Thursday, 27 October 2016

Who is to blame for Brexit? Part Two - what the main players did

Historical background to Brexit

The UK (with Sweden) is one of only two out of the 28 states in the EU which have not been invaded and/or been under a fascist or communist dictatorship within living memory. Unlike most Europeans, the UK does not value the EU for its role in keeping the peace or supporting democracy in the states themselves.

In the UK, the EU has been seen primarily as merely an economic organisation and transfers to and from Brussels have been seen as zero-sum rather than mutually beneficial.

The EU’s own role 

The EU itself clearly bears some blame for Brexit. It is an imperfect organisation. It suffers from a lack of transparency and a democratic deficit.

On occasions it has behaved appallingly. The treatment of Greece - driven into penury for political rather than economic grounds by Angela Merkel and others - was a case in point.

The sensible Remain argument was that the UK should remain in despite the EU’s faults.

David Cameron

Cameron bears primary responsibility for the Brexit debacle (and the complete lack of planning for the result). 

He offered the referendum because he was spooked by UKIP and as a sop to his own backbenchers. He did not offer it because he thought it was in the best interests of the country. He was unforgivably insouciant. He was weak.

In the campaign Cameron said (correctly) that Brexit would be disastrous. It is unsurprising that the voters ignored him - after all what PM would voluntarily offer the country a disastrous choice?  Answer: a PM who is a shallow chancer.

The newspapers

Murdoch, Rothermere, the Barclay twins and Desmond are all tax-cheating billionaire press-barons who between them dominate the national newspaper market in the UK. They all supported Brexit.

Journalist Anthony Hilton once asked Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. “That’s easy,” Murdoch replied, “when I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”

The influence of the press-barons was not limited to the campaign. For decades their papers have ridiculed and derided the EU and not given the EU credit for anything. They effectively poisoned the well for pro-EU arguments in the UK.

Boris Johnson 

Johnson and the other leaders of the Leave campaign told a number of blatant lies. 

The UK Statistics Authority even formally asked the Leave campaign to stop claiming that £350 million is contributed to the EU by the UK each week. This was simply ignored. The Leave campaign’s bus was, notoriously, emblazoned with the lie that this sum would be saved and spent on the NHS every week after Brexit.

Nigel Farage

It was Farage who panicked Cameron into promising the referendum. He is a cynical populist, happy to stir up racial tensions to advance his aims.

Shortly before the vote, Farage posed in front of a poster depicting a long line of desperate refugees with the slogan “Breaking Point”. The poster was rightly condemned for inciting racial hatred. Farage would have calculated that it helped the Leave campaign.


The BBC is by far the most respected and therefore the most powerful source of news in the UK. It made two serious errors during the Brexit campaign.

First, it allowed the need for “balance” - and the fear of being lambasted in the Eurosceptic newspapers - to mean that it did not expose the lies being peddled by the Leave campaign (or, indeed, some less egregious ones made by the Remain side).

Secondly, its idea of balance was to give the lion’s share of coverage to the two sides of the Tory party plus Farage. Not enough time was given to other voices, including crucially Labour voices.

Labour’s campaign

Labour’s campaign to stay in the EU was led by Alan Johnson but made little impact. In part, due to the attitude of the press and of the BBC.

Jeremy Corbyn

Within hours of the referendum result, huge swathes of liberal-left opinion had decided that the disaster was the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. 

This was unfair. Corbyn campaigned vigorously for Remain. Angela Eagle praised him at the time for, “pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired”.

The media did not give Corbyn proper coverage for all the reasons above plus the well-documented bias against him which has been a feature of media coverage ever since he became Labour leader.

Corbyn was heavily criticised in some quarters for saying his passion for remaining in the EU rated at only about "7, or 7 and a half“ out of 10. This is odd. Qualified approval of the EU was more likely to persuade the doubtful than blanket approval.

It is easy to understand why Corbyn was blamed for Brexit. Labour MPs wanted to challenge him as leader and they needed a pretext. Their media allies like Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland duly wrote articles excoriating Corbyn’s alleged failings over Brexit.

Professor John Curtice, political scientist and polling expert wrote an article in the New Statesman under the heading “Don’t blame Jeremy Corbyn”. He wrote: - “But in truth there is little in the pattern of the results of the referendum to suggest that Mr Corbyn was personally responsible for Remain’s defeat. The referendum outcome looks more like a pretext for an attempt to secure Mr Corbyn’s removal than a reason.” The emphasis is mine.


  1. Morning Mr London.
    Another very short, precise analysis of what has got the UK into the current mess it is in. There are many failings in the way the EU is set up and run but at some point, for the good of mankind, we will have to move beyond the nation state. Many of the EUs failings are because it is made up of competing nation states with perhaps the UK being the most extreme example. The concept of nation state has run its course for any good it can do us and the examples of where it has been harmful are legion.
    Are there any positives from post Brexit "may hem"? At the micro level Witney has a new MP, at the macro there is a growing realisation that things cannot go on as before, both in the UK but also in the EU.
    It was important that Corbyn and his supporters stood their ground this summer, as the PLP represent the same old same old which got us here in the first place, and because it is the only hope we have of the UK not being seen as having detonated the EU ideal for selfish, xenophobic reasons. Long may Corbyn stick to his anti war, anti trident principles. Not singing the national anthem with gusto, nor bowing deeply at the cenotaph means something. Corbyn represents change.

  2. KilburnKorbynista28 October 2016 at 00:03

    Tom - Brilliant, brilliant. Agree with every word of the piece