Why did Remain loose? A review of Tim Shipman’s All Out War : The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class, London, William Collins, 2016.

Tim Shipman, writes Dominic Cummings  on his blog, has written the best account so far of the build up to the referendum, and the campaign itself (“On the referendum #21: Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’”). The book is a blow-by-blow, menu-by-menu, who-said-what-to-whom recording of why the Remain camp lost. Cummings provided the focus to a campaign that could always have gotten lost in vacuous debates on generalities.(This is a heavily edited version of an earlier article).

The result was no foregone conclusion, Cummings writes. There were many decisions along the way that could have branched off into quite different directions. Key personalities, such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who joined the Leave campaign in February 2016, definitely tipped the balance. Tim Shipman’s book bears this out. In January, an attempted putsch by supporters of Nigel Farage, nearly created a united Leave team, of which Farage could well have become the public face. Had the putsch succeeded, the 600,000 or so undecided middle class votes could well have voted Remain.

As told by Cummings, the whole saga is a David versus Goliath story. This is seductive. But it is a partial account. The Europhiles had long since lost the ear of the British public, as Shipman points out, and they faced an uphill struggle selling the virtues of an EU, now in its sixth year of recession. [1] Leavers, by contrast, were highly motivated: “we want our country back” was their winning slogan. The June 23 vote was a close fought victory, but a victory nonetheless for the United Kingdom’s four hundred year old constitutional settlement. In every major debate on UK membership in the EEC/EU, the central issue has been the sovereignty of the “Crown in parliament”.[2]

 Why did Remain loose?

Remain started with a 60:40 lead in the polls, and some seriously heavyweight  support. Why did these forces not add up to overwhelming and devastating firepower? Cummings answer in a nutshell is that  Cameron was “SW1”. He had next to no feel for what concerned people. This was particularly visible in his management of his own party. He devoted too much time and political capital on matters which prompted mass resignations (gay marriage) or alienated sitting MPs or MEPs (boundary changes, scrapping of separate candidate lists).

Both accounts make quite clear that Cameron was all tactics, but no strategist. Cameron had won the Conservative leadership by promising his Eurosceptic wing that he would hold a referendum on the  Constitutional treaty, that was later morphed by its backers into a look-alike Lisbon Treaty. This, he promised, was a “cast iron” guarantee. Prime Minister Brown duly signed the Treaty, allowing Cameron to cite international law as an excuse for ditching his guarantee. As Shipman records, ditching this guarantee was Cameron’s last chance of holding a referendum on a specific subject-the Lisbon Treaty. He would now have to place a much bigger wager on Remain or Leave.

During the campaign, he and Osborne tried bullying the public, to no avail. President Obama’s famous statement that the UK would be at the back of the queue on trade deals if it voted Leave left no trace in the polls. But it did prompt a widespread reaction that the US President should butt out of a UK decision.  The public binned claims that Leave would trigger World War III, or Osborne’s assertion that Brexit would cost each household £4,300 by 2030. As both Cummings and Shipman point out, saying the economy was fucked if the UK left failed to understand that many people thought it already was.  When told that there would be a cost to leaving, people thought rather that there already was a cost to being in.

Remain, both authors record, was run by pundits who were anything but. They had little idea of the problems facing small businesses; had never run an organisation; had over their careers latched on to “progressive” causes from the Euro to the “Single Market” on moral grounds (goodies versus baddies), but had no clue what they were talking about. “I am not aware, writes Cummings, of a single MP or journalist who understands the Single Market.” Most of the commentariat, he considers, had no clue about EU law, the customs union, single market legislation, or the ECJ and human rights legislation.

Cameron ‘s political antennae were more geared to the twists and turns of the media circus than to what the electorate thought. In 2010 and again in the general elections of 2015, he fooled himself that he had won, whereas in fact Brown and Miliband lost. Negative campaigning helped to win him the Scottish referendum (which incidentally put the Union at risk, and gave a fraction of the British people the right to vote about the UK’s future), a lesson which he translated, to his cost into the referendum on EU membership.

Cummings argues that he showed bad judgement in choosing his main advisors. Michael Gove warned on numerous occasions, Cummings reports, that his two main advisors, Craig Oliver and Ed Llewellyn, were not up to scratch. His two senior diplomats, Ivan Rogers and Tom Scholar, preached caution, with disastrous consequences for Cameron.

The problem was that Whitehall rather liked the status quo, as can be culled from a mind numbingly boring book, Britain’s Future in Europe: Reform, renegotiation, repatriation or secession?   [3] The book is a distillation of the 32 Reviews, ordered by the Cameron government, on the balance of competences between Brussels, the member states, and the UK. Its conclusion is Panglossian: the balance of competences is just about right.

Cameron, the evidence suggests, shared this view. He swallowed whole the advice of his international lawyers that there was no way to challenge the ECJ. Johnson was repeatedly told that it would be against the UK’s “treaty commitments” to challenge the courts claim to supremacy.  Gove is reported as stating that “the ECJ is either the EU Supreme Court or you are not in the EU”.

The reality is much more mundane. The Court’s status is based entirely on the judges own interpretations of the treaties, in other words, its claims to supremacy, or to primacy, is predicated on their own activism. When Boris Johnson in November 2015 floated the idea of a Sovereignty Bill to enshrine in law the idea that the British parliament, not the ECJ, was the master of the UK’s destiny, he was told by all senior lawyers that such a bill, if passed into law, would be illegal. Senior British lawyers apparently are of the view that an implicit claim to supremacy is enough to justify the ECJ’s assertion of its status, rather than an explicit treaty commitment by all signatory states. International law, apparently, can be made on the hoof by activists because it is what they want.

A clause spelling out without ambiguity that the ECJ was supreme over national laws was in the Constitutional Treaty that the French and Dutch voted down in their respective referenda in 2005. The clause was dropped but an annex to the Lisbon Treaty spelt out clearly that the ECJ’s claims were supported by no treaty. The text made quite clear that ECJ rulings overrode national laws as a conditional convenience to the member states. A convenience is not an obligation.

This was the central issue on which Johnson broke with Cameron. The Remain side never contemplated, and Cameron least of all, thinking, let alone acting, outside the conventional interpretation of the EU as supranational.In Shipman’s words, Cameron’s crew tried to negotiate a reformed EU within the tramlines of EU “law”. Since that “law” is political, it was the changed political conditions in Europe that made Cameron’s project mission impossible.

Towards the referendum of June 23, 2016.

In his Bloomberg speech of January 2013,[4] Cameron spelt out five principles to guide renegotiation: a leaner, less bureaucratic EU , relentlessly focused on helping its member countries to compete; a flexible EU “of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue together the ideal of co-operation” rather than one marching to ever greater centralisation; a return of powers to the member states, on the grounds that countries are different, and that not everything should be harmonised; a larger role to national parliaments, which “are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the European Union”; and the UK’s continued championing of the single market,  as the Eurozone crisis starts to rewrite the rules on fiscal coordination and banking union.

In retrospect, the crisis witnessed a convergence of official continental views on the German position that further EU integration was welcome, but would have to occur on German terms. Behind this, unspoken but real, was the German view on why the two world wars had happened: they had happened not only because of William II and Hitler, but also  because of Europe’s political fragmentation which created an inbuilt bias towards political rivalry and conflict. Similar views were held in France: Nationalism, as President Mitterrand told the European parliament, is war(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILtIBVMerW8).(Obviously a fallacious argument since war existed long before nationalism and is much more than nationalism).

The differences between Berlin, Brussels and Paris were more over economic policy than over the direction of travel for the EU. There could be no going backwards to national currencies. That meant securing the future of the Euro; imposing fiscal virtue on all through the EU’s Fiscal Compact; moving to a EU federation, requiring a new Treaty;[5] and a programme that envisaged deeper financial, fiscal, and political union in the Euro area by 2017, and full union by 2025.[6]

In October 2015, President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel both addressed the European parliament in a show of solidarity for “more Europe”.[7] Europe, said Hollande,  ensures against the “return of nationalism, populism, extremism.” “If (you) don’t want a stronger Europe, he said in reference to the UK, the only possible path is simply to leave Europe.” Merkel told the EP that “Europe” faces “a test of historic dimensions” with the influx of migrants seeking shelter from war and poverty. She urged “a determined contribution by Europe to resolving these crises.””It is precisely now,” she said, “that we need more Europe … If we overcome that, we will be stronger after the crisis than before.”

The writing was on Cameron’s wall that the UK’s leverage to move the EU towards the reforms defined in his Bloomberg speech was minimal. Former French President, Giscard d’Estaing, had  told the European Parliament that the Lisbon Treaty was exactly the same as the Constitutional treaty, but with bits of the text dispersed differently around the  document.[8] This was of course a partial truth, in other words misleading. It was misleading because the key clause on the ECJ’s supremacy was nowhere in the text. But it was a partial truth in that the powerful clan pushing for their version of “ever closer union” were determined to act as though the EU with the Lisbon Treaty had supranational authority.

Cameron, too, come to office as leader of a notably Eurosceptic Conservative Party. Cameron had withdrawn the British Conservatives from the centre right Christian Democrat grouping in the European Parliament, much to Chancellor Merkel’s displeasure.  His Chancellor Osborne, rescinded Gordon Brown’s commitment to help Greece. The UK was voted into a minority on the Fiscal Compact; Cameron failed to block former Prime Minister of Luxemburg, Jean Claude Juncker’s nomination as Commission President; Chancellor Merkel opposed Tony Blair’s candidature for the post of EU President; the occasions when the UK was voted into a minority on the Council of Ministers rose sharply in the years  2009-15.[9]

Cameron’s advisers smelt the coffee in Brussels and proposed that he go for minimal changes acceptable to the EU, in other words to Germany and France, rather than to consider what he could reasonably hope to sell to a Eurosceptic British electorate.  The key issue was movement of people: France insisted that free movement was a founding principle of the EU, and that there would be no à la carte menu for the UK, nor for anyone else. Merkel’s phrase for this was “no cherry picking”.

Cameron’s team decided to go  for what they could get, i.e. the minimal that they could sell to a public, whose default position was Eurosceptic. After 9 months of negotiation, the team came home with four baskets[10]:

  1. Economic governance: member states not participating in further deepening of the EMU would not create obstacles to that process; conversely, respect for rights and competences of non- participating member states would be guaranteed.
  2.  Competitiveness The EU recognises the need to increase efforts to enhance its competitiveness to generate more growth and jobs.
  3. Sovereignty: The UK is not committed to further integration into the EU. If 16 national    parliaments object to a draft EU legislative act, the other member states in the Council may discontinue it. (It could hardly be more difficult to find a definition of a non-sovereign UK parliament).
  4. Social benefits and free movement– the benefits of free movement of workers could be limited: for instance, the export of child benefits to a member state other than that in which the worker resides; a member state could put a break on access to in-work benefits system; an alert could be used if workers flowed into a member state in ‘exceptional magnitude’ over a long period of time; some restrictions on non-contributory in-work benefits to Union workers newly entering its labour market .

The legal force of these four baskets, the agreement concluded, “is controversial”. President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said that if the UK voted Remain, there was no guarantee that MEPs would not amend the deal.

When Cameron presented the deal to the House of Commons, he seems to have betted that the public would be happy with the deal. But within days, media reaction persuaded the Remain camp to ditch its plans to promote the deal. “Who do you thinking EU are kidding?”[11]  The Sun headlined. On February 19, 2016, Cameron announced he would campaign for Remain. Once again, Cameron had led his troops like the Grand Old Duke of York, only to march them down again. Having ditched his “cast iron guarantee”, he now switched from being Mr Eurosceptic to playing Mr Europhile.

Had Cameron walked from the deal in February, or postponed it to give time to the continentals to rethink their offer, Cummings considers that Vote Leave  would have imploded. The Prime Minister could have played for time, but he decided to go for broke.

The campaign.

When the campaign began, Cummings records, the Remain side started with huge structural advantages. Remain enjoyed a 60:40 lead in the polls through 2015, and had the advantage of having the status quo on side. But “we knew, writes Cummings, that the more the media covered the EU, the better for Out.” A key indicator that opinion was swinging between September 2015 to June 2016  towards Leave were recorded in an ICM poll : responses to  “I think the EU project is bad for Britain and Europe” indicated a clear trend from 33%  to 44%.

Remain had the Downing Street political machine at its disposal, Whitehall, the Cabinet and junior ministers. Most of the Tory party were either Remain or lukewarm about Leave. Remain enjoyed the backing of the EU, the Confederation of British industries, the senior civil servants and the heads of foreign governments. They controlled one side of the negotiations with the EU, its timing and in setting the rules of engagement during the campaign. Remain had access to vast amounts of electoral data from the three main political parties. They had all the pro EU heavyweights, plenty of funding and top class PR.

By contrast, Vote Leave had numerous disadvantages. Old guard Leaver veterans, like Bill Cash MP or Lord Pearson, had spent the last quarter of a century talking about things that appealed to about 10% of the population. Most Conservative MPs were strongly supportive of  Remain, were not highly motivated, lacked focus, were more interested in going to the right dinner parties and to meeting the right people, and were definitely not keen to risk annoying Cameron.

In addition, there were the usual personality clashes and misfits, and a lack of anything resembling a mass movement. Vote Leave had to scramble an organisation out of thin air, with minimal resources. On January 25, 2016, the old guard, Farage and Aaron Banks, the millionaire funder, staged a coup which nearly led to Nigel Farage and his crowd taking control. They wanted the main slogan to be “Go Global”, and rejected Cummings insistence that the three linked issues of immigration, the weekly UK cheque of £350m to the EU, and the NHS was what concerned voters most. The coup failed.  As a result the Leave camp split in two, one organisation-Vote Leave-a cross party platform essentially rooted in the Tory party-and Leave.EU funded by Banks, and much more prepared to go after ex Labour votes.

What saved Vote Leave, was Cameron’s decision to lead Remain on a weak prospectus, and the decisions of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson on February 21 to join the Leave camp. Gove’s stepfather, a Scottish fisherman, had been driven out of business by the Common Fisheries Policy(CFP). Johnson had read the one thousand page study, Change or Go: How Britain would gain influence and prosper outside an unreformed EU (http://forbritain.org/cogwholebook.pdf). The study had been prepared by Business for Britain, under the direction of Matthew Elliott, a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign. Gerard Lyons, Johnson’s economic policy adviser at the London mayoralty, had published a pro Leave study in 2014, entitled, The Europe Report. ( http://www.eureferendum.com/documents/lyonsbrexit.pdf) with a short introduction from the mayor. Both studies argued that the UK could prosper outside of the EU.

Both Johnson and Gove had remained supportive of Cameron’s Bloomberg agenda, and uncommitted during the period of renegotiation. Their joining meant that Farage would not be the lead personality on the Leave side during the campaign: Cummings is convinced that with Farage as the front figure, the crucial swing vote would have gone Remain. Both were formidable debaters, Gove, incisive and with an elegant command of the language, and Johnson, the old Etonian classic scholar with the common touch. As Johnson said in a speech in Manchester: “We (the UK) are locked in the back of a minicab with a wonky satnav driven by a driver who does n‘t have perfect  command of English and going in a direction, frankly, we don’t want to go. ”[12]

There were two other factors that played to the Leave advantage. One was its professionalism. As was the case of Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidential election of 2016, Leave deployed Big Data with a team of  extremely smart physicists, trained to consider everything from first principles. Scarce resources were held back, and released at the very end of the campaign, with maximum expected effect on the public around the time of the vote. The internal codename for this plan was “Waterloo”.

I would add that the availability of Big Data for election campaigning, combined with the power of social media, have helped to destroy the oligopolies of news media in the western world. Before their advent, consumers of news depended on journalists as agents to convey “news” as accurately as possible. Now, consumers of news can do a lot of research themselves, and express their own opinions. The media have been revolutionised, and what the pundits thought was their chosen preserve to form opinion shown to be a delusion. The early signs from the results of the Brexit campaign is that democracy, formerly lauded as nice to have, is likely to become much less popular among the better off.

The second was the high motivation of the Leave team. Members shared belief that leaving the EU could prompt big changes in British government, encourage others to leave in the EU, and encourage the creation of institutions better suited to Europe. Cummings in particular was convinced that the Monnet-Delors blueprint for Europe was a deliberate attempt to create institutions in opposition to the Anglo-American world, exempt from democratic accountability, and incapable of changing direction.  In Margaret Thatcher’s words, the EU, and the UK in it, was on a “conveyor belt to federalism”.[13] By contrast, the UK’s common law and parliamentary system allowed for error correction, a crucial virtue in a fast changing world.

The approximate truth

As Cummings tells it, Vote Leave had three powerful forces in its favour. When he began to research opinion in 2014/5, it was clear that, compared to the years of the campaign against the UK joining the Euro in 1999 to 2002, these three forces had seriously undermined the EU’s reputation as a force for progress.

First was the immigration crisis. In 1998, Blair’s New Labour government opened wide the doors to immigration as an experiment in social engineering to convert the UK into a multicultural country. Up to that time, net immigration had run at or above 50,000 a year. Between 1998, when New Labour opened the doors wide, and 2004, net immigration stood at 1.5 million people, 90% from outside Europe. Between 2004 and 2010, as the government opened the UK labour market wide to the new EU members from eastern Europe, net immigration stood at 1.5 million over the period. Between 2011 and 2016, with mass unemployment in southern Europe, net immigration rose another 1.6 million. Gross immigration in 2016 stood at 665,000.

In every single year from 1998 to 2016, non-EU net migration exceeded net migration from the EU. Immigration, in short, was a catch-all question which illustrated that as a member of the EU the UK’s immigration policy for Europeans was set in Brussels. Cummings key slogan for the campaign -“Turkey/the NHS/£350 million a week,”-signalled that the decision was not London’s to make. It also signalled that the vote, as far as immigration was concerned, was a vote both about Islam and the EU. His other slogan – “we want our country back”-was even more clear. The Leave campaign stood for self-government of the UK, by the UK, for the UK.

Second the global financial crash of 2008 slammed the reputation of élites. These were the “lords of the universe”, who had promised prosperity for all, and preached free markets on a tide of globalisation. As soon as faced with bankruptcy, they rushed to be bailed out at taxpayer’s expense. Samuel Huntington, the American political scientist, referred to them as Davos Man, a neologism referring to global élites who “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the élite’s global operations”. [14] The American élites, Huntington wrote, have forgotten the mystic chords of memory. The American people have not.

Twelve years on, these words proved prophetic both in the US and in the UK. In the US, Trump won office on a platform of putting the nation first. In the UK, the same logic applied. Self-proclaimed “experts” botched regulation, made rubbish predictions and argued for bailing out the few at the expense of the many. The Big Beasts of British politics, who had backed EU membership for the past forty years, had little traction on public opinion. London had indeed prospered, and become Europe’s and the world’s prime financial centre. But France had blocked the liberalisation of services in the EU, so that only one third of the City’s overseas earnings stemmed from the EU. The main source of income was global. The South East of England had per capita income well above the EU average, and held 27% of the UK population. The rest of the UK had per capita income well below the EU average. [15]

Then came the Euro crash in 2010, and the fall out between Germany and France on how to proceed. France, with the southern European countries, argued in favour of a joint Euroland insurance of debts; Germany insisted on no bail outs. The result has been to precipitate Euroland into recession for seven long years, during which democratically elected officials in Greece and Italy have been politically defenestrated by the ECB, Commission and the IMF; ferocious stabilisation measures have been imposed, prompting sky high unemployment, fostering the rise of “populisms”, and  helping to revive national antagonisms, rather than to overcome them, as EU supporters had fondly hoped.

In 1973, the UK had entered the EU as an economic basket case. Now it was the EU to be in deep trouble. The only ideas to emanate from “Brussels” called for more powers to the EU institutions, even though since accruing ever more “competences”—the EU jargon for powers—the organisation had lurched from one crisis to another. There was a lot of talk about the need to defend “the rule of law”. But the Commission had bent the rules over Euro membership in 1999, bringing Greece, Belgium and Italy into the Euro, although none of these member states lived up to the criteria for membership. Then in 2003, Germany and France had agreed to break the agreed rule about budget deficits, while hammering Ireland and Greece for doing so. Germany then  proceeded to build up a massive current account deficit equal to 9% gdp, without incurring the condemnation of the Commission which had agreed on a rule for a maximum surplus, already large, of 6% gdp.

In the 1975 referendum, the whole British establishment had united in favour of a vote to stay in. After thirty years of prosperity in Europe, and relative decline in the UK, the EEC at the time seemed to be a land of milk and honey. Membership could be presented as a market opening exercise, compatible with a more internationalist approach to policy.

Forty years on, the boot was on the other foot. While Europe stagnated, the world boomed. What had seemed to be internationalist could now be criticised, and with reason, as emptying the constitutional states of Europe of their powers, and handing them to an unsustainable institutional set up, part federal, part national, with a dysfunctional, poorly organised, unimaginative and risk averse bureaucracy, facing waning public support. Far from becoming a super state, threatening national sovereignty, the EU was living, it has been argued, on a “slippery slope” to irrelevance. [16] George Soros went so far as to argue that it is a race against time whether Putin’s Russia or the EU collapse first. [17]

Defending the EU proved an uphill struggle.

Defending the EU during the campaign was thus an uphill struggle. Opinion polls showed quite clearly that British public opinion’s default position was Eurosceptic. In general, polls leant to Remain as a least worst option, and essentially on economic grounds. But it was obvious that enthusiasm was a Leave preserve. Well before Cameron came home with his modest four baskets, Farage had wiped the floor with Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and ardent pro EU supporter in a TV debate in 2014.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbFyY9la7wM)

The point that Farage made, with some credibility, was that if there was a vote today on whether the UK would join the EU, the result would be negative. At most, both London and Brussels were smeared with the same brush of incompetence and dithering.  Giving the establishment one very big kick up the backside was a major motive in the voting of June 23.

Vote Leave had some simple messages that  focussed on simple points that won widespread attention:

  1. The first was the slogan “let’s take back control”, a clear statement that Gove and Johnson enlarged upon repeatedly as referring to having the UK parliament as supreme. Better out, was the message, than under the rule of the ECJ.
  2. The official bill of EU membership is £350 million per week. What it tokened was let’s spend our money on our priorities, such as for instance the NHS. As Cummings points out, this is what people meant by discussing the economy. Had Leave concentrated on trade, Leave would have lost.
  3. Take back control over immigration. Cameron had come back with his paltry diet of bureaucratic measures, having traipsed around European capitals to discuss the details of Britain’s welfare measures. People in the UK, especially in northern England where wages were already low, were concerned about real issues such as severe wage competition from low paid eastern Europeans; the subordination of English cities to sharia law, and the sheer volume of immigration over which London clearly had no control whatsoever.
  4. The euro was a nightmare. Presented as promising a dynamic Europe, it had become a Procrustean bed for diverse European countries. If Cameron tried to suggest that the right European regime for the continent was one predicated on national states and their diversity, it was only too easy to point out that this was not the Europe on offer. Quite the contrary, while “Brussels” was convinced that it had gone as far as it was possible to go to keep the UK on-board, the default British position was that Cameron had had to climb down, or had weakly let himself climb down, from eminently sensible proposals in his Bloomberg speech

It was not just Vote Leave than won the campaign. Reading Cummings and Shipman could give that impression. The Leave.EU organisation, close to UKIP and funded by Aaron Banks,  ran a creative campaign that reached out to portions of the population which Vote Leave could not easily access. This was also the rationale for setting up  the cross party umbrella organisation called GO, or Grassroots Out which included UKIP and Leave.EU.  As Farage said on its foundation, “This is our golden opportunity to get our country out of the EU so that we can become a self-governing, independent country that is able to negotiate global trade deals and control our own borders.” Euro-sceptic campaign groups Global Britain and the Democracy Movement also backed the GO Movement.

The result  of the vote of June 23,  on a 72% voter turnout, was 52% for Leave and 48% for Remain. England voted 54 to 46% for Leave; Northern Ireland voted 56 to 44% to Remain; and Scotland voted 68% for Remain and 38% for Leave. Scotland in other words was being taken out of the European Union despite its vote to remain. Since then the SNP has repeatedly stated that if the UK does Leave, there will be a second referendum on independence. A similar judgement holds for northern Ireland. Wales by contrast, a net recipient of EU funds, voted voted 51.7% for Leave, and 48.3% for Remain. Cornwall, with fisheries devastated by the CFP,  also voted Leave.

The large Brexit votes in the North of England were the first sign of things to come in the EU referendum – 58 per cent of the North East backed leaving the EU in the end. With cities with high migrant populations, the North West voted 53.7 % Leave. The West Midlands, rocked by non-EU migration tensions in the past, voted 60 to 40 to Leave. Yorkshire and the Humber gave one of the highest Eurosceptic results in the country, with 57.7 per cent of people backing Leave. The East of England matched the polls’ predictions, with almost three in five of its residents backing Brexit. London, with only 43% of its population by 2016 registering as White British, voted overwhelmingly to Remain. Some 60 per cent of Londoners backed British membership of the European Union – leaving the pro-EU capital surrounded by its Brexit-backing regional neighbours.

One of the key’s to Leave’s success was that the counsel estates in northern England, usually producing turnouts at election time of 50%, this time flowed into the polls. Lord Ashcroft polled 12,369 people on polling day. Ashcroft’s survey found that the AB social group were the only one where a majority, 57 percent, voted to Remain. The C1 group had a small Leave majority, the C2 and DE groups voted 64 percent Leave.In other words, the poorer you were, the more you tended to vote Leave.

Concluding comments.

The first and most important is that this crucial referendum was lost by Remain. Cameron was too far removed from the popular pulse; the same could be said of his advisers. Cameron had played along with Euroscepticism, but when push came to shove came out as pro EU. Having previously criticised the EU for its failings, his efforts to sell the benefits of UK EU membership were less than convincing. He had the option of not reacting quickly to Brussel’s offer, but he decided in favour of a vote, on the assumption that having won the 2010 and 2015 general elections, and the 2014 Scottish referendum, he would win this one.

Second, the key years when UKIP burst on to the national scene as political force to be reckoned with were from 2009 onwards. The party capitalised on concerns about rising immigration, in particular among the White british working class, resulting in significant breakthroughs at the 2013 and the 2014 European elections, where UKIP received the most votes. At the 2015 general elections the party gained the third-largest vote share and one seat in the House of Commons. UKIP support was bolstered by dissatisfaction with the  Conservative-Liberal coalition, and its austerity policies which the Labour leadership kept saying benefitted only the wealth élite. According to Simon Usherwood, UKIP has “become a welcoming home for the many in British society who feel that ‘the system’ isn’t working for them, or has left them behind, economically, socially or politically. In so doing, it has gained supporters from across the political spectrum, including many old Labour voters in economically distressed regions of the country.” [18]

Third, Remainers immediately came up with a long list of how Leavers had whipped up “populism”; had appealed to “irrationality” among voters; and had deserted the middle ground. There was little appreciation that for years the main political parties had refused to listen and act upon real popular concerns regarding mass immigration. Nor was there any grounds to believe that voters were “irrational”: what the many who turned out from the council estates were expressing was that immigration drove down their wages. As for the idea of the  “middle ground”, that had shifted as the EU claimed ever more competences. It was now “middle ground” to acquiesce. All three main parties occupied were barely distinguishable in their soft pro EU stand. They were definitely not in tune with key concerns of their own voters: immigration, the EU, the conduct of the economy, sovereignty.

Fourth, Remainers kept repeating that Leave had woven a tissue of lies. But conflating Islam and the EU over immigration was not a lie, it was a political stratagem to illustrate that the UK government wilfully used the EU’s commitment to free movement of people as a shroud behind which to hide a policy of mass immigration, the intent of which was to revolutionise British culture, without the British electorate being invited to give their opinion.  Nor was it racist: concern about militant Islam was about the religion and whether it was compatible with British political culture. Nor was it a lie to say that the money being sent to Brussels could be deployed on withdrawal to alternative uses. Not least, Whitehall and the leaders of the country’s political parties had hidden for years the extent to which they had signed away the keys of policy to Brussels. What had changed was that it had become increasingly difficult to conceal.

Fifth, the accusation that the country had voted Leave because of an internal feud in the Conservative party between the pro EU majority and the Eurosceptic minority was blown out of the water by the result. The largest majorities won by Conservative party leaders, such as Prime Minister Major’s 13 million votes in the 1992 general elections, were over 4 million less than, those cast for Leave in 2016. It would be truer to say that the only major party to have incubated a national debate for over thirty years about the EU was the Conservative party. The party, like the country, was uncomfortable about the EU’s direction of travel since the 1990s. Labour under Blair tried to embrace the integrationist cause, but support for that only lasted the time of economic prosperity. After 2008, rescuing capitalism, as Gordon Brown sought to illustrate by hosting the G-20 in London in 2009, was a global rather than a European task.

Sixth, Labour has crucified itself with its own utopian policies. At least two of these policy strands proved completely incompatible in the longer run: opening the country wide to immigration and being enthusiastic about the EU.  Labour’s utopian immigration policy alienated its own voter base. As immigration played such a central role in the referendum, it is quite reasonable to argue that Tony Blair was a prime architect in Cameron’s defeat.  Labour’s  own voter base was traditionally patriotic, rather than internationalist. Labour voters, especially in northern England, were not EU enthusiasts, as the three architects of new Labour, Blair, Mandelson, and Brown proclaimed that Labour was. The claim sold when to the London based media. But it was the contrary to the truth in the provinces. The British working class, if anything, favoured a “Europe des patries“, and definitely did not subscribe to the view that the days of the nation state were over.

Then devolution to Scotland was predicated on Scottish Labour using Edinburgh as a platform for high office in London. Instead, Scottish Labour has been routed by the SNP, and, worse, the Scottish Conservatives, are now the main opposition party in Edinburgh. Labour furthermore is split down the middle between its internationalist side and its worker base. The only chance it has now to return to power is for the Conservative government of Prime Minister May to make a hash of Brexit, of the economy, and of its reputation as a One Nation party.

Seventh, Remainers complained that but for a Eurosceptic media, they would have won the referendum. This argument that the EU cause in the UK has been undercut because the British media has stood between the message and the public both underestimates the sophistication of the British public and the content of the message. There were no lack of signs that the Franco-German agreement to shift towards a federal formula at the Maastricht Treaty was not bedding down well in public opinion. At the time of Maastricht, the British media was heavily in favour of the UK signing up. But the deep recession of the early 1990s, precipitated by the UK’s entry to the exchange rate mechanism, left scars. Then came the extension of the EU’s imperial reach, at the expense of the British art market, fisheries, beef, or over the shift towards metric money. As long as prosperity lasted, the jury on British opinion about the EU was out.  That ended with 2010, and the EU’s treatment of Greece: opinion polls shot to 60% favouring leave.

Eighth, Obama’s intervention, and a litany of advise from US luminaries to remain, had no impact whatsoever. This could be intercepted as partial evidence of US decline, relative to the early 1960s when former Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s remark that the UK had lost an empire, but not found a role for itself, created an uproar in the London of the time. It was latched on to by those in favour of joining the EEC  as an indication that if the UK wanted to keep its influence in Washington DC, it had to join the continental bloc. The State Department consistently over the decades reiterated the mantra that the UK was best in the EU. The vote of June 23, by contrast, stated loud and clear that such a crucial decision about whether or not the UK had the right to be self governed had nothing to do with the United States. In any case, the argument could be heard, what is the US doing promoting such an undemocratic entity as the EU? The marxists had a ready answer: to ensure that the engine of global business kept humming.

Ninth, and this in my view is the most important outcome, Remainer efforts to block the process of Brexit have had to go along with the public’s rediscovery that the UK in fact has at the very least a four hundred years old constitution. In the High Court judgement of November 2016, its unanimous judgement was that only an act of parliament could overturn the 1972 European Communities Act, whereby, in the words of the judgement, parliament had switched “on the direct effect of EU law in the national legal system”. Only an act an Act of Parliament could overturn an Act of Parliament. The Supreme Court judgement reconfirmed the  supremacy of parliament in shaping Brexit. The judges opined that the legal consequences of leaving the EU were great enough to require an act of parliament to start the process. “To proceed otherwise would be a breach of settled constitutional principles stretching back many centuries,” Lord David Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, said as he read out the ruling.[19]

In conclusion, the forty-three years of British membership in the EU incubated a constitutional crisis. Entry according to the terms of  1972 European Communities Act twisted Great Britain’s constitutional settlement from 1688 to 1707 in the direction of centralisation in Whitehall, and the bypassing of parliament.  As Prime Minister May points out in her 12-point speech on Brexit,[20] “Our political traditions are different. Unlike other European countries, we have no written constitution, but the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement. We have only a recent history of devolved governance – though it has rapidly embedded itself – and we have little history of coalition government. The public expect to be able to hold their governments to account very directly, and as a result supranational institutions as strong as those created by the European Union sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life.”.

“The European Union, she went on, has struggled to deal with the diversity of its member countries and their interests. It bends towards uniformity, not flexibility. David Cameron’s negotiation was a valiant final attempt to make it work for Britain …but the blunt truth, as we know, is that there was not enough flexibility on many important matters for a majority of British voters.”

In short, what drove Brexit is two incompatible ideas of how Europe should be managed. The UK can live with this diversity, May says. “We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. ” Put another way, the British version of a flexible Europe is still on the table. For the moment, though, Berlin, Brussels and Paris, feign not to be interested.

Here is the BBC’s summary: Brexit All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887

[1]  In early June, only 44% of the British public viewed the EU favourably. French and Greek opinion was less favourable still. Bruce Stokes, Euroskepticism beyond Brexit: Significant opposition in key European countries to an ever closer EU , Pew Research Center, June 7, 2016.

[2] Ken Clarke, Kind of Blue: A Political Memoir, London, MacMillan, 2016. pp.67, 309, 352, 369.

[3]  Edited by Michael Emerson, Britain’s Future in Europe: Reform, renegotiation, repatriation or secession?   Brussels, CEPs, 2015.

[4] EU speech at Bloomberg, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/eu-speech-at-bloomberg

[5] José Manuel Durao Barroso, President of the European Commission, State of the Union Address, European Commission Press Release Database, September 12, 2012.

[6] The Five Presidents Report, Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union, https://ec.europa.eu/priorities/sites/beta-political/files/5-presidents-report_en.pdf

[7]. “François Hollande and Angela Merkel face MEPs, European Parliament news, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20150929IPR94921/fran%C3%A7ois-hollande-and-angela-merkel-face-meps

[8] Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, “The EU Treaty is the same as the Constitution,” The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/valeacutery-giscard-destaing-the-eu-treaty-is-the-same-as-the-constitution-398286.html

[9] Simon Hix, Sarah Hagemann, “Is the EU a winner or a loser in the EU Council?” The Guardian, November 2, 2015.

[10] My précis taken from « The UK’s « new settlement » in the EU : renegotiation and referendum,” EPRS, February 2016-PE 577.983.

[11] “Who do EU think you are kidding Mr Cameron? The Sun, February 3, 2016.

[12] Shipman, p.225 .

[13] Margaret Thatcher, Hansard, House of Commons Debate, November 20, 1991.  Vol 199 columns 290-98.

[14] Samuel Huntington, « Dead Souls : The Denationalization of the American Elite », The National Interest, Spring 2004.pp. 5-18.

[15] Simon Tilford, Brexit Britain: the poor man of Western Europe? Centre for European Reform, 2016.

[16] Giles Merritt,  Slippery Slope: Europe’s Troubled Future, Oxford University Press, 2016.

[17]  George Soros, Putin is no ally against ISIS, Project Syndicate, February 10, 2016.

[18] Simon Usherwood,  “Did Ukip Win the Referendum?”. Political Insight. 7 (2),: 27–29.2016

[19] http://www.businessinsider.de/brexit-uk-supreme-court-article-50-judgment-documents-in-full-2017-1?r=US&IR=T

[20] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/full-text-theresa-may-brexit-speech-global-britain-eu-european-union-latest-a7531361.html

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About Jonathan Story, Professor Emeritus, INSEAD

Jonathan Story is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD in 1974, he worked in Brussels and Washington, where he obtained his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has held the Marusi Chair of Global Business at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graduate Schoold of Business, Fordham University, New York. He is preparing a monograph on China’s impact on the world political economy, and another on a proposal for a contextual approach to business studies. He has a chapter forthcoming on the Euro crisis. His latest book is China UnCovered: What you need to know to do business in China, (FT/ Pearson’s, 2010) (www.chinauncovered.net) His previous books include “China: The Race to Market” (FT/Pearsons, 2003), The Frontiers of Fortune, (Pitman’s, 1999); and The Political Economy of Financial Integration in Europe : The Battle of the Systems,(MIT Press, 1998) on monetary union and financial markets in the EU, and co-authored with Ingo Walter of NYU. His books have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. He is also a co-author in the Oxford Handbook on Business and Government(2010), and has contributed numerous chapters in books and articles in professional journals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, and has been four times winner of the European Case Clearing House “Best Case of the Year” award. His latest cases detail hotel investments in Egypt and Argentina, as well as a women’s garment manufacturer in Sri Lanka and a Chinese auto parts producer. He teaches courses on international business and the global political economy. At the INSEAD campus, in Fontainebleau and Singapore, he has taught European and world politics, markets, and business in the MBA, and PhD programs. He has taught on INSEAD’s flagship Advanced Management Programme for the last three decades, as well as on other Executive Development and Company Specific courses. Jonathan Story works with governments, international organisations and multinational corporations. He is married with four children, and, now, thirteen grandchildren. Besides English, he is fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, reads Portuguese and is learning Russian. He has a bass voice, and gives concerts, including Afro-American spirituals, Russian folk, classical opera and oratorio.
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