Brexit was a surprise. Perhaps a reason for the surprise was that so few foresaw that so many reasons would come together to influence the outcome. Many of these have been documented before such as: had Cameron not called a referendum; if Blair had chosen the option to delay eastern European immigration in 2004 by 7 years, etc. Below I give five more reasons that may have swung the vote. Inevitably, some of my analysis here will be speculative and anecdotal.
Had any British politician since 1973 made the real case for European Union membership
It is said that every member of the European Union has a reason at an emotional level for being a member of the club. For Germany, it is restraining their own nationalism and putting to bed the past, etc. It is said that Britain never really had such a reason. For the other members, Europe is a relationship, for Britain it is/was a commercial transaction.
Therefore, relying on a campaign which stressed only potential economic problems that Brexit could bring, it was very difficult for any British politician to add any real depth to their argument.
Few publicly dared to communicate the emotional arguments of Remain such as solidary with European partners etc for risk that it would not chime with the British public. From my experience, pro-Remain listeners were in fact anxious for pro-Remain politicians to stray from the narrow economic argument and make the emotional case. From my experience, the few times that this happened, it was met with loud cheers of those finally hearing the reason for which they likely got involved in the campaign in the first place.
With the broader public, there was no underlying pro-European sentiment ever built by any politician previously, to be tapped into. There is only so far an argument can go if it does not capture imagination. The converse is also true, the more-successful leave campaign captured the hearts and minds of many British patriots.
There is also the issue that this narrowed the Remain campaign focus. The official Remain campaign did not stray from the single argument that there would be economic damage if Britain left the EU, and that the price of a German dishwasher may go up. Such repetition made it sound like doom which seemed unrealistic. In the words of Peter Mandelson, “I’m apparently one of the inventors of tight-knit communications, but I never dreamt of taking it to the extent, literally, of saying absolutely nothing about anything else – and simply saying the same thing over and over again.”
Had there been visible factcheckers during the referendum
“I have absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in saying that the leave campaign conducted one of the most dishonest political campaigns this country has ever seen”. Those are the words of Michael Dougan, Professor of European law at the University of Liverpool.
To date, there are still no go-to studies in ascertaining reasons for voting leave. However, I assert that the outcome was influenced by the scale of the lies told, and the diversity of the lies told across so many issues. This culminated in the belief of many ordinary people that Britain had simply lost control of their county and that this influenced the outcome. This was the moment to “take back control”.
We can gauge (with a fair degree of certainty) that the famous £350m per week may have actually swung the vote. That apparently, was the money that the EU was stealing from Britain every week which leavers claimed would be better spent on the NHS. Such a figure was highly effective, and it raised the emotive issue of the NHS. It was also highly deceitful for the following reasons: the figure is 1% of government spending; 2/3 of that money came back to the UK directly; this fee paid our membership of the single market (which represents around 12% of our GDP).
Nigel Farage admitted the day after the vote that this money would in fact not be available. He recently stated in an interview that he did not tell Vote Leave (a different pro-leave organisation to his which was using the figure) to stop using it despite knowing that it was wrong. The reason he gave was because the two organisations were on the same side.
The above example is just one of the many mistruths that the Leave campaign perpetrated during the campaign. One of their reasons for doing so was perhaps the very knowledge that they would not actually be proven wrong nor held accountable for such lies. Many will say that it is not practical to prescribe rules to election campaigning. This argument does not hold, legal action that exists for liable, slander and false advertising.
A vote procured on the basis of incorrect information is not a valid vote.
Had more of a big deal been made about Cameron’s reform
Although Cameron did not ask for major changes to be made in the re-negotiations of February 2016, the re-negotiation achieved significant reform.
An example of this was that the EU became a multi-currency union. That’s to say, the EU dropped its legal requirement that all non-Euro currencies would have to adopt the Euro. This would have protected the economic model of economies such as Bulgaria and Poland which rely on cheap labour provided by flexible exchange rates. The currency issue was just one of four major issues tackled by David Cameron.
Further to this, it made virtually inconceivable that Britain would ever join the Euro, yet stay within the European Union, thereby enhancing its position of the “best of both worlds”. During the campaign, many Brexiters mentioned the underperforming Eurozone as a reason to leave the EU, a club of which Britain would never be a part.
It is deeply regretful that the significance of these reforms was belittled on live media by those who knew next to nothing about them.
Had Cameron stipulated that the result would only be valid with a certain turnout
52% of Britons did not vote for Brexit. Only 52% of those who voted on that day in June, voted for Brexit. That is 52% of the 72% turnout. So, only 37.4% of the country voted for leave, whilst 34.5% voted for remain.
A turnout of 72% for a national decision of such was meagre. One could question whether or not the vote is valid, as a result. Does it actually represent the views of the country if there is a further 28% did not put forward a judgment on the issue? I suspect that the majority of those who did not vote would have been remain voters. My reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, I believe simply that those who did not vote would simply have been happy with the status quo. At the very least, they did not see much reason to vote to change it. Only after the referendum did pro-Europeanism begin to grow as a movement. Secondly, in the UK, Euroscepticism is a much more vociferous and organised movement than pro-Europeanism. Naturally much more mobilised and involved in their cause than their opposite numbers, Brexiteers turned out to vote en masse.
Had Cameron stipulated that the result would only be valid if it achieved a certain margin
Similar to the point made above, one must ask the question, to what extent is it justified to act on a question of national destiny with a 2% margin?
The leave victory was very narrow. A margin should have been set. Although I do understand that whatever margin given would ultimately have been arbitrary.
Commentators give this is a reason for May’s failure to win a majority at the recent election – she had a very strong interpretation of a very narrow result. In part, she received a backlash to a hard Brexit.
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Remain campaign did so. Everything that could have gone well for the Leave campaign did so. In all, my prolonged analysis of Brexit gives me reasons to believe that it had many causes which got the Leavers over the line. Had one of these many reasons not applied, I suspect we may still be in Remainia.