Two years into the Brexit disaster
On this blog I have traced these developments as they have unfolded on a weekly basis, but in this post I want to step back from the details to paint a broad picture of how we got to where we are now, and what we might expect from now on.
The campaign and its consequences
It is important to keep remembering what happened during the referendum, because the claims made during the campaign, and the claims made about the campaign since then, continue to structure the current debate.
It has become fashionable to say that both campaigns were equally dishonest, but that simply is not so. Leave mainlined on what even they admitted was a lie about the EU budget contribution and NHS funding, and another lie about impending Turkish membership of the EU.
And these were just the headline lies. Beneath them were a myriad of others, such as that future terms could be sorted out informally before Article 50 was even triggered so there was no danger of a cliff-edge fallout; that the Irish border would be unaffected; or that a good, quick exit deal was assured because ‘German car makers’ would insist on it as endlessly claimed by Brexiters, including businessman Peter Hargreaves who paid for a leaflet to be sent to every UK household at the start of the campaign urging a leave vote.
No one has ever been held to account for these and all the other lies told during the campaign. Since then, we’ve also learned enough about the conduct of the Leave campaign and possible Russian interference to, at the very least, place a cloud over the legitimacy of the result.
By contrast, Remain was certainly pedestrian and passionless, but its projections (based on assumptions and models, of course, but not lies) of the consequences were not ‘Project Fear’, as repetitively and routinely alleged, but attempts to counter the vague and unsubstantiated claims of Leave that all would be well, or even rosy, if we left. It’s notable that such claims have since been repudiated by many Brexiters, most recently Nigel Farage.
There are reams that could, have been, and will be written about all this. The outcome we know: a narrow victory for leave. The narrowness is important as it means there was never the unequivocal result subsequently claimed. That is why the Brexiters constantly talk about it having been the biggest vote in British history – meaning the total number of votes cast was the highest – as if that implied an overwhelming vote for Brexit. In fact, the most accurate way of describing the result would be that the country replied