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To stop Brexit we need to change public opinion; here’s how

by Hugo Dixon | 26.09.2017

Theresa May’s Florence speech rams home why we shouldn’t be quitting the European Union at all. As reality bites, the prime minister is being forced to give up on Brexiters’ fantasies. She put Brexit on ice for two years, dangled tens of billions of pounds in front of the EU and abandoned her threat to turn the UK into a Singapore-style tax haven. These weren’t the flip-flop queen’s first U-turns, and they won’t be her last.

The government is making a dog’s dinner of Brexit. May triggered article 50, setting a two-year time bomb ticking, without a plan. Six months later, she still doesn’t have a plan. The prime minister asked for creative solutions. But she didn’t provide any herself. She doesn’t have a creative bone in her body.

But we’re not going to end up with a bad Brexit just because May is hapless, though she certainly is. The more fundamental problem is there’s no good Brexit. That’s why rival factions in cabinet are still fighting like ferrets in a sack.

The only good Brexit was the one promised by the leave campaign that voters increasingly realise was based on lies: the promise of £350m a week for the NHS; the claim that the divorce would be a cinch because Germany is desperate to sell us BMWs; the scare story that Turkey was about to join the EU.

The biggest lie of all was that voting leave would mean taking control. As May makes more and more concessions in the Brexit talks, it is becoming clear we will actually lose control. We will follow the EU’s rules and regulations without a say on what those are.

How can that be the patriotic choice? Contrary to the black propaganda pumped out by the leave campaign, we are currently one of the most influential EU members, winning 98% of votes in the Council of the European Union.

David Cameron was rightly criticised last year for staking the whole referendum on Project Fear. We needed then to make the positive case for staying in the EU, and we need even more to make it now.

The geopolitical changes since the referendum – five terrorist attacks on British soil so far this year, and the threat of nuclear war – underline the folly of cutting our ties with Europe and sucking up to Donald Trump. EU membership helps us manage the challenges of our time such as climate change, mass migration from Africa, tax evasion by multinationals, and globalisation.

But we shouldn’t shrink from pointing out the damage Brexit is already causing, so long as we don’t exaggerate. The pound has sunk, inflation has risen and people’s incomes have been squeezed. Talented EU citizens are quitting in droves, making it harder for the NHS in particular to find enough nurses and doctors.

We have moved from being the fastest-growing member of the G7 to the slowest, and our credit rating has just been downgraded. And this is just the downpayment. We haven’t even left the EU. Thanks, Brexiters.

Many pro-Europeans recognise all this but think the best we can achieve is a soft Brexit, staying in the single market permanently. That’s what more than 40 senior Labour figures are pushing for. While this would cushion the blow of Brexit, it is clearly inferior to staying in the EU and staying at the top table.

Others think that it is undemocratic to keep fighting Brexit now the people have spoken. We must slay this canard once and for all. In a democracy, people are free to speak their minds. They are also free to change their minds. One person, one vote, one time isn’t democracy: it’s how dictators keep power.

Boris Johnson suggested last weekend that the young people campaigning to stay in the EU are unpatriotic. Quite the reverse. Patriots have a duty to try to stop this historic mistake.

We will, of course, need to change public opinion. But we have the strongest arguments, reality is biting and politics is moving in our direction. The government is on the run. We must press our advantage and boldly make the case to abandon this mad escapade before it’s too late.

This piece originally appeared on the Guardian website

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Edited by Sam Ashworth-Hayes

9 Responses to “To stop Brexit we need to change public opinion; here’s how”

  • Yes, of course public opinion must change but who can do it? Who can really create a realistic program of education to counteract the daily lies spewed out by the Mail and others? The government does not seem to be willing to admit that their policies have caused the housing shortage and the failure of the NHS, for example, but it is clear that they are at fault. How can migrant workers be at one moment essential contributors to our society and, in the same breath, be accused of sucking the life blood from the country and its native born workers? It doesn’t make sense but it is believed by many and there needs to be an honest and forceful stream of truthful information.

  • There is an argument used by Brexiteers that can be summarised as:

    “No British exit from the EU can be allowed to be seen to be successful in order to discourage other member states from following suit.”

    So, in other words, if Brexit is unsuccessful it’s still the fault of the EU !

    Thank God the 2008 great financial crash was caused by Labour over-spending and not by greedy under-regulated bankers.

  • The reality is that both leavers and remainers have valid arguments, although the lies and nonsense that abound disguise these beyond recognition. We have the media to thank for that, along with politicians who put their own careers ahead of the country.

    In order to change beliefs, we need to understand them and consider if they can be addressed in a manner that saves face for all. We will never persuade people to give up and admit they were wrong.

    Ironically, most of the valid concerns about the EU are shared with other EU citizens, even staunch remainers, this side of the Channel. We should not accept the ‘given’ that the EU won’t change, it will, with us or without us.

    The most pragmatic approach would therefore be to re-open discussions (not negotiations) about EU reform. We need respected mediators from the UK and the EU to get together and have the dialogue that David Cameron should have had before he went to Brussels complaining about the benefits going to the families of EU workers in the UK . If he had confronted those issues which many other members agree need addressing, he may have come back with something substantial and the UK referendum may have produced a very different outcome. But that is water under the bridge, what we need now is a person or persons of integrity to build bridges. The EU don’t want us to go, most of the EU wants the same as us, let’s seize the moment and make it happen.

  • It would help if the current leadership of the Labour Party was not pro-Brexit. How can we persuade all these youngsters who adore Corbyn, but are fervently pro-Remain, to pile on the pressure and not cave in as they did over a Brexit vote at conference? The photo of Corbynistas in the Guardian the other day had two young women both wearing ‘Bugger Brexit’ stickers but the irony was ignored.

  • The Referendum result was caused by two things, the appalling ignorance of the general public in the UK as to the origins, objectives and functioning of the EU and the exploitation of that ignorance by a certain press in the UK over the last 40 years or so. Presumably the press in question will continue their disinformation campaign and abuse the freedom of information they enjoy so the task of changing the popular conception of the EU will be difficult to achieve in a situation where no leadership is being shown by the political class lost in the pursuit of personal political interests. One is left with the choice as to how to educate the general public about the EU if the present political class is incapable or unwilling to do so. At the very least, the production of an ” EU for dummies ” by a recognised authority who be a useful start.

  • This is good, but “How” to change public opinion & boost the courage of MPs needs major effort. Perhaps one factor at a time ?
    Both major parties claim that the public is concerned about “immigration”.
    Can we try to pin down, identify (& so cut down to size) the assumption or assertion that EU Immigration is the cause of a) serious social problems or b) serious shortages of housing or public services ? [This always neglects the controllable non-EU immigration, but sometimes unspecified “immigration” implies it in a crypto-racist dog-whistle fashion.]
    What I suggest is to survey in detail by asking EVERY MP “Do you have either a) serious social problems or b) serious shortages of housing or public services in your constituency, due to EU immigration ?”. The question could also be asked to local authorities, as a verification, or if MP’s refused to answer (how could they justify that ?)
    Where they answer “YES”: we say “Right, the area deserves help, so we should force the government to apply additional resources locally to resolve the problem”. I believe Labour had a small fund of this sort but it was abolished by CAMERON (of course!).
    Where they answer “NO”, it means that the problem is not with immigration at all but simply UK citizens’ hatred, ignorance or fear of foreigners: the xenophobia which both major parties have been pandering to.
    By this method we will see a) HOW MANY constituencies have such problems – I expect it to be few ; b) WHERE the problems are, so that they can be dealt with; c) that – I expect – most of the “problem” is imaginary.
    So – why has the government not done this already ? And why hasn’t Labour called for it ?