Remainers are still bemoaning the referendum result - but it was of our own making
The shockwaves of last Thursday’s result are still rippling through society. Part of this can be attributed to how unexpected the result was. The Remain side had confidently campaigned with the backing of a menagerie of experts and bigwigs ranging from the IMF to Mark Carney, the leader of the Free world to the Chinese Premier. Brexit was portrayed as an economically senseless move, backed only by Little Englanders and OAPs with nostalgia for the Sepia-drenched days of Pax Britannica. Perhaps the moment that summed up the Leave campaign for a lot of Remainers was at the beginning of June, when Michael Gove failed to name a single economist who supported Brexit, arguing that “people in this country have had enough of experts”.
It is only now, in post-referendum Britain that we on the Remain side can truly appreciate its significance, as the reason for a Brexit victory. It betrays the low opinion that many in this country have for an educated and prosperous London-based elite that has thrown a large part of the population on the rubbish dump.
The UK has changed drastically since the last referendum on our relationship with the rest of Europe. In 1975, Britain was an industrial nation with different cities specialising in manufacturing different items. Hull once boasted the third largest port in Britain; Wolverhampton was a major manufacturer in bicycles; and Stoke-on-Trent was home to potteries as well as coal mining and steel industries. However, the 1980s and 90s saw these industries disappear, being denationalised and outsourced to countries with cheap, de-unionised labour and relaxed workforce regulations.
Towns who owed their prosperity to industry are now reminiscent of American Gold-rush towns that have run dry leading to the inevitable rise in unemployment, poverty and crime. With no raison d’etre, a population that for generations supplied Britain and the world with all sorts of goods has now been left high and dry, with few future prospects or opportunities to retrain.
In comparison, London has only gone from strength to strength, having successfully evolved from a manufacturing city with substantial ports into a world leading service based/ banking hub with a GDP equivalent to that of Sweden or Iran.
Whilst many Londoners (inhabitants of the only English region that voted Remain) are outraged at the prospect of many banking firms moving to other European cities (such as Frankfurt), the rest of the country celebrates the resentful symbol that they attribute to their own economic woes. Whereas EU membership has benefited London, a single European economic zone that has facilitated the steady supply of services to an entire continent, free trade has forsaken the rest of the UK, with imports and labour that has outpriced domestic competition.
The Vote to leave the EU should therefore be interpreted as the inevitable culmination of a process that has been happening for decades. The rise of UKIP in previous Labour strongholds betrays the disillusionment that many people feel for a political party - still in the throes of an identity crisis - that continues to fail to represent their interests. Britain has increasingly become a London-centric country and attempts by Government and other institutions to reverse the tide - schemes like Osborne’s’ “Northern powerhouse” or the BBC’s move to Salford - were too little, too late.
Stoke-on-Trent had the highest proportion of Leave voters in the UK last week, becoming dubbed the “Brexit” capital; the referendum was an opportunity for vast swathes of the UK that have essentially been forgotten by London to finally turn the tables. History will interpret the EU Referendum as a protest vote against a London political and economic elite that has barely taken notice of them. In hindsight, Remain’s tactic of barraging the electorate with wave after wave of expert assessments and berating Brexiteers as racists and nationalists only served to fortify the Leave campaign’s victory.
Still, we must look on the bright side. The national split has now fully come to light and it is now the role of politicians and experts to find ways to re-create the United Kingdom. Calls for a second referendum or an independent London will only have a negative effect on attempts to heal the divisions within the country and set the UK on a new course outside the EU.
The crucial lesson we as a country can take from the Referendum is that we should never disregard or belittle our compatriots. Leaving the European Union will do more harm than good economically, but it has given us the prime opportunity to mend the feuds that have been allowed to grow, hopefully leading to a genuinely United Kingdom once more.
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