It was amazing watching the results come in and as the small lead for Brexit remained and then started to grow, to realise that the peoples of the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union. Until the votes were counted no one from the Prime Minister down knew what the outcome would be. The polls, the pundits, the experts, the media – none of them counted – just the votes of 33.5 million people – where each vote was worth no more or no less than any other.
It is rare the people get to make such momentous decisions. Normally they get to decide things indirectly through proxies such as MPs. But on such a fundamental decision, this was their decision.
Matthew d-Ancona wrote in the Guardian:
Before analysis, let us admit to awe: the sheer scale of the moment requires it. The word “historic” is deployed too lazily in political discourse. But it is entirely appropriate this morning. This is a hugely significant day in British (and European) history.
When a party loses an election, its soon-to-be-ex-leader rallies the troops and promises a different result next time. But no such option is open to the crushed chieftains of remain today. There is no “next time”.
This was a unique opportunity to seal Britain’s relationship with the European Union, or to end it. And the voters – at a high level of turnout – decided that it was time to go. They heard the warnings, listened to experts of every kind tell them that Brexit meant disaster, watched the prime minister as he urged them not to take a terrible risk. And their answer was: get stuffed.
So why did they vote for Brexit, despite all the warnings? I think there were three reasons – two major and one minor.
The EU overall has been a force for good with many benefits for many people. However it is not what most would regard as a democratic government. The heart of democracy is that the people can sack a Government they have got weary of. There was no real way for the people of Europe or the UK to sack the EU Government when they think it has got it wrong and needs to go. Without such a pressure release valve, discontent grows and grows.
The concept of an EU is good. The structure of the EU is bad. It may have worked when they had nine members, but not for 28.
Consider how unhappy we would be in NZ if our Government was not elected at the polls directly. Instead we each elected a local Mayor and Council (and all at different times) and all the Mayors got together and they decided who would make up the national Cabinet and Government to decide on our laws. We would not stand for it.
You need to have the ability for the people to directly sack a Government, and effectively choose its replacement. It is that ability and need to be responsive to the public that makes a Government accountable.
The whole point of nation states is to have control of your borders and your population. This is not racist or xenophobic. The elites who think it is, are out of step. You can be pro-immigration, but against uncontrolled immigration.
NZ has a good pro-immigration system. We set criteria for immigrants and if you have enough skills, education, wealth, prospects etc you can qualify to live here.
The UK as part of the EU has almost no control over who can live and work in the UK. 500 million people in the EU all have the right to move to the UK and work there if they wish to. Of course it also gives UK people the right to work and live in the EU – and that was a great right for many UK citizens.
Now again when the EU was nine countries, this might have been seen as a good trade off. But in an EU of 28 countries, with such a disparity in living standards, it was not.
Think of NZ again. We basically have an EU type agreement with Australia. Citizens of each country can live and work in the other. Not quite as good as the EU, because no guarantee of welfare eligibility.
But think if this arrangement was expanded beyond NZ and Australia. And it included all the Pacific countries who have much less developed economies (and hence many more people would want to live here). Think if it included all of Asia – that we have to take anyone from 27 other countries who choose to live here, regardless of their skills, education, experience, wealth or ability to support themselves. Do we think we would sign up for that?
Again you can be very pro-immigration but anti uncontrolled immigration.
3. EU regulations
A decade ago most of the angst against the EU was the endless regulations coming from Brussels that were ridiculed and resented. However I think this was a minor factor when it came to the vote. The Tories in 2005 campaigned on these, and lost. While people agreed with them, they didn’t think it was as important as issue as the economy, the NHS, schools etc. For the hard core activists, this was red meat, but less important to the majority of the public.
For the majority it was about being independent, being able to sack your Government and being able to control your borders.