Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Being born in the early eighties, I have never known anything other than being in Europe. So I must confess that before Nigel Farage and his cohort raised the idea of the UK leaving the EU, I never thought it was an issue that would qualify as needing realistic debate. The people that were pushing this agenda might have been seen as almost fanatical and totally unrealistic. In this respect we could all hold our views but it didn’t matter either way because nothing was going to change. But it did and just how did it happen?
In simple terms, it was the rapidly growing political pressure applied by UKIP and/or the Brexit Party – and most certainly by Nigel Farage – upon David Cameron and the Tory Party. Had this pressure not been applied I cannot see how Brexit would ever have occurred. And by political pressure I mean nothing more than winning or losing votes. Nigel Farage was threatening the very existence of the Tory Party itself. Not only did he offer Brexit, but he was also a speaker that could articulate the thoughts and fears of a certain part of the British population that fitted with their view of the world. He had the charisma and the conviction that people were looking for, and compared with the seemingly lightweight Cameron, he was perhaps a leader many people had been waiting for.
Charisma, passion and conviction are usually nowhere near enough to change the course of British history, even when there is a very real threat of the governing party losing power. I do not think we can overestimate the unfettered arrogance of David Cameron and George Osborne. Aside from the presumably entitled programming he might have received in his education, he had experienced what appeared fairly easy political success. He won the Conservative Party Leadership against an experienced opponent at a relatively young age. He won a General Election, albeit as a coalition against a tired Labour administration tarnished by Blair's Iraq and the financial crash. He crushed the Liberal Democrat's PR vote. He won a second General Election outright.
Cameron must have been feeling quite satisfied with his political nous and under this euphoria felt the confidence to put the European issue to a vote. He had defeated old Tories, Brown, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scots – now it was time for the English!
One noticeable difference between the Scottish independence vote and the Brexit vote was the unification of all political parties to keep the UK together versus the separate approach that even saw the Tory cabinet allowed to campaign as they wished. The hubris that must have been in play within the Cameron camp must have spilled over like over-poured champagne and so the overspill of Johnson and Gove began. Off they went in their buses spreading their political ambitions all over the country and not long after the United Kingdom was out. Nigel Farage, with the help of his distinctive Tory coat-tailors, defeated Cameron.
In rapid time Cameron resigned and May took the baton and the stalemate began. With a huge lead in the opinion polls May decided to take Corbyn on and was humiliated losing 30 seats in the 2017 General Election. Most of the electorate thought getting out of Europe would be as simple as the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ tick box - no one had any idea about the concept of a deal. The wrangling that ensued as to how we leave the EU started to ebb away the already thin credibility politicians had, to the point that you almost felt an unthinkable potential uprising. The problem then became Labour’s stance, who decided to offer a vote to remain as one of the 3 options they were putting forward. We now know this to have been a calamitous decision and one that lost Corbyn his 2017 momentum, the General Election and his leadership. Johnson, on the other hand, read the country quite brilliantly. Although tight, the majority of the UK did want out, and this included much of the working class in the 'red wall' seats.
What Cameron underestimated was the cultural issues of people from across Europe entering our shores. It was not the colour of someone’s skin, but the attitudes, beliefs, values and morals of the people coming into the country. People of a certain age would have grown up with people who were similar in language, accent, yes colour, and culture, and to ask them to be ok with what some of them would claim to be an invasion, was asking too much. Change is so difficult for us all, and this cultural shift had never been addressed. Even if more people does equate to a bigger economy and in theory more wealth for us all, this was not enough to swing their consent. I think the reason why Cameron thought he was going to win was because most people, when asked, did not want to admit that they wanted their society to be filled with their own. And these same people would not have been encouraged to be honest because the politically correct agenda had pummelled the views that anyone who does not accept all people are essentially bigoted and racist. Why would anyone wish to divulge this information with this potential backlash?
As soon as the 80 seat majority was confirmed Johnson had his mandate to push his so-called oven-ready deal, to which Labour now has no choice but to help the government vote through. It remains to be seen just what the deal is and how it will affect us, but it is now a reality.
What are we if not who we identify with?
The theory of a European Union makes objective sense to those right at the very top. It’s easier to implement whatever policies you want with fewer people to negotiate with. Ultimately, if you had a society that spoke the same language, believed in the same values, used the same currency and followed the same laws wouldn’t it be easier? Probably, but when you take away all of this, you are actually removing a person’s identity. What are we if not who we identify with? Had those at the top of European plan understood this deep, inner attachment they may have been slower with the speed at which they tried to move - they needed to ease us in gently. Perhaps they thought they did?
The problem really was that the leaders who began the journey are a long time gone and like the founder of any vision, once they are gone the impetus and understanding goes too. If by some chance somebody did come along and lead the whole process with empathy, understanding and compassion, perhaps the country would feel very differently to now. Instead the relief and delight of those that did not want to change is palpable, and we are now a country heading towards notions of old where Britain ruled the waves. At least that is what I feel Johnson and Rees-Mogg are thinking. When Johnson read about the Empire as a boy he must have been inspired and indoctrinated to think that is the way it should be now. I can imagine him discovering his purpose in life: “My role is get the Empire back.” My concern now would be if there were any announcements about a huge and unjustified investment in military infrastructure. Oh, that’s right there is: PM to announce largest military investment in 30 years - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Can Brexit work?
My view is that most political structures can work, it’s more about the vision and culture of the group of leaders, and I believe the European project could have been a huge success. Our exit out of their programme was evidence their vision and culture was not one we wanted to buy into, and so for those that wish to start the journey of re-uniting, I think they should first address the cultural fears of many parts of the UK otherwise I suspect they will continue to see the same repulsion and the same results.
By the same token, if Brexit does turn out to be a failure - however this is measured - I believe also that it will not be down to political structures, it will be down to political leadership. Johnson, or whoever is in charge in the future, have the potential to make just as many mistakes as the European leaders have made. Bad leadership enjoys a freedom of movement unbound by the restriction of a passport. However, I remain open-minded, optimistic and supportive where there is leadership that justifies it.