These past few weeks I’ve been trying to make sense of why it is our country is so divided. Why don’t Brexiteers and Remainers understand one another? You could write a book on this of course, but I suspect that at least one big aspect of this lies in the fact that the Remainers’ view of Brexiteers would generally cast them as the very opposite of what they generally are.
Are they jingoistic nationalists; intolerant racist little Englanders; tweedy rural conservatives; pensioners intent on stealing their grandchildren’s futures? No, of course not. Yet Remainers will continue to be flummoxed by Brexit until they ‘get’ that Brexiteers are, in the main liberal, tolerant, open-minded internationalists – more so than most Remainers in fact.
But, unlike Remainers, they are usually instinctively rebellious, quite radical, and, in a sense, anti-‘capitalist’. Let me explain by means of a series of statements which challenge the Remainers’ caricature of a typical Brexiteer.
1. Brexiteers are pro-immigration. They are in favour of controlled immigration for skilled people from anywhere in the world but against uncontrolled immigration from just 26 (predominantly white) European countries, regardless of qualifications. If anyone is guilty of racism surely it’s the ones who only want white Europeans to come to our country. That’s not the Brexiteers’ view. We welcome talented people with skills from all over the world who will benefit the UK in many areas of life including the NHS, science and industry.
2. Brexiteers are communitarian. Brexiteers, on the whole, tend to cherish familiar communities they instinctively recognise through ties of family, village, town, school, language, habit, custom, tradition and loyalty. They resent being told they are not communitarian for their resistance to being educated and conditioned into “loving” a new remote concept of Europeanism which feels artificial and top-down rather than a natural living and evolving state of affairs.
3. Brexiteers are pro-regulation. Markets and businesses work best when they operate in a framework of law and sensible regulation over which voters have some democratic control so that it works in the consumer interest. But Brexiteers oppose regulatory nannying which undermines respect for law (because it cannot be controlled through the ballot box), much of which has been introduced at the behest of industry lobbying by large corporations interested in protecting their market position and eliminating competition (the producer interest).
4. Following from this, Brexiteers are, in one sense, anti-“capitalistism” – that is to say they are hostile to oligopolistic, rent-seeking, multi-national corporatism which thrives in an unholy alliance with politicians who regulate and tax in the producer interest under the influence of industry lobbying. Why do the big banks, large outsourcing contractors, energy suppliers, motor manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies etc. love the EU so much? Because they can afford the cost of the regulations and taxes while smaller competitors can’t. The EU provides a protective comfort blanket not only by means of its Common External Tariff but also by multiple non-tariff barriers to free trade which protect the largest industry players. And EU directives can’t be controlled through the ballot box, so it doesn’t matter if the UK government changes, the taxes and laws stay the same. Brexiteers instinctively distrust green taxes, subsidised energy production, subsidised agriculture and excessive health and safety regulation because they reduce competition and increase prices for UK consumers of goods and services.
5. But Brexiteers are pro-business, entrepreneurship, enterprise, risk taking, competition and free trade. They welcome disrupters, innovators, and new technologies in banking, finance, drug research, clean energy supply and agriculture – businesses which require lower taxes and less regulation and the freedom to hire who they need. These things are the antithesis of corporatist capitalism because they increase competition, increase choice and break up multinational big business oligopolies. Corporate crony capitalism loves the EU because it serves the producer interest. Free markets and low taxes serve the consumer interest. Brexiteers are firmly aligned with the latter.
6. Brexiteers are internationalists. Not just because they welcome immigrants from the whole world but also because they want open frictionless trade with the whole world – not just 26 EU countries. Far from being little Englanders, Brexiteers are internationalist free traders – open, tolerant and welcoming of competition. By contrast the EU is a protectionist customs union. Outside the customs union there will be no Common External Tariff on imported goods from outside the EU making many essentials, like food and clothes, cheaper. Lower tariffs mean lower prices.
7. Brexiteers want higher wages for low-skilled workers. Britain outside the EU will deliver higher wages for low-skilled workers because companies will no longer be able to import low-wage unskilled workers, forcing companies to pay a market price for locally-sourced labour. And if the big multinationals don’t like it, so much the better! After all, they want low-wage workers and higher-priced goods. They want more regulation to squeeze out competition from smaller companies which can’t afford to comply. They are corporate rent-seekers. That’s why they love the EU. Brexiteers want the very opposite.
8. Finally, Brexiteers are modernist progressives. Remainers frequently caricature Brexiteers as blimpish fogeys harking back to an imperial British past. But this could hardly be more misleading. Brexiteers aren’t the ones defending the status quo. On the contrary, we’re the rebels! We’re the ones saying that the model is broken and needs modernising. To understand this you’ve only got to list the organisations and people who backed Remain (either explicitly or through their actions): the TUC, the CBI, the Church of England, the Institute of Directors, the Prime Minister, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Bank of England, the London Stock Exchange, the NHS, the Labour Party, the Head of the Civil Service, multiple retired foreign office mandarins, the Liberal Democrats, the House of Lords, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the big banks and the chairmen of countless large multi-national businesses. Not to mention the BBC… That list is surely the very definition of the establishment. All of them scared stiff that the model of public governance established over 46 years and the vested interests that have grown around it – their cosy world – is being overthrown. It is! And that’s why the squealing is so loud.
Brexit will deliver a revolution in how we are governed. Like the radical liberals who defeated the Corn Laws and extended the franchise in the 19th Century, Brexiteers know that change will happen even if we can’t yet see how or when. But it will happen in a characteristically British way. Not through extra-parliamentary violence, but within the framework of a reinvigorated parliamentary democracy. We are witnessing a gradual restoration of home rule and confidence in our institutions which have been undermined for half a century. It will take time, but it’s fantastically exciting. It’s liberating. It’s invigorating. And above all it’s necessary. Whatever happens in the next few months, Brexit is unstoppable. The genie is out of the bottle. One way or another Brexit will happen.
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