A majority of people who voted in the EU referendum did not want us to leave. Indeed many of those who voted Leave did not and do not give a shit about Europe. They have more pressing concerns – like how they’re going to pay their bills.
So politicians who say they respect the result to leave the EU should stop and think about what they’re respecting.
The referendum provided a perfect and unique opportunity for people to stick two fingers up to the political establishment and scream: ‘Listen to us, you bastards!’ It was not an example of a heroic democratic movement winning the political argument.
Many of those who voted Leave, it is true, actually wanted to leave the EU.
Some wanted to leave on principle – arguing that our membership of the EU undermines the sovereignty of our cherished parliamentary democracy. These are known as the goggle-eyed brigade.
Some wanted out because they genuinely thought our country would be better off economically if we were free of the EU. These are known as the Victorian free traders who also believe President Trump is a reasonable man who respects women and wants to improve race relations in the States and globally.
Others wanted to leave because they hate Germans and French.
My argument doesn’t refer to these genuine Leavers. They’ve been with us ever since we joined the EU.
They’re the backbench Tory MPs John Major described as ‘bastards’ when he was prime minister. They’re the know-it-alls in the pub who really don’t know it all at all. And they’re the conspiracy theorists and lonely bigots who just hate abroad.
Fair enough. They voted Leave based on their opinions about the EU.
But not everyone who voted Leave had the EU at the front of their minds when they made their choice in June 2016.
A referendum by definition demands that people choose black or white, yes or no, for or against. It attempts to simplify intrinsically complex questions.
And of course it fails because the world is not simple. It is not black or white. Unless you are a cat whose aim is to eat, sleep and be stroked. (Cats see in black and white – hence the feline metaphor.)
It fails (the referendum’s objective rather than the cat metaphor) because people vote for all kinds of reasons in a referendum.
And when you give people a question, many will not answer the question you have asked. Just ask anyone who’s marked GCSE and A-level humanities and social science papers.
Why should voters answer according to the rules that have been set by others? Especially if they’re angry, feel powerless and are sick and tired of being told what to think?
Here, then, are five reasons many people voted Leave:
There are many more non-EU reasons why people voted Leave. But I’ll stop at five because the point I’m making is so bloody obvious (yet apparently so bloody difficult to understand for many experienced politicians who really should know bloody better).
Many Leave voters thought David Cameron and George Osborne were (still are) posh, arrogant, privileged wankers. On this point, most Remain voters agree.
The only people in the country who still rate these two are investment bankers who give them jobs and – at a push – their families. But it was Cameron who decided to hold the referendum, and both he and Osborne begged people to vote Remain. A Leave vote for many was therefore a: ‘Piss off, you arrogant turds.’ Nothing to do with the EU question at all.
Some Leave voters who wanted to stop immigrants coming into the country were mainly concerned about immigration from the Indian sub continent, Africa, and the Caribbean. Not immigration from the EU. They were answering a completely different question – if it was an A-level they’d’ve got an F or a U or even an FU.
Many Leave voters were (are) sick of ‘austerity’ – a ruse making the poorest people pay for mistakes made by the absolute richest. They were sick of cuts to local services, benefits to the most vulnerable and all the other unfair policies falling most heavily on the poorest. These cuts were made by the British government. They were nothing to do with the EU. But a Leave vote allowed the anger of many to register.
Mix in the fact that bankers in the City still earn utterly ridiculous money and the fact that the City was warning that a Leave vote would hit the financial sector – and it makes sense that a Leave vote was a resounding ‘Stick it up your arse’ to the mega rich from the poor, the very poor, the barely managing, the ‘managing with a very small amount to spare’ and ‘fairly comfortable – for now’. Nothing to do with Europe. More to do with a society that rewards greed and lies, and which contains ludicrous levels of inequality.
Some people thought a Leave vote was a vote for a massive injection of cash into the NHS. The Leave campaign did promise an extra £350 million a week for the health service – so it’s not surprising that people who prioritise health care would vote Leave. The fact that this was one of many bare-faced lies during the campaign is beside the point for this argument.
In short, those politicians who say they are respecting the will of the British people by waving through article 50 and allowing us to hurtle towards the exit door of the EU are talking utter tripe.
It is not the will of the British people to leave the EU. Given that 48% voted Remain, the vote was too close to make any such claim. Especially when just under a third didn’t even bother to vote.
And millions voted Leave for reasons other than Europe.
Many people in Britain do not care about the EU – it is an irrelevance to their lives. They don’t understand it and have more pressing things to worry about – like debt, health worries, job insecurity and the football scores.
Some people are virulently anti-EU. A relatively small number. Similarly there’s a smallish number who are massively pro Europe. And many of these play out their arguments on Twitter calling each other ‘cockwombles’ and other rude names inspired by the Thick of It’s notoriously patient and reasonable Malcolm Tucker.
The rest of us – the vast majority – are somewhere in the middle. For us, the EU has its good and bad points. But it’s confusing, nuanced and by no means simple.
A majority are not screaming for us to leave the EU. No matter what certain parts of our sick, deranged, hyperbolic, immigrant-hating, far right, foreign-owned press say.
If nothing else, arguments about the referendum result being the will of the British people need to be buried. Many who voted Leave were answering different questions to the official EU one , and most of the British people don’t actually give a shit.
But lots of us still think (know) Cameron and Osborne are wankers.
The author is a former student of Brasenose College, Oxford where he studied Politics with Professor Vernon Bogdanor.
He would like to point out that he attended the college several years after David Cameron had left and does not know the man. His comments about ‘Dave’ and George (ne Gideon) Osborne are based on their public personas and actions rather than on any hatred resulting from any personal acquaintance.
The author was a member of the Labour Party from 1996 to 1999 and worked as a research assistant for a Labour MP. He has no current political affiliations and says: ‘I lurch from despair on good days to numb paralysis when I think about politics.’
The author rarely responds to comments.