Sunday, 26 June 2016

Spare a thought for the Leave voters

There has been a lot of commentary in my particular social media echo chamber since Thursday on the topic of the despair felt by Remain voters since Thursday's EU referendum. However it is worth considering also how cheated and baffled many of those who voted Leave will be feeling over the next few weeks.

For the moment, leave aside the vague and aspirational promises made by the Brexiteers during the campaign (that the UK will proper as never before once freed from the shackles of Europe). Admittedly the signs are not looking good, but three days in it is far too early to say that these were false promises. Instead, focus on the definitive 'factual' commitments given to voters prior to the vote.

If the country voted Leave, we were told, then the following would certainly occur:

1) The UK would 'take back control' by acting immediately to initiate the process of separation from the EU.
2) £350 million pounds a week, freed up from EU budget contributions, would be spent on the NHS (and other like causes).
3) Immigration would be 'controlled'. The clear implication was that this meant bringing net migration figures down to the current government's 'tens of thousands' target.

So now that the country has voted leave, what now? Already it has been made clear that none of these commitments will be met.

1) Far from the UK (meaning, presumably its PM) initiating the process of separation immediately this will not even begin for at least 3 months, and then will be in the gift of the UK's first unelected prime minister since Gordon Brown.
2) This commitment was a 'mistake', as made clear by Farage withing hours of the announcement of the result.
3) 'Control' of immigration will not mean reduction, according to both Boris Johnson and, more explicitly, Daniel Hannan.

Numbers 2) and 3) are where most anger is being generated, but actually 1) is a very significant issue. Whatever you do or don't think about its merits, the core Leave case was pretty straighforward: leave the EU and we regain control. Yet Cameron's refusal to invoke article 50 means that, for at least the next three months, the UK will have surrendered control entirely over its future, in a period of unprecedented global uncertainty.

We will still be in the EU of course and still subject to all of its 'control' but will have no power or influence within it whatever. Cameron will be a totally 'lame duck' leader and the other countries very motivated to rally together. It is not hard to imagine the mood in next week's Council of Ministers' meeting.

So far from gaining control, the UK has now put itself in a position where it has sacrificed any real influence in the EU whilst not even beginning the process of leaving it until at least October. And what must Leave voters be feeling about that? They were promised a brave new world of renewed power, sovereignty and authority and will get the opposite. They were promised better funding for public services and reduced immigration and will see no sign of either. And that is presuming that the economy doesn't tank!

If I were a Leave voter I would be bloody furious already. But do not make the mistake of thinking that this is an optimistic post. In the history of European democracies it has not generally gone well when a populace has realised that they have been cheated and lied to by their political leaders, when their livelihoods and the country's prosperity have collapsed and when hatred has been whipped up against the immigrants in their midst.

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