This election is all about Brexit and nothing else

Taking Bath for Europe’s message to the streets of Bath. Photo © Mick Yates

Don’t be fooled. This is no ordinary general election. It is an attempt by the government to exploit the political weakness of their opponents to push through a mandate for a hard Brexit.

Clearly without the prospect of Brexit there would have been no need for a general election. The Prime Minister made that abundantly clear. But many politicians and commentators are trying to make us believe that this is not all about Brexit. They are wrong – it is.

To understand, we must analyse the real reason Theresa May has called this election. I don’t wish to over-personalise this, but accounts from Westminster seem to indicate that this decision was hers and hers alone [1].

Why? Because it is becoming increasingly obvious that a hard Brexit is against the national interest. Civil servant after civil servant has advised the government how a hard Brexit will damage both the economy and the nation’s standing in the world. Even Theresa May herself admitted as much in the private advice she gave to Goldman Sachs bank [2]. Liam Fox’s team have travelled the equivalent of 10 times around the globe to try to secure trade deal outside the EU and yet there is nothing to show for it [3].

Since the triggering of Article 50, these falsehoods are being laid increasingly bare by the calm approach taken by Mr Tusk and the emerging EU negotiating position. There will be no trade deal before Brexit is finished; it would be illegal. There will be no £350M a week for the NHS; there will instead be an estimated 35 billion Euro exit bill. And every statement that Boris Johnson makes that insults our EU partners seems only to worsen the prospects of a good deal.

The truth of the matter is that, even within the rank and file of the Tory majority, the excuse that hard Brexit is simply enacting the will of the people is starting to wear thin.

Referenda aren’t binding  – general elections are

Even if 48:52 were a “clear mandate”, the referendum was only ever advisory, by statute. The then-government failed to produce any plan as to what would happen given an “Out” vote. There was no plan.

Let us be clear: the Brexit vote was a protest vote. In many parts of the country, people were and are hurting. The effective question was, “Do you want the status quo or not?” In this question, the “not” was never spelled out other than in terms of false promises of a Great Britain such as existed in the 1950s.

It is particularly ironic that the focus for this hurt and the main driver for the leave vote was immigration; immigrants were supposedly damaging our economy. Yet, as all economists agree, it was the failures of the banking sector in 2007-8 that damaged our economy — the same sector that bankrolled the “Out” campaign. The government bail-out of the banking sector led to austerity and a London-centric economy that has damaged our industrial heartlands. And who has been investing in the regeneration of these depressed heartlands? The EU of all things, through the its regional funds.

Of course, hurting people were likely to vote for a vision of false hope.  But as the reality of hard Brexit begins to bite, many of those people will start to realise the enormity of their mistake. That’s hardly a mandate for the Prime Minister.

So, the true purpose of the general election is for Theresa May to seek a true mandate for hard Brexit. Put in place in 1945, the Salisbury convention constrains the House of Lords from voting against a manifesto pledge made by the governing party. Those pledges are effectively binding; unless the government, for whatever reason, chooses to backtrack – which, as we know, can lead to disastrous outcomes at the next election.

If their manifesto continues to push for hard Brexit, then a new majority for the Conservatives will de facto be a binding commitment. Any parliamentary vote on a final deal that attempts to restore rationality will be defeated: “this was a manifesto pledge”, “the people have spoken” and “we must enact the will of the people”.

Many have called for a binding referendum on the terms of Brexit. I would argue then that this election is effectively just that, a binding referendum on Theresa May’s vision for hard Brexit.

Cognitive dissonance

But why? Why is Theresa May so desperate to strengthen her mandate to trigger a hard Brexit, despite increasing evidence that it is not in the national interest? Mrs May has become a victim of a well-established psychological principle known as cognitive dissonance – defined as the state of holding two mutually contradictory beliefs.

I have no doubt that Theresa May truly wants the best for this nation, and that she believes that as Prime Minister she is best able to deliver this.  She is also committed to delivering a hard Brexit – lock, stock and barrel. These would seem to be mutually contradictory aims.

In his book “Black Box Thinking” [4] the award-winning journalist Matthew Syed explains how cognitive dissonance can preclude rational decision making; within politics, medicine and air safety, for example. The mental anguish from admitting the incongruity of a belief on which a reputation has been staked would be too great, so the individual simply becomes blind to new evidence. They become more entrenched. Syed cites the case of an innocent man subsequently exonerated by DNA evidence and the arrest of the real perpetrator. Yet the prosecutor remained convinced that he originally got the right man and concocted a highly implausible scenario to explain the new evidence. So, I would argue it is with the current government and the benefits of hard Brexit.

Keep a level head, and do the right thing

What can we do? Try to remain dispassionate and open minded. Examine the evidence. Then vote accordingly. Remember this is a general election that has come about for one reason and one reason only. It’s all about Brexit. This would appear to be the biggest crisis facing the UK since the Second World War. If hard Brexit is something that you do not sign up to, then you have been given an opportunity. One you must surely seize.

Those of us who still believe Britain should remain in the EU have been variously called unpatriotic, undemocratic, enemies of the people and “Remoaners”. Why is it unpatriotic to want the best for our country and to recognise the value immigrants bring? What is undemocratic about supporting parliamentary democracy rather than the result of an ill-defined, non-binding referendum? And moaners? Honestly! We have seen 40 years of moaning about the EU being a monolithic monster trying to undermine the great British sausage and subsume us into some mythical, featureless, continental Euroland. One only has to witness the distinct cultural identities of, say, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Hungary to see that is absolute nonsense.

The emergence of post-truth politics is a sad fact that few predicted. Spin doctors and the like have discovered a particularly nasty tactic: discredit your opponents by accusing them of the very offences of which you are clearly guilty. Note how Donald Trump increasingly accuses the mainstream media of “fake news”. So, note the sources that are calling us moaners. Remember too that being insulted is just a sign of winning the argument.

In summary, if, like me, you believe that hard Brexit can and must be stopped then this election is possibly our last democratic chance to do it. We must do all we can.  Encourage all our young people to vote. Vote tactically, protest, persuade, make a noise, be heard. We are “the people”.

Alan Champneys




[4] Matthew Syed, “Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About Success (and Why Some People Never Learn from Their Mistakes)”, (2015) Hodder & Stoughton