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Why we lost – and where we go from here

by Hugo Dixon | 13.12.2019

When the history of Brexit is written, the Lib Dems’ decision to let Johnson hold this miserable election will be seen as a key strategic error. 

Boris Johnson has a big majority in Parliament, but he didn’t get a majority of the popular vote. Even if you add his buddies in the Brexit Party and his previous allies in the DUP, they got only 46%. If we’d had a referendum instead, we could have won.

Sensible Labour MPs stopped Jeremy Corbyn multiple times in the summer and early autumn from agreeing to an election. But when Jo Swinson broke ranks, the SNP immediately followed suit and Labour couldn’t hold the line. 

The tragedy is that we were close to getting a People’s Vote through Parliament. And if we had held one, we would have been in a good position to win.

Tribalism

Our side made other errors, of course. Corbyn was an incredibly weak leader, with a mushy approach to Brexit. In a referendum, that might not have mattered too much as he could have sat on the sidelines while others campaigned. But he was unelectable as a prime minister.

The pro-referendum majority was also too split between different parties. Many people voted tactically, but not nearly enough of them. And the so-called “Remain Alliance” didn’t amount to a row of beans. The Lib Dems wouldn’t stand down for Labour even in Johnson’s seat and Labour wouldn’t support the Lib Dems even in Dominic Raab’s constituency. Again, in a referendum, tribalism wouldn’t have been an issue.

Lack of scrutiny

Another tragedy is that the prime minister’s deal wasn’t properly scrutinised. It splits the country into two. Northern Ireland follows EU rules without a say on them, effectively becoming an EU colony. And Johnson hasn’t agreed anything for Great Britain. He’ll be in an incredibly weak position when the negotiations start next year.

If there hadn’t been an election, we could have stripped the lipstick off his pig of a deal. MPs would have examined it line by line. And there is every chance the people would have said “no” when it was put to a referendum. 

But Johnson was able to avoid questioning. He told bare-faced lies about what he had agreed with the EU. He refused interviews with top-rank journalists, in one case literally hiding in a fridge. As a result, few voters had a clue how bad a deal he has done.

No positive case

Pro-Europeans have also failed to make the positive case for being in the EU. We didn’t connect Europe to the issues that people care about and that led so many to vote for Brexit in the first place – such as the crumbling NHS, austerity, crime and lack of investment in huge swathes of the UK.

We have a country that is terribly split on geographical lines: between big cosmopolitan cities and old industrial towns; between Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. The election has made these divisions worse. The UK may literally break apart.

We could fix these problems if we were staying in the EU with a healthy economy. We would be better able to tackle pressing global problems, such as the climate emergency, if we remained an influential member of a powerful club. But too few politicians said any of that.

What next?

We will now leave the EU on January 31. We can’t stop that. 

Johnson will then have to figure out what Brexit means. He will face a terrible dilemma between damaging our economy by ripping us out of the EU market or following the bloc’s rules without a say on them. But pro-Europeans can’t influence that choice. It’s a debate that will be held entirely within the Tory party.

The rest of us will now need to decide how to direct our energies. There will be many political battles ahead. Some will want to fight to rejoin the EU, but the chance of that happening in the foreseeable future is very limited. Others will wish to focus on different causes, such as stopping our democracy becoming further polluted by lies.

I, for one, will take some time to reflect. In the meantime, I wish to thank all our readers, donors and colleagues. We have lost. But day after day we made the fact-based case for staying in the EU. We fought as hard as we could. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Edited by Alan Wheatley

Categories: Brexit

11 Responses to “Why we lost – and where we go from here”

  • Hugo,

    You fought a great fight and your analysis of the nation’s debacle cannot be faulted. In some circumstances the next 12 months could be as tumultuous as the last. Much depends on how the EU plays it and on the balance of power among Johnson’s Tories. Resistance to his stepping off the straight and narrow towards a soft Brexit could trouble him. Brexit may well not shutdown the Tory civil war indefinitely.
    best wishes

    John

  • thank you Hugo and all your contributors, both regulars and occasional, for your steadfast battle ever since the 2016 referendum against the lies spouted by the Brexiteers.

    there has been references to how some people just like to watch the world burn. Whether out of spite or ignorance, this is the way Brexit and its proponents have always look to me … for over a decade now.
    I’d vehemently disagree that most Brits wanting to keep their membership of the EU are “pro-europeans”. it might sound harsh to many ears, but “remainers” all too often sound like self-entitled, self-centered and privileged arses, realizing that your comforting way of life is under threat by bigots, and rediscovering a useful shield that you spent decades denigrating from your ivory tower.
    I’m not a Brit, only a continental European, and the pathetic dystopia that the UK has become is truly saddening from a humanist perspective. “Cool Britannia” helped put a gloss on the sheer arrogance and deluded jingoism of the Brits (read english) for a while, but it’s now bare-faced for all the world to see, and hopefully a large enough numbers of Brits too, so they can start the process of modernizing their banana parliamentarian monarchy.
    Brexit will burn not just domestically, but its neighbours too. there won’t be any winners, only gradual losers.
    I sincerely wish you best.
    only britain-haters would wish brexit onto you

    see you back again in 20 years or so

  • Over the past three and a half years, this site offered a valuable insight into the lies told by Johnson, Cummings, Gove, Raab, Farage, Davis, Rees-Mogg et all. It has also exposed the anti-EU myths which have polluted the political atmosphere. So thank you at least for that In Facts.

    This is more than jus Brexit alone, important as that is. it is about the future of the UK. I urge those who sound triumphant today to reflect on what they have ‘won’. A flatlining economy only to become worse, a divided society and the real danger of the break up of the UK as we know it for starters.

    This was one of the very first sites I visited after the referendum in 2016 by the way.

  • Thanking you for the articles about the dangers of Brexit, for voters to pick up the message about what their future outside the EU was likely going to be. Nevertheless, that message clearly didn’t reach the people that mattered in this respect; see the swing of Labour heartlands to the Tory vote. One of the reasons for that, to my mind, is that InFacts for a number of reasons, amongst which popular lack of interest in the message, remained hidden from their view. As a result you preached continuously to the already converted, that message should have been out on the streets, in magazines and newspapers and perhaps even on tv. Anyway, we are where we are and we can only watch things go the way they are meant to go. An unpleasant idea given the bunch of vindictive liars that run the country now.

  • This website has been a rock in difficult times, a source of emotional sustenance which we will greatly miss. What can we extract from the wreckage of the election, to comfort us now? Well, the EU will survive, freed of a terminally sick member, and maybe joined by Scotland if they can break away and escape. (anyone else thinking of moving to Scotland?)

    As for England, we are accustomed to the good guys winning but this is not always the case in reality. In this case the bad guys were highly organised and disciplined, like any criminal gang, whilst the good guys bumbled about in various directions. That’s life – the forces creative forces are always balanced by those of destruction and dissolution (in physics it is energy and entropy) and the grim reaper tends to come out top in the end.

    So farewell to the Britain we have loved, it’s been good to know you. The Remainer movement rose up like a flower and was cut down. The EU gave and the Tories have taken away, in the sure and certain knowledge that they will never be held to account for their crimes.

  • Thankyou for your tireless work in exposing all the lies and corruption of the people foisting brexit on us. They only won, because the people with power and influence on the remain side were weak and divided and leaver Corbyn, offered almost zero opposition. There were a few wise voices like Dominic Grieve, who went above and beyond the call of duty, but they were few and far between to hold back brexit.

    In particular, what the hell did Best for Britain do, with their millionnaire backer Soros and massive donations? They should have been a high profile movement. Where did all that money go? Questions need to be answered.

  • Hugo, you helped keep me sane during the dark months following the referendum, and I’m grateful. It seemed like we were few and isolated and even to mention the possibility of reconsidering was taboo. Well, we changed that. Thirty months later we still haven’t left, and the idea of a second referendum, while not (yet) delivered, is a proposition taken seriously. So yes, reflect. But don’t give up.

    Johnson purged the sensible wing of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. A lot of the new intake are clearly loons, joining the residual bastards and fantasists. This does not look to me like the makings of a stong [sic] and stable government.

    -A.

  • The Herculean task of trade negotiations within a self-imposed time frame will unmask the vulnerabilities of the Government’ position, which will be compounded by two other factors beyond their control; the Trump intervention aimed at disabling the WTO and the new Trade Commissioner for the EU, who is a formidable trade negotiator (ex Agricultural Commissioner) and is Irish. The WTO bolthole may be less accessible or desirable, thus forcing Johnson into closer regulatory alignment and agreement to level playing field conditions. In parallel of course, there will be the pressures of an independence referendum for Scotland closer EU integration for NI. Discussions on the modalities of Brexit will continue and Infacts could provide a useful platform on which to air our observations and comments on the on-going saga.

  • Thank you Hugo and all the team at InFacts – along with Ian Dunt voices of sanity in a country that is having a collective nervous breakdown. There is no doubt in my mind that the UK will rejoin the EU, it’s a question of when, but much damage will be done by these admirers of Pinochet in the meantime. All progressive reforms since 1906 are now in danger. We can sit back and enjoy as Borisolini’s lies, betrayals, false promises and incompetence come home to roost.