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The big Brexit lie has been rumbled

Anti-Brexit campaigners' placards outside the Houses of Parliament - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

JIM CHISOLM on how the media has failed to challenge the narrative behind Brexit – and how the data shows the people wouldn’t vote for it again.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Four and a half years ago, enough people fell for “The Big Brexit Lie” to nudge the referendum over the 50% margin, but within months cracks in belief were emerging. 

Barely 18 months later, The Lie had been rumbled, and as its fakery became ever more apparent, so the population grew to regret Brexit, and the predominant wish to remain has kept growing ever since. 

The 2.8% margin for Brexit at the Referendum, now shows a near 12% greater realisation that Brexit was a mistake.

YouGov polling on Brexit – Credit: YouGov/WhatUKThinks

The graph above shows that, since the Referendum in June 2016, YouGov have asked around 230,000 people: “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?”, in 157 individual polls.

Of course, there have been hundreds of other polls, by around a dozen different research companies, asking different questions about remaining or leaving the EU. However the question is worded – be it “If there was a referendum tomorrow…..?” or “Should Britain remain/leave……?” –  all the results overwhelmingly show most British people want to remain in Europe.

Within months of the referendum, the polls showed a shift toward remain. Today, with every sales-pitch for Brexit demolished, people would vote very differently. 

Behind this unspoken truth, lurk myriad details that demonstrate the folly and sheer unfairness of Brexit:

Polling on Remain and Leave – Credit: WhatUKThinks

Those with the least time to live with Brexit have dictated the future of those who will have to live with it for the longest. Leave is primarily driven by the elderly. Four out of five under 24’s wish to remain, while about the same proportion of over 75s want the UK to leave. If gross years with the decision was the measure, “Leave” wouldn’t get a hearing.

Brexit is largely supported by the less-educated and disadvantaged. As the graph above shows, along with age, there is a major discrepancy between people with higher education, in professional jobs and those with base or “low” education levels, who tend to be in lower jobs or not working.

Perhaps the biggest clue regarding the consequences of Brexit is how the privileged few, wealthy Tory donors, and indeed government ministers are stealthily transferred their wealth source out of the UK.

Two examples are James Ratcliffe, the mega-billionaire Tory donor who is moving his manufacturing plant with its 500 jobs from Wales to France. In 2018 a London investment fund co-founded by Jacob Rees-Mogg – the bench-lounging “leader” of the Commons – announced they were moving their base to Ireland, stating “Brexit negotiations may cause ‘considerable uncertainty’”.

Almost every day a steady stream of evidence of the folly of Brexit emerges:

  • Car manufacturers, Aerospace companies have signalled a departure from the UK. 
  • Banks are relocating staff and operations to Dublin, Amsterdam and Paris.
  • Supermarkets are anticipating massive price hikes.
  • Young people are finding it harder to move and/or work in Europe. 
  • The hassle of holiday travel is about to get a lot worse.
  • Massive new lorry parks are appearing- from Kent to Stranraer.

As 2021 unfolds, it won’t take long for Brexiters, and Remainers, to personally feel the impact of Brexit; from the price hikes in food, delays in medicines and having to join the long slow queues in Spain and Greece experienced by non-EU members.

It would be simple to put Brexit down to concerns about immigration. Indeed David Cameron’s 2014 attempt “to mollify anti-immigration voters in his party” by promising a referendum was just that. But the tenet of Brexit, and in particular, the Tory Right’s influence on the negotiations, is driven by a strong feeling of British – dare I say English – exceptionalism, exemplified by education secretary Gavin Williamson’s  “we’re a much better country than every single one of them”. A magnificent lesson in diplomacy from the man charged with educating our future generations. 

Little wonder the Scots are becoming increasingly enraged by this whole business. 

It is no coincidence that the so-called “Red Wall” of Tory converts are areas with high levels of immigration from Southern Asia, but the underlying impact of Brexit runs somewhat contrary to this narrow motive.  

Since 2010, total levels of immigration have remained relatively flat, rising by only 2% a year. But within this, in the five years before the referendum, arrivals from the EU increased while immigration from the rest of the world fell. 

Figures on immigration – Credit: Office of National Statistics

Since the referendum, however, rates of immigration among Europeans have fallen, only to be more than compensated by the rise in immigration from outside the EU. The causes of this shift are telling.

Europeans have generally decided not to seek work in the UK, largely because the UK Government’s approach has moved international opinion from positive to negative. Meanwhile, UK employers are actively seeking workers to come to work in health, social care and a range of sectors.

Perhaps the most stomach-churning aspect of the Hard Brexiteers’ rhetoric, remains their continual assertion that Brexit is the “wish of the British people”, when – as they well know – is untrue, and has been for some time. It is simply a well-worn means of perpetuating “The Big Lie”.

Notwithstanding, the Brexit that people bought, is not the Brexit they will get.

One would like to believe that with 48.9% of the population voting against Brexit (a figure that now stands at 55%), this Government would respect the nation’s collective ambivalence. 

But instead of the government respecting the view of almost half the population, by adopting a mild version of Brexit, that would have been readily – if reluctantly – accepted by the rest of the EU, they have chosen to pursue the most extreme path, which – a year since Johnson promised to “Get Brexit Done”  teeters on the verge of a catastrophic No-Deal. 

Excuse me for repeating the 55% wish to remain line ad nauseum, but let’s recall the relentless “will of the people” rant that has overwhelmed our airwaves. 

Throughout this four-year period, the media have, almost universally, brushed aside this inconvenient Fact.  After all, the spectacle of Johnson driving a (hard-Brexit, Tory sponsoring) JCB marked “Get Brexit Done” through an illustrative wall makes for good telly.

They have been happy to regurgitate “The Big Lie” surrogates, report the list of consequential business migrations and job losses, and speculate the price hikes that ordinary citizens will face. 

But try and find a single reported fact among the Brexit rhetoric. 

The difference between the failure to report the fact that people want to remain, and the lack of one, single, material fact supporting Brexit, is simply that Brexit supporting facts don’t exist.

As one would expect, The Sun, Times, Telegraph and Mail were happy to sustain “The Big Lie’ rhetoric. After all, their owners are all non-dom, committed to minimising their taxes. The Express, a clarion of the Brexit movement is now owned by Trinity Mirror plc whose policy is to respect editorial independence (as long as it is profitable!).

When I released my first analysis of this trend 18 months ago, only The New European and The National in Scotland chose to carry the story. 

Most curiously, the BBC has chosen to avoid any reference to this vital shift in public opinion. As The New European reported, when Gina Miller appeared on the BBC Today programme on 15 March 2019: “Nick Robinson talked over her when she attempted to raise it” and turned the conversation to the Lib Dem leadership contest.

“Miller was not amused. ‘Why does Today not want to discuss the way public opinion is clearly shifting?’ she asked.” At which point Robinson abruptly closed the interview.

The notion of the “The Big Lie” first appeared in Mein Kampf. The quote itself is commonly mis-accredited to Joseph Goebbels because it encapsulated his wider propagandist strategy. 

Here in the UK, we can all recall incidents of obfuscation, avoidance of scrutiny and attempts to subjugate parliamentary authority all reflect Goebell’s view, as does that of many contemporary hard-right potentates:
“It is vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

But Goebbels wrote one telling missive, that ironically resonates today. In January 1941 in an article in ‘Die Zeit ohne Beispiel’ he wrote: “The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

The article was titled ‘Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik’: ‘Churchill’s Lie Factory’.

Perhaps, in the near future, one particular, self-acclaimed historian, suddenly out of a job, now pondering his legacy, might realise the significance of this metaphor.

Jim Chisholm is an analyst and media strategist. He has worked in over 50 countries worldwide, including every major nation in Europe. A Scot, he and his family prospered in France for ten years.