Posted to Facebook 24th June 2016. Some edits for clarity.
Today was always going to be a day of recriminations and backlash for millions of people, whatever the outcome. Maybe you just weren’t expecting you would be one of them.
But I was one of the most prominent people advocating a Leave vote that many of you know, so I want to say this and then I am going to shut up and let people grieve until Shabbat is over:
- Voter after voter who were vox popped by the media on why they were voting Leave made it clear that they didn’t have a problem with immigrants as people, they just didn’t think there was room or resources for them. Too many of the people who voted Remain refused to engage with this point because they didn’t want to dirty their hands by talking to racists, but what this (and the conversations that I have had with several of those people after I specifically sought them out) tells me is that people who are feeling insecure and economically vulnerable are open to arguments that the reason they are feeling that way is not because of immigration but because capitalism is not working for them, and that the lack of resources is due to political choices of distribution. Now is not the time to start whinging about people being old (screw every one of you who trashed people for being old), or stupid, or uneducated, but to start explaining to every person who says this that throwing out all of our international workers is not going to resolve those problems. This is what every Labour MP now intoning this point on social media should have been doing a decade ago instead of ceding that ground so entirely to the right that we find ourselves in the situation we are now.
This is not to say that large swathes of people didn’t vote Leave because they are ideological racists who don’t want non-British people in the country, but I think we need to recognise that a lot of people voted Leave because they were frightened and that we need to start reassuring them and directing them at the real guilty parties instead of calling them names.
- Nationalists are on the rise across the world, EU member or no. A Remain vote would have given British nationalists even more to feel resentful about. A No vote in the Indyref didn’t make the Scottish nationalists go away, it fired them up, and following the referendum the SNP increased their membership by 500%, became the third largest party in Britain and took all but three seats in the Scottish Parliament the following year. The resentment fired up by a Remain vote would have borne down on every immigrant in the country – I don’t know if that will happen now, but it definitely would have happened if however many million people who have voted on immigration issues had felt they had been ignored. The people who voted Remain are much less likely to start lynch mobs and shoot people because they didn’t get their way.
- UKIP no longer has a reason to exist. The flagship policy that has united their bizarre coalition of stock-broker millionaires, nostalgic conservatives and disaffected Labour voters, a referendum on the European Union, has been held and won. Even if they don’t collapse into non-existence, there are many people who turned to them for answers who we now have an opportunity to peel away.
- In 1975, in the only democratic exercise we ever had on Europe prior to this one, the British people voted to join the European Economic Community. As far as I am concerned, the successor to that body is not the EU, but the European Economic Area. The EEA comes with all the nice things that most people associate with the EU – freedom of movement, the common market, and all the health and safety and workers’ rights regulations that people fear will be stripped away by the Tories.
The EEA involves giving up approximately 20% of our national sovereignty in return for those nice things. That is a trade I am ok with. Constituent members are not just handed those rules on a plate, but are informally consulted before regulations are passed (the British government has voted for these regulations, as so many people let me know during the campaign, 98% of the time, so clearly all the negotiation over them happens behind closed doors and formal voting isn’t actually that important to the process). There is also more wiggle room for saying no if you don’t like a directive than there is for members of the EU (c.f. Norway’s refusal to implement the Postal Directive in 2011, although a new government implemented it in 2013 under pressure, because the EU doesn’t like it when people say no). You can learn more here: https://fullfact.org/europe/norway-switzerland-eu-laws/
I didn’t vote to leave the EEA, I voted to leave the EU. We are now going to be free and clear of an undemocratic entity that resisted every population’s attempt to object to its behaviour for forty years and I don’t regret that. But the details of our exit are up for debate and retaining our membership of the EEA (or joining it, it’s unclear what our status is atm), a separate entity, is a distinct part of those negotiations I think worth organising around and fighting for.
I read last week that approximately 450 MPs are pro-EU and will vote against any effort to leave the common market or for any effort to join it. European leaders are also torn between punishing us and maintaining relations with their biggest trading partner (just as they will be torn between admitting Scotland as a member of the EU to punish us and opposing secession to discourage their own independence movements like they did last time).
At the same time, a lot of people who voted Leave, including the Kippers, did so because they explicitly don’t want freedom of movement. There are, therefore, a lot of hearts and minds to win over but that’s a conversation that is a lot easier to have now that everyone isn’t focussed front and foremost on propagating whatever lies they deemed necessary to get their preferred outcome in the referendum.
- I heard a lot of people saying that while they had severe misgivings about the EU and its direction, they weren’t prepared to take the risk of leaving. Assuming that wasn’t a lie, that decision has now been made for you. There is now no such thing as a Bremainer, Brexiteer or Lexiteer – with the vote done, we’re all free to realign ourselves as we wish when it comes to Europe. Between the people who voted remain, the people who voted for lexit, the people who voted out as a protest vote, the people who genuinely didn’t agree with political union, and the people who are persuadable on this issue, there should be enough support that we can successfully campaign for friendly trade and social relationships with other European countries, with a free flow of immigrants and emigrants, which are based on the democratic will of the peoples concerned. We might not get that, but that is what I am going to argue for, hard. Everything is up in the air and there’s all to play for. There are years of negotiations ahead.
I know many people are going to be really annoyed with me for voting Leave, but you also need me and everyone like me who voted Leave to put the case to the rest, because we have way more credibility with the Outers than you do.
So, please, get through the shock, and then we’ve got to get on this. Shabbat shalom.