A comprehensive history of the Brexit campaign remains to be written, but there is little doubt that the Leave campaign was hugely successful in its design and implementation in 2016. It left the Remain campaign wrong-footed and appearing to be boring and inept. In large part this was because the Leave campaign focused on an appeal to emotions, whereas the Remain campaign sought to attract voters through logical argument.
Over the last two years, both sides have largely continued to adopt these two very different styles of persuasion. This was very much in evidence during the march through London in support of a People’s Vote on 20th October 2018. Most of the marchers I spoke with said that they simply could not understand why anyone should still want to leave the EU, given the substantial amount of evidence that has been adduced to show the damage that this will do to the country. The many banners on display likewise tended to focus on logical argument rather than emotion.
Yet, quite remarkably, as the graph below from the BBC shows, there was little substantial change of overall opinion between June 2016 and September 2018 as to whether the UK should leave or not.
Although a slight majority in the autumn of 2018 wanted to remain in the EU, about the same number of voters appeared to have wanted a second referendum as those who didn’t want one (c.40% each), with around 20% being unsure. The dreadful performance of the Prime Minister and the Government over the ensuing three months changed things dramatically, but she is persisting (as at 23rd December 2018) to refuse to hold another referendum. A YouGov survey reported in The Guardian on 20th December 2018 thus revealed that:
- “in a referendum between staying in the EU and leaving on the terms that the government has negotiated, staying (now) enjoys an 18-point lead: 59-41%”
- In September, “43% of leave voters thought Brexit would make the economy stronger. Just 12% feared it would make the economy weaker. Today (December 2018), only 24% of leave voters say “stronger”, while slightly more, 26%, say “weaker”. That’s a huge, 33-point drop for “stronger” in the net difference between the two views since the beginning of September.”
Despite this evidence, and the fact that most Labour Party members now (December 2018) appear to want to stay in the EU, Jeremy Corbyn is still refusing to argue in support of a new referendum, preferring an election and attempted renegotiation with Brussels. He is therefore as culpable as the Prime Minister for the mess in which the UK has fallen into.
There is now very little time left before the runaway Brexit train crashes through the future of the UK. The chaos surrounding the draft agreement with the EU recently announced by UK Prime Minister Theresa May on 13th November, and the subsequent disagreements between those preferring a no-deal Brexit to what they see as a bad-deal Brexit continue to be front page news, and it seems likely that MPs will vote to reject the deal on 11th December. Hilary Benn‘s recent tabled amendment on 29th November 2018 to the government’s motion on the EU withdrawal agreement, for example, “opposes the deal, rejects a no deal Brexit and would enable the House to express its view about what should happen next if the PM’s deal is defeated”.
Those of us who wish to remain must conjure up a very clear set of arguments, and learn how to persuade enough of those who still wish to leave to change their minds. To do this, we must use emotional appeals, which do not come easily to those of us who generally prefer to use logic. Although many suggest that argumenum ad passiones is a logical fallacy, using emotions to win in the absence of clear objective “facts” or “truths”, it is a mode of argument that has to be used to counter the emotional arguments of the Brexiteers. This was forcibly brought home to me when returning home with my placard from the march, and a group of inebriated men on the train aggressively and threateningly chanted “Brexit is Brexit”, “Brexit means Brexit” in my face.
Emotional appeals to remain
There are many types of appeal to emotion, both negative and positive. Among the negative appeals are those to fear, guilt, anger, disgust and sadness; among the positive are pride, relief and hope. All of these were used in various ways by the Leave campaign, and need to be turned around to advantage by those wishing to Remain.
Let’s begin with some negative emotions:
Fear – of leaving
Some of the most powerful arguments used in the Brexit campaign were around fear, as exemplified especially by the fear of people in the UK being further overwhelmed by immigrants, or immigrants being responsible for an increase in certain types of crime, or the EU leading to great tax rises, or it’s safer to be in the UK because the EU is in crisis.
To counter this, we need to appeal to the fear of what leaving the EU will mean:
- The UK will be isolated and alone – if we have a crisis, European countries may not come to our aid (remember how Germany and France united with the UK, for example, over the poisoning of the Skripals in 2018; will they do so when we are no longer part of the EU?).
- Don’t get ill if you travel to Europe! It looks as though UK citizens may no longer benefit from the EHIC card system, by which EU citizens have reciprocal health care throughout the EU.
- Basic food prices will increase – you will no longer be able to afford those little luxuries. The UK’s inability to gain beneficial trade deals outside the EU, combined with a substantial fall in the value of the Pound will lead to significant price increases for food and many other commodities.
Guilt – at having voted to leave
Guilt is one of the emotions that Brexiteers have been most eager to leverage following the referendum. The refrains of “Brexit means Brexit”, and Theresa May’s stuck record of “There will be no second referendum” and “it would be a gross betrayal of our democracy” are just a few examples of the ways through which this emotion is being used. It is quite extraordinary how persistent they are given the overwhelming evidence that these suggestions are fundamentally flawed. True democracy would involve holding a second referendum when we know the terms of any departure!
Emotional suggestions to counter this include:
- Brexit may mean “Brexit”, but what does “Brexit” actually mean? What is Brexit? Try to get Brexiteers to say what Brexit is. Even Jeremy Corbyn has failed dismally to articulate a future for our relationships with the EU.
- Don’t you feel ashamed voting for Brexit when you had no idea what it was going to look like?
- Do you want your children to think of you as someone who betrayed their future because you voted for Brexit without knowing what it meant?
- Only just over a quarter of the total British population actually voted to leave the EU. How can you call this democracy, especially when the majority of the British people now wish for a second vote? Only 27% of the total British population actually voted in favour of Brexit. For most of 2018 polls suggest that a slight majority now wish to remain (see chart above).
Anger – at having left
Anger featured widely in the Brexit campaign, as with anger about the amount of bureaucratic waste in the EU.
We need to appeal to the anger within those who want Brexit:
- Imagine the long border queues going on holiday with your kids to Europe – don’t get angry with them! It is uncertain whether visa free travel and crossing borders in the EU citizens queues will remain in place.
- Won’t you be angry when you and your family cannot get medical treatment? Immigrants working in the NHS are already leaving, creating a substantial staff shortage, which will lead to long queues for treatment (5.6% of all NHS staff are from other EU countries)
- Don’t be angry with your local council when services decline! Many council jobs, such as street cleaning (wages £14,000-£17,000) or refuse collection (£15,000-£25,000 a year) are low-paid, with immigrants often being the only ones willing to take them.
Disgust – with those advocating Brexit
There is plenty for Brexiteers to be disgusted about:
- If Brexit is such a good idea, why are so many leading Brexiteers investing in the EU and advising others to do likewise? (Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood, Arron Banks, Peter Cruddas, Lord Ashcroft)
- We were lied to and those advocating Brexit knew it! Remember the many half-truths that were told: “We are giving £2 billion to Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Turkey … to join the EU”, “EU tax bombshell will cost each household over £2,600”, we can build a new NHS hospital every week with the £350 million we send to Brussels each week, and Brexit will be easy. Even in July 2017, Liam Fix (then International Trade Secretary) said that “The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history”. How very wrong he was!
- Corrupt practices were used by those advocating Brexit! The Leave campaign has been fined £61,000 after having been found guilty of breaking electoral law during the Brexit campaign, and police are currently probing Arran Banks referendum spending. His Eldon Insurance firm currently faces £135,000 in fines for e-mails that breached data laws.
- Even Arron Banks who bankrolled the Brexit campaign now says he would prefer to remain in the EU? (BBC Andrew Marr show, 4th November 2018; reported widely).
- Almost unbelievably, Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, suggested in January 2018 that there should be a second Brexit vote
- Hilary Benn, the Chair of the Brexit Select Committee, has recently said on the BBC’s Politics Live programme that “Brexiteers’ arguments have now been shown, after 2.5 years, to be fantasies. And the more they shout the more they cry in realisation they have not got a plan”
Many who voted to leave were sad about how life in Britain has changed since joining the EU in 1973. They looked back to what they saw was a mythical and glorious British past.
There will be much to be sad about if we leave the EU:
- The reality of Britain’s insignificant place as a small island (243,610 sq kms, ranked 81st in world), with a tiny population (<1% of global population) and little importance in the world will become all too clear! Even its economic significance is rapidly declining from being the 5th largest economy in the world in 2017.
- Food will rot in our fields because there is no-one willing to pick it. (2016: 7% of workers in agriculture, forestry and fishing are done by EU8 citizens)
- Factory production declines because there are insufficient UK people willing to work in the conditions and for the wages offered in the sector.
- There is a construction slump because of a lack of labour (2016: 9% of construction workers are from EU2, EU8 and EU14)
And now let’s turn to some positive emotions that can be used to challenge Brexiteers.
Pride – in influencing global change
One of the many myths of Brexit was a belief that Britain could be great again alone! There are actually many doubts as to whether Britain was ever “great”! Can an empire built in part on slavery and involving the immiseration and exploitation of millions of people in our colonies and former empire ever be seen as being truly great? If anything, British greatness lies in our legal system, in our diversity, and in our support for social reform. In a world of large powerful states, we need to work in coalitions and together with others, not alone.
- As part of the EU we will have a voice that others will listen to; alone no-one will care what we say. It seems highly probable that we will soon no longer have a seat as a Permanent Representative of the UN Security Council. Many other countries have a stronger claim to this.
- Being inside the EU we can take pride in influencing its decisions; outside the EU we will have no influence over what it does! The EU, our nearest large bloc of countries, will have an enormous influence on our future. Outside the EU, we will have no say in key decisions that will have great impact on our lives.
Relief – if we remain
There is almost nothing positive about leaving the EU. There will be enormous relief among the many people and organisations who understand this and wish to remain. However, too many companies have already relocated substantial numbers of staff and offices, and it seems unlikely that the UK will regain these if we were to remain. The loss of the European Banking Authority to France, and the European medicines agency to the Netherlands are but two examples of the damage caused by Brexit
- It only costs 39p net a day each for us to get all the benefits of EU membership (figures for 2016). This is definitely well worth spending!
- Marginal parts of the UK will only continue to receive substantial regional funding from Europe if we remain. Some parts of the UK which received the greatest subsidies from the EU, such as Wales (52.5% in the 2016 referendum wanting to leave), voted in favour of Brexit, and people living there will only continue to benefit if we remain (see map below). The wise Scots in the 2016 referendum voted 62% in favour of remaining; they know the of remaining.
Hope – if we remain in the EU
- Our children can grow up safe and secure in thy knowledge that we are part of the EU which has helped guarantee peace in Europe since the Treaty of Rome in 1957.
The logical arguments
Many of the above appeals to emotion are underlain by logical arguments. As an academic trained for a lifetime in logic, I find it extremely difficult to argue otherwise! However, those of us wishing to remain in Europe must use emotional appeals if we are to challenge those who want to remain, despite all of the damage they have already caused over the last couple of years. If we can find a chink in the naive optimistic armour of Brexiteers, then we can support these emotional arguments with evidence and logic. The following seem to be some of the most convincing evidence of the enormous damage that is already being, and will be further, caused by Brexit.
Many of the arguments in favour of remain are indeed based on economic grounds. A fundamental challenge here is that economists are not actually that good at predicting the future, especially in abnormal contexts such as Brexit! However, the evidence of what has already happened since the referendum in 2016 does provide many grounds for concern:
- Migrants, especially from the EU, contribute significantly to employment in the UK. Should they no longer be able readily to work in the UK certain sectors are likely to suffer. Evidence from 2010 suggested that the main jobs done by immigrants from the EU were: Elementary process plant occupations (factory jobs) – 18%; Process operatives (factory jobs) – 13%; Elementary agricultural (seasonal harvesting, farm work) – 8%;Assemblers and routine operatives – 8%, and Elementary cleaning (cleaners) – 8%. Whilst some of these may well be automated in the not-too-distant future, the short- to medium-term labour shortage will have an impact on economic productivity.
- The net fiscal impact of migrants to the UK is extremely hard to calculate, but overall it is generally seen as being slightly positive. Full Fact suggest that it is just less than 1% of GDP; there is no conclusive evidence that migrants are a drain on our economy.
- There is no clear relationship between immigration and unemployment in the UK (Tejvan Pettinger); it thus does not seem to be the case that immigration causes unemploment in the UK.
- The threat of Brexit has already led to a downturn in the number of suitable applicants for jobs, with firms seeking staff being hit by labour shortages due to a “reversal” in the number of migrants in UK workplaces. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has thus reported that the shortage of both EU and non-EU migrants reflects a falling interest in the UK as a destination for migrant workers (Source: BBC).
- Our trade with the EU
- 49% of the UK’s total exports and imports in 2017 were with other EU countries (Source: BBC). During the 2016 referendum, the figure 0f 44% of our exports of goods and services in 2015 was widely cited, and this had fallen from about 54% in 2006. In 2015, though, our imports from Germany alone were £60,859 million, compared with a relatively paltry £35,290 million from the USA (for trade statistics see HM Revenue and Customs). Any damage to our trade with the EU is likely therefore to be hugely damaging to our economy.
- Reaching new trade agreements
- During the 2016 referendum, it was often said that reaching beneficial trade agreements with other countries would be easy after Brexit because so many wanted to trade with us. If the UK leaves the EU without any withdrawal agreement, it automatically fall under the WTO rules. Many WTO tariffs (10% for cars and their parts; 35% for dairy produce) are actually very much higher than EU ones (about 2.6% for non-agricultural products), and so it is likely that prices in the UK would rise for many imports as a result.
- Some 20 countries, including the USA and China are currently trying to block the UK from agreeing a swift deal with the WTO (Source: The Independent), and earlier in 2018 it was widely reported that countries that also included Brazil, New Zealand, Australia and Argentine were strongly resisting the proposed tariff plans (Source: The Guardian). At the very least, reaching trade agreements is likely to be very much longer and more difficult than Brexiteers had suggested. It is difficult to see Britain being better off in terms of trade deals outside the EU than within it.
- For non-EU countries, it is very much easier to deal with a bloc of 27 countries than it is with individual countries. This is one of the many advantages of being within the EU. Outside the EU, the UK will be alone in its negotiations and is very unlikely to be able to reach better trade deals than it had within it. In any case, countries wishing to make trade deals are much more likely to prioritise their deals with the large bloc of the EU than the (currently) single country of the UK.
- The real challenge is whether the UK wants to be a rule taker with full market access, such as Norway, or a more usual free-trade agreement with the EU as does Canada (for a thoughtful overview see Owen, J., Stojanovic, A. and Rutter, J. (2017) Trade after Brexit: options for the UK’s relationship with the EU, London: Institute for Government)
- Business leaders’ opinions
- There have been many diverse views from business leaders about the future pattern of likely investment, and they were well represented on either side of the referendum vote. However, since then there has been a growing body of opinion that Brexit is bad for the UK economy. In early November, for example, 70 business leaders signed a letter to the Sunday Times calling for a People’s Vote, noting that the government’s present plans and a no-deal Brexit would both leave the country worse off, and they pointed out that the uncertainty over the last two years has already led to a slump in investment. (Source: Financial Times)
Business relocation and employment losses
- Numerous announcement of factory closures, and thus employment losses, continue to be made on the grounds of Brexit. Whilst it is highly probable that some of these may well have happened regardless of Brexit, there is no doubt that Brexit has had an impact, as the following diverse examples indicate:
- Michelin has confirmed that their Dundee tyre plant will close by mid-2020 with the loss of all 845 jobs.
- Schaeffler plants in Llanelli and Plymouth are earmarked for closure, with the firm proposing to relocate production to plants outside the UK because of uncertainty over Brexit, with a possible loss of 550 jobs.
- Jaguar Land Rover had spent some £10 m on Brexit contingency plans by July 2018, and indicated in September 2018 that it will close its Mini plant for one month in 2019 as a no-deal Brexit precaution.
- The Norwegian-based fish company Skretting is closing its factories in Easter Ross and elsewhere as it pulls out of the UK, apparently largely because of Brexit.
- Financial relocation
- The lobby group Frankfurt Main Finance releases figures in late-November 2018 indicating that 30 bacnks and finance firms had chosen the city as the site of their new European Headquarters. So much for those Brexiteers who suggested that there would be no impact on the UK financial market. It is estimated that London will lose up to €800bn in assets to Frankfurt by March 2019 as banks start to transfer their business to the German financial centre.
- Since the 2016 referendum, the pound has collapsed against most currencies. On 18th July 2015 it was worth €1.43720, on the 22nd June 2016 (the day before the referendum) it was at € 1.30373, and in 2018 it has fluctuated usually under €1.15, most recently being at € 1.12358 at close of trading on 18th November 2018. This is shown very graphically in xe-com‘s visualisation below:
- While the significance of currency fluctuations can be interpreted in many different ways, the overall impact of this collapse in the pound is generally seen as having been negative. There has been little substantial increase in exports, which might have been expected to grow because they would be cheaper in foreign markets, whilst imports have continued to become more expensive. The Office for National Statistics, for example, has commented that “Falling exports of cares and rising imports of unspecified good were the main causes of a widening of the trade deficit in the three months to May 2018”.
- For tourists, as well as those travelling on business , costs of living and working overseas have risen dramatically.
- The latest evidence from the Bank of England suggests that food prices could rise by 10% in the UK following Brexit
Paradoxically, many of the regions in the UK that have benefited most from the EU actually had a high percentage of votes in support of Leave during the first referendum. Clearly, unlike many parts of Europe where large posters informed the public that funding was provided by the EU, those responsible for marketing such funding in the UK failed miserably. Government announcements in February 2018 highlighted the following interesting regional impact figures of Brexit:
- North East England will suffer a 16% hit to GDP in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, although voters there overwhelmingly backed Brexit
- Northern Ireland could face a GDP slump of 12% if Britain leaves the EU without a deal
- Overall, the UK is predicted to suffer a 1.5% drop in GDP while remaining in the EU’s single market via the European Economic Area (EEA), a 5% drop if it agrees a free trade deal, and an 8% drop if Britain leaves the EU without a deal and reverts to trading on World Trade Organisation terms.
- Rise in Racism. In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, there appeared to be a considerable rise in racism, directed not only at people who had been born elsewhere in Europe, but also towards second and third generation immigrants whose families had originally come from South Asia, African and Caribbean heritage. The UN special rapporteur on racism following a visit to the UK in May 2018 was thus reported as saying that racism and religious intolerance had become more acceptable in Britain following the Brexit referendum. Whether this has actually been caused by Brexit, or whether rising racism itself found an outlet in the demands to leave the EU is a moot point. Nevertheless, racial tensions surrounding Brexit may well increase further should the Brexiteers get their way (see also Civitas, Hate Crime: the facts behind the headlines, October 2016).
- Social innovation. As with any challenges, Brexit also provides opportunities for change. Given the social divisions that have been created by the original leave campaign, the referendum itself, and the subsequent vehement arguments over Brexit, it will be essential for people of good will to try to rebuild our society into one that is more united and caring, whatever the actual outcome of Brexit. This is increasingly being recognised, with organisations such as Collaborate for Social Change already advocating for action (see, for example, Kippin, H., Knight, A. and Bergen, J., The Social Brexit? How fractious times could be a catalyst for collaborative social change in the UK, London: Collaborate CIC, 2018).
- Brexiteers claim that Britain can be much more influential (“great”) again if the country leaves the EU. It is extremely hard to justify this assertion. Although it may be very hard for some of those living in the UK to accept, Britain is a small and increasingly unimportant island off the north-west coast of Europe. The EU stands as a powerful counter-balance to China and the USA at a time when the world is becoming more and more divided into large power blocs. Outside the EU, we cannot continue to be part of this bloc, and have the political influence of the EU.
- Whatever happens in the future, Britain will remain heavily influenced by Europe as it has throughout its history. Outside the EU we will have no power to influence the political future of the EU, and will thus become increasingly dominated by an entity over which we have little influence.
- Many other European countries, and particularly the smaller ones, want us to remain in the EU as a counter-balance to the Franco-German axis that has dominated it so strongly since its foundation. Marching with people from our oldest ally, Portugal, during the October March, I was forcibly struck by the arguments that they were making about how disappointed many European countries were.
- In terms of the UK’s internal politics, debates over Brexit have revealed the way that very many, if not most, of the UK’s politicians are concerned more about themselves and their parties than they are about the British people. A fear that Westminster-based politicians had little idea of the needs and interests of people living beyond the south-east of England was indeed one reason that so many people voted for Brexit. However, recent comments by Ministers and MPs, and the ways in which various politicians are now positioning themselves for the aftermath of Theresa May’s debacle highlight that self comes before service. This applies as much to those in the Labour party, where Jeremy Corbyn has so far refused to back “Remain” or indeed unequivocally to support a call for a second referendum, as it does to those fighting among themselves in the Tory party. One possible positive outcome of the Brexit debate could therefore be a reorientation of British politics, either through a government of national unity, or the growth of a political coalition or party that would be in the centre-ground of British politics.
- It is difficult to measure the likely cultural impact of Brexit. However, it seems very likely that a wide range of cultural exchanges between Britain and other European countries, such as school trips and student exchanges, will become more complex and costly, and will thus reduce in frequency.
- Historically, Britain has played a very important part in European culture (see Tim Unwin, ed. A European Geography, Harlow: Pearson, 1998), and although the idea of “Europe” is much bigger and older than just the “EU”, it seems highly probable that our cultural linkages with other European countries will reduce in the years to come, especially since one of the main aspirations of Brexiteers was indeed to make an independent Britain great again by itself.
In conclusion, it seems possible that MPs will vote against the deal that Prime Minister May and her government have negotiated with the EU on 11th December. This deal suits neither the ardent Brexiteers who would be happy with the no-deal option, nor those who thought they could negotiate a soft-Brexit deal that would actually benefit the UK to the detriment of Europe. There remains, therefore, a sliver of hope that the people of Britain will be given a chance to reconsider their choice, now that they have more of an idea of what Brexit would really mean. I hope that the arguments summarised here will go some way to helping more people realise the disaster that Brexit would be.
[last updated, 23rd December 2018]