What was Brexit really about?


Those who try to understand the Brexit vote in terms of bean counting (or cost-benefit analysis) are missing the point. Yes, there was a strong underlying economic reason for the manner in which the majority adopted Brexit. But it had nothing to do with a calculation of what the result of the referendum would do to people’s hip pocket. Voters did not behave like homo economicus. (This is where the official Remain campaign, with its emphasis on ludicrous econometric scaremongering got it so badly wrong.) We saw how regions, like Cornwall, that have a great deal to lose from Brexit (as they are net beneficiaries of European structural funding), voted strongly in favour of Brexit.

My estimation, the feeling I get, is that the people who voted for Brexit, the vast majority, were not xenophobes, and they didn’t bother to calculate their private expected net benefits from the result. They saw this binary choice as an opportunity to reclaim control over their lives, their communities from an Establishment that treated them like Britain’s last colony. They saw it as a splendid opportunity to give that very Establishment a bloody nose; to inconvenience them at the very least; to make them feel uncomfortable every time they visited their mates in the salons of Brussels, Paris, Milano or Berlin. However much Europeanists kick and scream about the (admittedly excellent) Erasmus program, and about the (very real) costs of interrupted supply chains, the ugliness of new restrictions on movement etc., unless we manage to address their (apt) sense of a democratic vacuum, their (justified) sense that British democracy has been depleted over the decades (especially in workplaces and communities), we Europeanists will remain dumbfounded losers.

This is one of four short articles extracted from the debate that followed this meeting at the House of Commons, in which I presented the left-wing case for a Norway Plus Brexit agreement. To read/listen to that presentation, click here.