Brexit will be a political issue for years, even decades, to come

Every now and again someone in the Lib Dems argues that the party’s focus on Brexit is mistaken because the issue will be over and done with come the spring of next year.

What’s odd about these comments when I’ve seen them made is that they’re not really followed up by any evidence or justification beyond the (to the utterer) apparent self-evident logic that once Brexit has been dropped or come into force it’s bound to be dead as a political issue.

That’s odd, because we have plenty of examples from previous dominant political issues about what happens once they pass such a key trigger point as the one next spring poses for Brexit.

Suez. The Winter of Discontent. The Miners’ Strike. Britain’s departure from the ERM (European Exchange Rate Mechanism). The second Iraq War.  All examples of issues that dominated contemporary politics. All examples of issues with a clear ‘closing’ moment (withdrawal of troops, ending of strikes). Yet all also issues which were still shaping political views for decades to come after. Listen to the passion with which people still refer to the Miners’ Strike, for example, to see the decades-long afterglow of such issues.

And all the more so with Brexit when, whatever happens between now and Spring 2019, there will still be so much unfinished business and so much still to argue over.

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If Brexit doesn’t go ahead, do you think Brexiters will therefore meekly shuffle away and accept that as all done and dusted for a generation? Of course not, and we should no more expect them to do so than they should expect Remainers to shut up now. Democracy is a continuing process, not a one-off.

And if Brexiters do get their way, why should Remainers not, for example, campaign at the next general election for the UK to rejoin Euratom? Or argue for Britain to take part in a myriad of pan-European collaboration projects, decision times on which regularly come round?

Again and again, there will be opportunities to say ‘this is a useful thing to collaborate with our European colleagues on’ and for Brexiters to say ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgh! no, that organisation involves someone who once passed through Brussels on a train’.

There is definitely an important point about how such arguments are presented – about the best future for our country rather than about grumpiness over a past decision. But if presented right, the role of Brexit in determining political loyalties and election outcomes won’t be over by the spring of next year. It’ll just be starting.

19 responses to “Brexit will be a political issue for years, even decades, to come”

  1. I can not accept a Brexit Britain. I will continue to support any campaigns that seek to make Britain a full member of the EU. For all its faults, one thing the EU has done exceptionally well, better than any nation state has managed on its own thus far, has been a protection for the minorities and the vulnerable citizens. There must be many others who, like me, see those achievements as worthy of support.

    • I agree with all your comments and would like to add that for many Tories Brexit is a done deal. That’s why they are careering on with Universal Credit and reducing disability benefits in spite of all the evidence of the harm it is doing. They have also seen fit to completely ignore the United Nations report into systematic human rights abuses.

    • You make it sound as though we have already left the EU by saying “I will continue to support any campaigns that seek to make Britain a full member of the EU” – we still are full members! I am supporting campaigns which seek to keep us there, and I hope you do too. The EU was born as a consequence of 2 major wars, and I hope we will continue to be party to ’round table’ discussions to keep any further such conflicts at bay. Populism is a serious risk to world peace.

  2. If Brexit happens, I believe that the issue will not go away until we are back in…. and then the Brexiters will start up again…. ad infinitum…

  3. If Brexit DOES happen, then at least us Remainers will be able to take a break from campaigning and get on with whatever we were doing before Cameron called the Referendum. We can just sit back and watch the chaos for a couple of years, see support for Labour and Tory Parties plummet, say “We told you so” and wait for the upcoming generation to re-apply for membership.

  4. Brexit has raised issues to which there is no solutions like trade & migration problems. Especially Britain will no be able to support itself. People outside Britain will have little sympathy for us as Brexit is Britain’s own fault.

  5. In my opinion brexit is fundamentally wrong and will cost our country so much both financially and emotionally.
    It will be an opportunity to change our political makeup and we, as the best bet for a centralist party need to be ready to make a huge push leading up to the next election and afterwards.
    I believe, as somebody who only became a Libdem in June 2016 we could be at an important crossroads.

  6. Surely Theresa May has enough evidence to declare the Referendum result null and void, bearing in mind its closeness, and also thanks to cheating, lying and gross over-spending by the Brexiteers that should be heavily punished. The result they achieved (through nefarious means) was a high-water mark, and they’ll gradually die away…

    The mess that this advisory referendum has caused, and the quick bounce-back by the economy once Brexit has been cancelled, should guarantee that no-one will succeed in demanding yet another one. Game over?

  7. A bit of a straw man argument here Mark? I’ve never heard any L Dem say Brexit will cease to be an issue after March 29th 2019 -or after the Transition period. Of course I don’t obsessively scour the daily pro and anti Brexit outpourings so I’m sure you can find an example or two but it’s hardly a mainstream view is it?

    Every time a multinational announces that new plant investment will go to an EU branch rather than a UK one it will be an issue for example. Or when UK citizens start to complain about having to pay roaming charges again whilst in the EU countries or when they moan about having to join the long queues of ‘other passports’ at air and sea ports. But there will be no Tsunami event that leads the electorate to a Road to Damascus conversion and certainly not to saying “we must rejoin the EU even though as a new supplicant we would have to join the Euro, join Schengen and have no rebate” -all much worse terms then were voted against in 2016. As Vince has said, once we leave we have to accept it.

    Indeed of course many would say we have to accept the reality of Leaving now, not just when the future date is reached. We narrowly lost the 2016 Referendum (I campaigned and voted to Remain in 2016,just as I voted to Remain in 1975), we overwhelmingly lost the March 2017 moving of Article 50 and we were trashed in the 2017 General Election -when 85% of the electorate voted for Parties whose Manifestos said they accepted the Leave decision. Even the numerous Lords amendments of recent weeks are about the detail of Leaving not about rejecting the Leave process.

    As for your final sentence. There is electoral evidence that Leave voters have firmed up behind the Conservatives including those who switched from Labour to Cons in northern seats like NE Derbyshire, Mansfield and Stoke in June 2017. There is however regrettably little evidence that Remain voters base their voting decisions on such a single issue. What might be termed the Progressive Vote backed Labour in June 2017 and still does in the Opinion Polls. They will certainly be disappointed if Labour win the next GE but for the moment our one trick obsession with Brexit is doing us no electoral favours at all.

  8. I wish people who say we should drop our obsession with Brexit as it will all be over next year and/or it hasn’t produced a revival in the party’s fortunes would think twice. Even if it did cease to be a major issue after March 29th (which it won’t) the idea that we should publicly drop our main campaigning strategy on the grounds of political expediency is completely bonkers. It puts us in the same camp as Labour and the Tories – i.e. putting party before country and votes before the national interest.

  9. Today I went to a bank machine to make a transfer. Having indicated my intention I went through all the details and was finally asked whether I still wanted to go ahead; any process that did not conclude with this failsafe would be irresponsible. Whatever terms are eventually negotiated should be confirmed or rejected by referendum, because that was how the process started. Personally, I can’t imagine terms that I would approve, but that is not the point.

  10. @Teresa Wilson. A straw man argument again. I have heard/read few people saying that we Lib Dems should drop or abandon our views on Brexit. I have though heard/read an increasing number point out that we are a political party not a single issue pressure group. If we put all our effort into a single issue we are just seen as irrelevant to most voters who do not base their lives on a single issue view of the world.

    As a Political Party we are still, at best, in intensive care after the self destruction of 2010 -2015. May’s Council results were the first half decent election night in 8 years and they only represent a tottering step away from the abyss. I want to see the Liberal Democrats survive and start to grow again. A single issue obsession with fighting a battle that was lost 2 years ago makes progress difficult to say the least.

  11. Brexit will certainly not go away. Geography matters. We are a part of the continent of Europe and everyone else here is either a member of the EU or very tightly associated with it.

    Remain will become Rejoin. The negative campaign will become positive. The risks of leaving will become the benefits of membership. The painful reality of third-country status will bite.

    There will have to be some thought about actual status in the world. About identity. Brexit is as much about identity as a post-GFC kick against ‘the system’. For that matter – Brexit is mostly about English identity.

    So what is the trajectory ? 51st state of the US – or indeed a US protectorate ? The US state for history tourism ? A feudal backwater, regressed to pre-industrial agrarian times ? A modern post-colonial European state with assertive civic rights ? A low-wage low-tax Third World economy pitched at competing with developing nations on their own terms ? Forced into punitive trade agreements with illiberal nations ? Nations such as India and Pakistan that have objectively poor scores for human rights and corruption ?

    As a semi-outsider, I also think that English identity should be positively developed. Most nations have distinctive national icons, national dishes, national dress, national sports. They have a common heimat. This is normal. For England, too much of this is still bound up in war, battle and Empire.

    I think that if the Lib Dems (or anyone else) could find a way to help England regrow those basic roots in a way that is constructive for the future they would do extremely well.

    So – Brexit is profound. It is too profound to go away. Rejoin will grow. We can tell of the benefits of real membership of a vibrant, prosperous, liberal – and yes a more egalitarian and more caring – continent. We should also progress on egalitarianism here and redeveloping English identity for a truly post-colonial era.

    • I agree. English identity – or rather the lack of its formal recognition – is nurturing Brexit and xenophobic feelings towards our neighbours.

  12. And you do not even raise the specter of a fragmented UK – independent Scotland, united Ireland and even a free Wales that might follow!

  13. It is not only the result itself that matters but also how this result was obtained. It is now clear that the Leave campaign not only lied but cheated in order to obtain the result they wished for. This behaviour undermines democracy. In the United States there is a full investigation into foreign interference in the political process whereas in this country there is a reluctance to talk about it let alone investigate. We still have no idea who funded the DUP to campaign for Brexit outside Northern Ireland in the rest of the UK. We do not know where Aaron Banks, Brexit funder obtained his money. We do know he visited the Russian Embassy regularly in the run up to the Referendum. None of this has stopped. There is now a major campaign on Face Book against the chequers deal (sic0. However we have no idea who is funding it. The democratic process is under threat in this country. Last May the Electoral Commission presented a file to the Metropolitan Police about illegalities in the Brexit Campaign. So far the Metropolitan Police have done nothing to investigate this evidence. The Unlock Democracy website has a petition asking the Metropolitan Police to look into this matter. It would be great if Lib Dems signed the petition to increase the pressure. This is not about being sore losers. It is about the very future of the democratic process in this country.

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