools, technical education, adult education, regional development) and to “take back control” (proportional representation, more power for local authorities, house of lords reform) we will not heal the country – and that is a more important issue even than winning the vote in the referendum on the terms.


It is not for an all-party/ non-party grouping like London4Europe to enter the party political arena on anything other than EU relations. What we can do it draw the attention of voters to the competing policies that all the political parties have for change in Britain, partly in response to the referendum vote.




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