No, really, it is the economy, stupid!

Photograph: Pexels
Photograph: Pexels

On first reading this tweet, I broadly agreed with Morgan. The population at large saw the referendum as multifaceted, and Remain were too often guilty of failing to reflect this: time and time again on televised debates, the public would raise concerns about immigration, and time and time again, Remain would try and bring the discussion back to the economy.

Remain should have went out on the front foot, initially highlighting the gaping holes in Leave’s suggestion that Brexit would actually substantially reduce EU immigration, and then gone on to make the positive case for immigration: the fact that EU migrants make a net contribution to our economy of £4,775,341 every day, that they are vital to the functioning of our care sector and our NHS, the fact that they make us a more culturally rich, more cosmopolitan nation. Instead, Remain allowed the more unsavoury wing of Leave to say what they pleased, preying on the least pleasant aspects of human nature.

When David Dimbleby told me in the wee small hours of the twenty-fourth that Leave had won, that four decades of partnership with our friends on the Continent were at an end, I was angry.

There were legitimate reasons to vote Leave, and some of the finest minds in economics, business and our national security bodies took the decision to vote for Brexit. There were, for example, unquestionably voters who held a genuine passion for British parliamentary democracy and who had legitimate concerns about the lack of democratic accountability in EU institutions, not least in the executive branch itself, the unelected European Commission. Conversely, and far more infuriatingly, there were also millions who had voted through rose-tinted spectacles, including many who boasted of remembering better days in the pre-Common Market age, when in reality, the UK was an economic basket case at the point of entering the EEC in 1973; it was impossible not to be incredibly frustrated with such people.

It was only on watching the post-referendum coverage later that day and the countless interviews with ordinary Leave voters which made me question having targeted my anger at them.

Though there was the odd Brexiteer who rejoiced in abstract terms about the regaining of their country, the unmistakable trend which emerged was that remarkably few people had actually voted Leave on the basis of anything fundamentally relevant to our membership of the European Union. Large areas of post-industrial England which had suffered decades of economic stagnation were desperate for anything which might offer hope to their communities.

In what was an utterly heart-wrenching report on Newsnight, one Leave campaigner from Burnley explained, “We’ve had enough of the Tory scenario: the austerity, the cuts.” Documenting her in the days which preceded the vote, it became very apparent that she and others in her community like her had pinned their hopes to the notion that Brexit would finally turn everything around, bringing forth the solutions to all their years of hardship. When she was told of the outcome, she broke down in tears: “We’ve done it!”

We should not be angry with these people. They are the victims of a campaign which, whether intentionally or not, profited from their vulnerability, their raw desperation, and which lead them to think that Brexit would mean change. In the end, Morgan was wrong when he said it wasn’t about the economy: it was, though it was the current state of the economy in working class areas of England and Wales, rather than the post-Brexit economy, which drove people towards Leave.

Ultimately, the great tragedy of all this is that, far from Brexit being an antidote to the rampant social injustice in such areas, leaving the Single Market will make things substantially worse, hitting areas of high social deprivation hardest. It will not be ex-City trader, Nigel Farage, who finds he cannot pay the bills because the cost of living has increased, who finds his rights in the workplace are curbed because the European Social Chapter and Charter no longer apply, who finds that funding for the public services he depends upon has been slashed because there is no longer the money in our economy to pay for such necessities.

It is the Farages of this world that we should be angry with, those who spun the lies and created the scapegoats, not those whose vote was a desperate cry for help, a mere proxy for something much more deep-rooted. This referendum must be the wake-up call of all wake-up calls underlining that our economy is not serving the interests of the people in anywhere near as comprehensive a manner it needs to.


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Rodaidh McLaughlin 6 Articles
Rodaidh is a Politics & History graduate who takes a particular interest in political philosophy and European history.

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