How to Win a Referendum
Boris Johnson, representing the EU ‘Leave’ campaign, has made much of the 800,000+ German cars he claims are sold in Britain to argue that Germany would not be sufficiently “insane” not to offer post-Brexit Britain a free trade deal with the EU. Leaving aside Mr Johnson’s extravagant language, we may fairly point out that Germany has much more at stake in the EU than car sales to Britain.
Among the 28 current members of the EU we may reasonably surmise that some of them at least (including the ‘usual suspects’ that were early members of EFTA when Britain last thought European Union was a thoroughly ‘bad idea’), would form an orderly queue demanding the same free trade deal with the EU as Britain. The EU cannot afford to offer a facile and generous free trade deal to post-Brexit Britain, because such an agreement would completely undermine the integrity of the EU. The EU will require to establish stern trade barriers with post-Brexit Britain simply to ensure that it saves itself. This is not ‘scaremongering’ (which I deplore), but just basic political realism.
There is another reason that the ‘Leave’ idea that post-Brexit, Britain will simply have attractive free trade agreements with the whole world may reasonably be questioned. All things may be possible, but this we do know: the seductive Boris Johnson proposal is completely disingenuous. How do I know?
Boris Johnson said this about the Scottish independence referendum, and the prospects for Scotland negotiating free-trade simply with our closest neighbour, on 24th November, 2013:
“I don’t think people have woken up to the full lunacy of what is afoot….. As for the Scots — well, I can see the attraction: your own nation, your own government, and the chance to join the ranks of those small and dynamic countries that seem to be happiest and most prosperous. What both sides are forgetting – and they have this in common with divorcing couples – is that it may look OK on day one, but on day two the lawyers come in. There is the division of property to work out, the rights of access to be determined. The longer the marriage has lasted, the more there is to unpick, and the more hellish and self-flayingly painful the whole process becomes….. There are endless opportunities for confusion and bickering.”
“The rights of access”, include, not least access to the rUK market. Johnson was prepared to play ‘hard-ball’ with Scotland over post-independence negotiations with rUK. This was not going to be a smooth transition to open doors, free-trade, and ‘welcome’ Scotland: rUK understands you desire for “control” and “independence”, and to trade freely with England. It was, rather a case of Johnson and Better Together offering the worst scenario of post-Scotland’s Union exit; of penury and ruin as bad as could be imagined, as rUK slammed the door shut in Scotland’s face. This was Better Together’s decisive argument, and it no doubt sent a chill through older, sober, Scottish minds on voting day. Either he was wrong then, or he is wrong now; he cannot have it every way.
Of course it is all different now; but this is Brexit. Different rules apply; no White Paper, no plan, no details; no need. This is Britain, after all; we don’t need to do anthing, or even think. We just need to be British. All we need is fuzzy ideas and fuzzier, comic politicians; a rhetorical appeal to “independence” and to “hope” and to how special we British are; combined with a large dose of cynical, exploitative, propagandist public relations designed to mask the serious break-down in public confidence in British institutions and in the (supposed) neo-liberal consensus that destroyed the financial system and induced a profound public loss of credibility in a broken political system and a decayed and suspect establishment: a false-populism on which the Brexiteers hope to ride to victory under a false flag. Notice that this sense of outrage against neoliberalism has spread round the Western World; unsurprisingly, and at last the neoliberal conventional wisdom has been found out by ordinary people. What ordinary people are finding more difficult is politicians they can trust.
None of this on either referendum side, is the campaign of the actual British people; who have since at least 2007 been conned, ‘mis-sold’, comprehensively ripped-off and cheated by the institutions that are supposed to represent them or serve them. What we have had is the campaign of a two-faced UK establishment that is (ironically, but no surprise) heavily over-represented by the leading lights on both sides in the EU Remain and Leave campaigns.
In Britain, and it could only happen here, only the establishment has ensured that whichever way you decide to vote, the establishment can’t lose the referendum. Their creatures will still be running the institutions, negotiating the treaties and serving the vested interests the establishment represents; interests that will, inevitably and ultimately, serve themselves and exclude the real interests of large numbers of the British people.