Is the British public done with Brexit?
A recent YouGov poll shows that – 11 months after the referendum – growing numbers of Brits believe that the government is duty-bound to leave the European Union. The ‘pro-Brexit electorate’ reportedly now stands at roughly 68%.
And the two UK-wide parties campaigning for a referendum on the Brexit deal, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, are currently polling at 10% and 1% respectively.
So, with just over two weeks to go until Britain goes to the polls, is it time for remainers to let go of Brexit?
The Brexit Election. With the Lib Dems scoring poorly and the collapse of UKIP, two-party politics seems to have returned to Britain, and neither the Conservatives nor Labour are standing in the way of Brexit.
The Tories – unflinching in their belief that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ – are currently polling at 43%. In recent weeks Prime Minister Theresa May, herself a former Remain campaigner, has struck a markedly more belligerent tone towards the European Union.
Labour, led by the (not-so) closet Euro-sceptic Jeremy Corbyn, have decided not to oppose the referendum result either, to the dismay of some of its MPs. Their Brexit plan – to retain access to the EU single market and the customs union while taking no further part in freedom of movement – looks completely unfeasible, especially given that European Parliament has made the indivisibility of the four freedoms (labour, movement, goods and services, and people) one of it’s ‘Red lines on Brexit.’
But that doesn’t seem to matter. Labour’s manifesto pledges – to scrap tuition fees, tax the rich, and nationalise industry – have proved very popular, and the party has climbed to 38% in recent polls.
Besides, Brexit is no longer headline news. Even before the terrorist attack in Manchester, the national conversation had turned away from our split with the European Union.
Understandably, Theresa May’s ‘dementia tax’ U-turn and Labour’s £48bn worth of spending promises feel far more relevant than something that’s been kicking around for almost a year.
The Brexit debate feels like old news – Labour MP Jess Phillips recently said that her constituents were more concerned about ‘gogglebox.’
The options. Apart from the SNP in Scotland, the only UK-wide parties campaigning to give the British public the final say on the Brexit deal, via a second referendum, are the Lib Dems and the Green Party.
The Greens – with joint-leader Caroline Lucas their lone MP – are polling at 1%. Lucas was impressive in the recent ITV ‘leaders debate,’ it’s just a shame no-one was watching.
The Lib Dems – who were hoping to corner the pro-EU market by putting their second referendum promise front and centre – aren’t doing particularly well either.
Polls have the so-called ‘Remain party’ on 10%, despite having cast themselves as the only party that would stand up to the Tories’ Brexit plans. Either the appetite’s not there, or traditional party loyalties are keeping people from voting Lib Dem.
The fact is, even the staunchest remainers may find it hard to vote for the Lib Dems. Their collusion with the Tories in the 2010 coalition government still hangs over the party, and potential voters may have been put off by the furore surrounding Tim Farron’s views on gay marriage.
It’s not hard to make a case for moving on from Brexit. Everyone else has, so let’s stop banging our heads against a wall, and save ourselves the headache.
Hoping for anything other than a hard Brexit – with Theresa May likely to strong and stable her way to victory – is altogether too painful.
But it’s not all as bleak is it seems.
For a start, YouGov has been criticised for the ambiguous wording in its ‘Re-leaver’ poll, casting doubt over statistics that have been widely used as evidence for the public’s acceptance of Brexit.
People that chose the following option were classified as ‘Re-leavers’:
‘I did not support Britain leaving the EU but now the British people have voted to leave the government have a duty to carry out their wishes and leave.’
‘Note the subtle “I did not” versus “I do not,”’ said Helen De Cruz, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Oxford Brookes University. ‘What if people still do not support [Brexit] but think it’s inevitable?’
This feeling of inevitability breeds despondency, but it needn’t.
Even if reversing Brexit seems unlikely, several campaigns have sprung up to fight the so-called ‘hard Brexit’ pursued by the Tories, assuming Theresa May is still PM on June 9th.
Open Britain – a pro-EU campaign launched in the aftermath of the referendum – has drawn up a Brexit ‘attack list’ of 20 seats held mostly by pro-Brexit Conservative MPs in districts that voted Remain.
They are urging ‘anyone who opposes a hard Brexit’ to campaign for the candidates they have endorsed in these constituencies, in the hope of having as many pro-EU voices in Parliament as possible.
Best for Britain has gone one step further.
Set up by Gina Miller, who successfully challenged the government’s right to invoke Article 50 without Parliamentary consent, the campaign has set up a tactical voting platform to encourage people to vote strategically in their local constituencies.
So far, they have used crowd-funded money to back 16 candidates, including Nick Clegg and Caroline Lucas, and will be visiting marginal constituencies and advertising in seats where progressives may pip the Tory candidate.
Many of the candidates supported by Open Britain and Best for Britain are Labour politicians who have vowed not to tow the party leadership’s official line.
With candidates more likely to campaign according to what their constituency voted in the referendum, the Parliamentary Labour Party’s disunity should benefit remainers: a vote for a Labour candidate does not necessarily mean a vote for a Corbynite view of Brexit.
Remainers would do well to adopt the ethos of these campaigns and vote for the local candidate most likely to knock David Davis down a notch next time he airs his distain for the EU.
For some, this may mean moving beyond party allegiances, but if ever there’s a time to do so, it’s now. Every Remain MP in parliament will be another dissenting voice.
A vote for a Labour candidate does not necessarily mean a vote for a Corbynite view of Brexit.
Regardless of media narratives and polling figures, for the millions of people whose future will be dictated by the Brexit negotiations, this is still a one-issue election.
‘The wound is healing’ wrote Anne Perkins in a recent Guardian article, and in part she’s right – some remainers have chosen to move on. For sanity’s sake – if nothing else – that is, perhaps, the sensible thing to do.
But many others haven’t moved on: Brits who live on the continent – many of whom weren’t allowed to vote in the referendum – who are ashamed by the jingoism of the Brexit negotiating team, business owners who rely on trade with the EU, the of thousands of European nationals working in the NHS, the vast majority of young people who voted to remain and are worried about what U.K-EU relations will look like when the people who instigated all this are dead and gone.
To these people – who are directly in the firing line – there is one fundamental issue going into this election that frames everything else.
They are not over Brexit; they may never be.
That, more than anything, will determine who they vote for on June 8th. And so it should.