On post-referendum regret

I was a Leave voter, and I won. However, since that heady early morning of 24rd June when David Dimbleby announced that Britain was leaving the European Union, reality has dawned.

The £ has fallen sharply; bankers and business groups have despaired and threatened to leave the country; there has been a massive jump in ‘hate crime’; the world and especially our former European partners are horrified at us for having chosen isolation and xenophobia over openness and tolerance. Now we are stuck here with all this uncertainty, not knowing what that ugly word ‘Brexit’ means, while our government is clearly clueless and doesn’t know what it’s doing.

It’s a new dawn, a new day – and the new reality we’re living in certainly isn’t comfortable or pleasant.

That’s the story anyway.

Some of it is true. The new reality does come with discomforts and difficulties, and the fractious nature of our politics on the subject of Brexit is pretty unpleasant. But the idea constantly pressed by ardent Remainers in the newspapers and TV and radio studios, that I didn’t know what I was voting for, is entirely bogus. I voted for change, knowing full well that with change comes uncertainty. That’s the whole point of it. Deciding to do things differently comes with difficulties; change requires people to put some work in – to make it work.

This is what happens sometimes in a democracy. The voters – the people – decide that they want to go on a new course. It happened in 1945 when the people of Britain decided the old elites who had run the war had to go, despite Churchill’s role in winning it; it happened in 1997 when we chose to put an end to 18 years of Conservative government and give the fresh-faced and optimistic Tony Blair a go.

The election of these Labour governments brought uncertainty. ‘The markets’ were nervous, even in 1997 after a prolonged charm offensive towards the City and business community by Blair and New Labour. But now Labour is standing against political change that brings uncertainty like this. Even with the far left now running the party under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour spokespeople have been enthusiastically repeating and recycling British Bankers’ Association propaganda demanding that the big banks get their way so that Brexit barely happens, if at all.

What we have at the moment is a mainstream left (or ‘liberal-left’) that is almost wholly lined up behind the status quo in terms of the fundamentals of how our society operates – despite Corbyn, and however much it talks about change. I think this is partly a function of Labour having been in power for so long (from 1997 to 2010), that it has developed a whiff of entitlement around it that remains even after losing two successive elections. Labour MPs are not an impressive bunch for the most part, but they talk as if them being in power is almost a right, that they deserve it whether or not the people think they deserve it. There is a lack of respect for the voter here which I think comes out again and again in the way that Labour MPs and their allies talked about the referendum vote before it happened and continue to do so now. Alan Johnson is a lovely chap, but when he said as chair of the Labour In campaign that “we are the reasonable people” and “I think in the leave side they are the extremists on this,” he was reflecting a more general view that ‘staying in Europe’ was right in an absolute sense rather than just a political decision reached by weighing up the pros and cons.

In a similar vein, it seems to me no coincidence that Labour people are now lining up to echo the lines of bankers and big business groups, since their aims and approach are broadly the same in seeking to defend the status quo but also in assuming that they are right in an absolute sense and have a right to dictate what happens, even if that means going against the democratic will.

This isn’t wholly about Labour though. Nick Clegg and Tim Farron for the Liberal Democrats and some Tories have been repeating the same lines. There is a broader elite, Establishment entitlement thing going on here, encompassing most of public administration, the media and civil society – where it is no exaggeration to say that the decision to Leave is not seen in a positive light for the most part, despite (and indeed perhaps partly because of) the majority that chose it. They claim they have ‘facts’, ‘evidence’ and ‘expertise’ on their side, and this is true in the sense that elites and Establishments control the dissemination of facts and evidence; they are the experts, they have the existing authority. If you control dissemination of information (for example through government, the media and academia), you can choose which facts to bring to light and which to suppress. You can generate data to serve your own ends (as with the largely fabricated ‘hate crime’ epidemic); you can make predictions for the future and claim the authority of fact for them (which is a contradiction in terms, for facts by definition have happened already).

Ardent Remainers are using all the considerable Establishment power at their disposal to attack the EU referendum result from every conceivable angle, trying to undermine the morale and confidence of people in leaving the EU with view to preventing it from happening or minimising change. Of course, an awful lot of this is down to support for continuing and indefinite mass immigration, which has been major point of crossover between big business interests and the political left since the early years of New Labour.

What free movement and high immigration in general does is maintain a kind of inverse form of job exporting or outsourcing. Whereas in the conventional form, exporting jobs means moving production facilities to other countries where productivity can be higher, mass immigration has opened up the prospect for domestic-focused businesses to do the same sort of thing, but by importing people, and thereby allowing jobs to go to the people of elsewhere but not elsewhere itself.

Along these lines it has become quite clear from the continuing EU referendum debate that one of the biggest attractions for employers in the British economy is that they don’t have to employ British people. We should understand and respect this for the most part from a purely business-related point of view or even just a basic choice point of view. They are making decisions which they think are best for their businesses. But what good does it do to Britons who are passed over and rejected and who find their terms and conditions attacked while also being priced out of housing? In a democracy, as a political left, aren’t these the people (citizens) that we should be looking out for first and foremost? Can we not see a loss of morale in these people? Yet the left in its now-customary technocratic stance repeatedly pulls away from such things to the comforts of the abstract ‘economy’ and what levers can be pulled to make ‘it’ function better, preferring the ‘it’ to the ‘us’.

On 23rd June, I voted for ‘us’ to start having more control over ‘it’, and also over ‘them’ - the people that were managing ‘it’ and continue to do so. I voted against the people who enjoy deriding me and my fellow Leave voters as ignorant, bigoted idiots who shouldn’t be allowed a vote and will hopefully die off so we can get back into the EU. The more they shout and insult and deride, the more my resolution builds. Je ne regrette rien.

On the EU referendum, this article explains my decision to vote Leave while this is a speech made at the London School of Economics proposing the motion ‘This House Believes We Should Leave the European Union’.


  1. Well said Ben. I came upon your blog via Kate Hoey's Twitter feed. You reflect my views on this very closely.


  2. I am a 100% UKIP ex labour voter.I read this and absolutely agree with every word.I voted leave fully expecting a financial short time hit BUT then a chance that MY KIDS & grandchildren will be able to afford a home.will no longer be tied to minimum wage and zero hrs contracts.that my son would get his first pay rise in 6 years.
    I am ready now to do whatever it takes to stand by my vote. JAIL....bring it on..

  3. One thing you've underplayed is that the Leave campaign put an awful lot of thought and energy into getting the result they wanted from the referendum vote, but very little thought into what Brexit would actually mean. The expectation was and still is that other people i.e. the people who thought this was a bad idea, would actually work out the details. The Johnson/Davis/Fox triumvirate responsible for negotiating the exit inspire no confidence in absolutely anyone, especially as it appears increasingly likely that Johnson (the only one of the three who could still be considered a significant political figure pre the vote) saw the whole thing as a flag of convenience under which to fly his political aspirations.

    The thing you've missed out completely is that the land of milk and honey promised by the Leave campaign before the vote was very quickly taken off the table and relabeled as 'aspirational'. Amongst all the talk of betrayals it would be nice for the notable figure in the leave campaign to stand by their promises.

    1. I don't recall anyone promising a land of milk and honey, Anonymous. Indeed as I recall (albeit from a position of bias), Leave campaigners were an awful lot more respectful of the Remain case than vice versa. One side showed they wanted to Britain to succeed, the other said it would be a failure if folks didn't do what they are told. I have a feeling that had quite a big impact. It certainly did on me, as I suggested at the end here.

  4. Thoroghhly agree with Ben's comments. Self determination and freedom are worth more than Money

  5. We are still in the EU aren't we? The current situation has been manufactured.

  6. Thoroghhly agree with Ben's comments. Self determination and freedom are worth more than Money

  7. Well said Ben. As a Leaver I have taken a lot of abuse from Remainers (and still am) but I have stood firm. I am no bigot, just someone who passionately believes that the best people to govern the UK are the people of the UK.

    I do think the Labour party has lost its way badly, and I'm not talking about Corbyn - I was a Labour voter for many years, but gave up on them over 10 years ago when I realised they had completely lost touch with their core voters. What has happened with Labour's stance in the EU Referendum has only reinforced that view.

    I recommend any Labour supporter reads Nick Cohen's excellent "What's Left".

  8. Yes Ben, Good points. I agree.
    I've decided to give this new PM my full backing (for the time-being) as she's the best person fur the job but needs more unified support.
    'Leave EU' means re-organisation at every level and requires sublimation of the party political divides. There will always be a political spectrum from left to right representing the haves and have-nots and it takes two wings for the bird to fly. Labour voters need to give their full support to the Leave EU motion without fear of losing their political identity. In the long run, the poorest and the socially disadvantaged will be better off ( Ben Cobley/ Lord Owen/ Kate Hoey et al know the facts here).
    The current terms of leaving EU membership dictate that we cannot start free negotiations until AFTER Article 50 is triggered!
    As for the Single Market; in 1975 we entered the Common Market to reduce the growing bureaucracy/tariffs between neighbouring trading partners to our mutual economic advantage and there were no political strings attached.
    We did not vote to give away our democratic parliamentary system.
    As for uncontrolled immigration it is irresponsible and nothing to do with xenophobia. I'd like to see greater international investment in providing massive programmes in Turkey/Jordan/Yemen and Libya to provide self-sufficient farms, schools, health services to refugees and to start providing long-term IT and training opportunities. The money we spend now would be better spent and economic migrants would have a safe and useful way of raising their living standards without falling into hands of rampant people smugglers.

  9. This was a Referendum not a General Election. Neither side could make actionable promises because neither side would be in charge afterwards. They could only offer aspiration and suggestions. Leave voters seem to be the only people that understand this.
    As for the negotiations, by definition the goverment cannot guarantee anything now because they have no idea what the eventual outcome of the negotiation will be. Any pretending otherwise is just playing politics.
    This future will be what we make it, same as always.

    1. fine, basic points 'Another Leave voter with no regrets'. It is indeed notable the way ardent Remain supporters fail to grasp these basics - or rather are determined not to even notice them.

  10. I like what Ben is saying but I have a question... If 'the establishment' are so pro-remain, why are so much of the right-wing press like the Sun and the Mail so pro-leave? I wonder at their motives. Are they just reflecting what they think their readers think or are they whipping it up for their own reasons?

    1. a bit of both I think 'and another!' - they write for their readers, but it's naive to presume the proprietors have no influence. Look at Murdoch though and you'll see that his Establishment paper The Times has been heavily pro-Remain, while his rag for the plebs, the Sun, has been the opposite.

  11. Interestingly if the court rulings over the Government's power to trigger Article 50 without input from Parliament go against it, we could end up with an early general election to short cut the hard slog through the Commons and Lords that would be required to get clarity over what the plan actually is (assuming there is an actual plan, if there isn't then the slog will be even harder to get through). Some see this as an easy win situation for May, but it could also be used to force genuine commitment to honouring some of the more thoroughly dishonest "aspirations" and "suggestions" used by Leave.

  12. No it doesn't need a general election to trigger Article 50. If discussion and negotiations are deliberately frustrated Mrs May can sign A50 as directed by the people. No one can stop that. Deliberate attempts to thwart negotiations will not work

  13. I agree with this blog which I too came to from Kate Hoey's twitter feed.
    People don't like change and a move are away from the widely seen do be progressive European Union is seen as dangerous and wrong.

    But just how progressive is this ever-centralising roman-like form of government ?

    I think that is the remain camp should ease off the bigot argument as it is not really fair and a bit too much replacing clear logical argument with abuse.

  14. A very welcome piece - and I hope Kate Hoey's plug got it wider coverage. It's weird how arrogant and judgemental so many sour Remain voters have been, when in my experience people (like me) who entered the referendum with a fairly open mind and took the trouble to look into the issue and reflect for themselves tended mainly to plump for Leave. WE DID know what we were doing!

    Michael Hoey (in case this comes up as Unkown like my first comment)


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