Observations of an ex pat: Tunnel lights

ou can just make it out. It is still dim and indistinct in the swirling political mists. But there appears to be a light at the end of the long Brexit tunnel.

Hopefully, it is not the oncoming No-deal train, but rather a Remain engine pulling a long line of carriages waiting to be boarded.

If it is the latter than a great deal more work still needs to be done before a People’s Vote is agreed. Then more work to secure a Remain result  and then, finally, an ongoing effort—to win  continued support in Britain—and other countries—for the European Union.

So first of all, how to reach the initial goal of the People’s Vote and what to put on the ballot paper. Rule number one: Don’t trust Corbyn. He is still fighting the class wars of the seventies and is hoping for a chaotic political vacuum which he can fill with his Marxist-Leninist platform.  Brexit train crash spells opportunity for the Labour leader.

The ballot paper should duplicate the binary choice of the 2016 referendum. Voters should be given a choice to revoke Article 50 and remain in the European Union or to accept whatever deal the government has negotiated at the time of the People’s Vote. A third option with an alternative vote system would take too long to negotiate and confuse the voters.

The campaign will be tough—for both camps. Over the past two and a half years positions have become increasingly entrenched. The pool of floating voters that canvassers normally target has shrunk as voters have fallen off the fence into one camp or the other.  A person’s stand on Brexit has become an identity badge and to swap it for another involves huge loss of face.

But the demographics definitely favour the Remain camp. According to a YouGov poll an additional two million young people entered the voters’ lists since June 2016 and nearly the same number of over 65’s died.  Polls indicate that 87 percent of the new voters would vote to Remain—if they can be bothered to vote. In the referendum 64 percent of 18-25 year olds voted whereas 90 percent of the over-65s voted and the oldsters voted overwhelmingly to leave.  So the focus must be on winning the support of young people and then persuading them, climb out of their beds, shrug off their usual shroud of apathy and vote on polling day.

Assuming that the vote result is Remain (a big assumption) then there are still problems. The Brexiteers will attack the legitimacy of a People’s Vote. They were promised that the first referendum was a once and for all binding decision on British membership of the EU. To go back on that is a frontal attack on British democratic values and systems. Expect a backlash. Expect violence. Do not expect the hardline Brexiteers to just roll over, hold up their hands and exclaim: “OK, you win,”

Now comes the hard part, chipping away at the Brexiteers’ support base.  The hardliners will always be there, but their supporters can be persuaded otherwise. The British public needs to become more aware of the enormous benefits of EU membership. For the past 45 years most of my colleagues in the media have done nothing but attack Brussels for its unelected bureaucracy designed to undermine British values. Mind you, the Eurocrats too often made themselves an easy target.

If we are not to have a repeat Brexit than the relationship between member states and Brussels must change to reflect the increased concern about the erosion of national identity across Europe.   Czechs are Czechs. Poles are Poles and Brits are Brits. It may be common sense to pool sovereignty for the sake of the common good, but too often common sense encounters the brick wall of emotion and history.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is a regular contributor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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  • Graham Martin-Royle 1st Mar '19 - 9:21am

    It’s not just the media that have spent the past 40 or so years attacking the EU. For most of that time our politicians have also made the EU a scapegoat, putting all the blame on it whenever the public show any dislike for an EU policy. As the vast majority of what comes out of the EU has had the enthusiastic support of Westminster it’s now time for politicians to be brave enough to stand up and say so (explaining why such support is given would also help).

  • Speaking as one of the despised uneducated over 65s, who nevertheless voted Remain, is there any hope of a new Referendum campaign (on both sides) getting away from stereotypes of who voted one way or the other and concentrate on the positives. Remain did not do this last time, which, in my view, was why they lost. There are lots of positive reasons for all age groups for being part of the EU in a troubled and fragile world. Now that George Osborne is out of the picture (hopefully) we can hear some of them rather than focusing on the negatives

  • Andrew McCaig 1st Mar '19 - 9:24am

    We have been doing knock and drop surveys with Brexit questions for over 2 years now in a ward in Huddersfield. There has been a clear shift which matches the opinion polls, but the biggest shift is in Labour voting Council estates where there are transfers from Leave to D/k, Leave to Remain, and d/k to Remain. In owner occupied areas Remain has more votes to start with but the net shifts are only about 2% in favour of Remain.
    So my conclusion would be that another referendum would be won and lost in Leave voting areas. Knocking up in Leeds in 2016, it was clear that the obsession with “voter ID” had led Labour activists to focus entirely on areas of students and young professionals, who were all voting remain anyway.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 9:38am

    “Voters should be given a choice to revoke Article 50 and remain in the European Union or to accept whatever deal the government has negotiated at the time of the People’s Vote. ”

    “The campaign will be tough—for both camps.”

    The campaign won’t be tough at all. If a referendum were to happen there’d be an easy win for Remain. There’d be no need to try to convince “The British public …… of the enormous benefits of EU membership.” You won’t have to bother to print any posters, or organise any meetings or have any debates on the TV etc.

    Because the Leave side simply won’t take part at all if the “choice” is between Remain and Ms May’s worst-deal-history EU agreement. There unlikely to be anything else on offer from the EU . There will be a boycott. This is nothing to do with any suggestion by Nigel Farage or anyone else but the inevitable consequence of offering two totally unpalatable options.

    You might as well save the taxpayer several million, and cancel both the referendum and Art50. That’s what you want -so just go for it. We’ll see what happens afterwards!

  • nigel hunter 1st Mar '19 - 9:57am

    If, as you say, their will be a boycott and remain wins it will leave a lot of resentment in the non voting leavers. The EU will then really have to sell itself to the people of Britain and all Europe to say it is a good thing for them.n

  • Peter Martin is right, the Leave side will never accept a vote between Remain and May’s deal. For many there is very little difference. Why, when they won the referendum, would they let Remainers dictate whats on the ballot paper? A second referendum is “cloud cuckoo land” it would stir up far more hatred than there already is. If nothing else think what would happen in the EU elections, with TIG and a new brexit party led by Farage. The country would be torn apart.

  • There would be a lot of wrangling over the phrasing of the question because not having a leave without a deal option would lead to a Conservative rebellion, bring the government down and lead to a snap election which on current evidence they would win.
    Pooled sovereignty is an oxymoron.

  • It’s not the outcome I want at all, but I think the most likely scenario is that we leave on the 29th May under the Withdrawal Agreement.

    I say this, because at the last minute the ERG will cave in and support it, as will enough Labour MPs from Leave areas.

    No Deal is effectively off the table now. The ERG know that any delay to the process increases the chance of another Referendum that they will probably lose, so they don’t want that. They might not like the Irish Backstop, but the Withdrawal Agreement does very little to confirm the UK’s future relationship with the EU, so everything is still to play for there. For the ERG it is better to be out and move the fight on from “Leave means Leave” to “Out means Out”.

    Perversely, I think Corbyn’s recent apparent conversion to the People’s Vote cause might actually be a clever tactic on his part to put pressure on the ERG to support the Withdrawal Agreement and actually avoid another referendum. That way he gets what he wants – the UK out of the EU, but under a “Tory Brexit” so that he can blame them when things go wrong.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 10:29am

    @ Nick Baird,

    It could be quite close. This is obviously TM’s plan. However I would say it could all hinge on the way the DUP go.

    My expectation is that they’ll never agree to the backstop and would prefer to Remain in the EU, or agree to the referendum which will produce the same outcome, rather than let that happen.

  • John Marriott 1st Mar '19 - 11:25am

    If the choice on any future ballot paper is Deal v Remain you could well have a Leave voters’ boycott. However, IF it were possible to offer a ranking choice between something like Remain v Leave with Deal v Leave with No Deal, which some might call a ‘Preferendum’, we might have a better idea what the majority of people might support. Mind you, I have a feeling that this idea, where people are asked, if they wish, to rank options in order of preference, might be against Electoral Commission rules. If so, what a shame.

  • Arnold Kiel 1st Mar '19 - 11:49am

    As I pointed out elsewhere on this site,


    no-deal is illegal, and therefore no option. That leaves the only negotiated deal under the PM’s red lines and remaining as practically available choices. Of course, leavers would want to put another illusionary option on the ballot paper, but I am sure the electoral commission and Parliament will not commit that crime again.

    The surprisingly high continued public support for Brexit is still based on the sold phantasy, not the one actually available, which will be much easier to defeat than a targeted set of contradictory dreams.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 11:52am

    Didn’t Remain get knocked out in the 2016 referendum?

    So how about Deal or No Deal this time?

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 11:54am

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “no-deal is illegal” ???

    Under what law? Either domestic or international?

  • Arnold Kiel 1st Mar '19 - 12:19pm

    Peter Martin,

    in addition to the illegality-arguments against no deal already provided, leaving without a deal removes the legal basis from many aspects of practically all areas of private and commercial life: air-travel, health-insurance, nuclear materials, driving- and forwarding-licenses, settlement of financial contracts, right of travel and residence, equivalence of professional degrees, applicable documentation/tariffs of goods already in transit, international dispute-settlement, etc. etc. We can probably agree that such a situation would be “un”-legal, and I insist any MP purposefully creating or enabling such a situation would act illegally.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 12:52pm

    I don’t remember anyone, from either side, saying during the ’16 referendum that the GFA would be a problem. There was no argument, as far as I remember, that we couldn’t leave the Single Market and Customs Union because of GFA commitments. IF it was such a showstopper why didn’t the Leave side use it?

    There are already different tax rates on both sides of the border. VAT is 23% in Ireland and 20% in the UK with the VAT payable to different Governments. So why don’t we need a hard border to make sure that each Government gets its due share? Why would anyone pay 23% VAT to the Dublin Govt if they can only pay 20% to the UK Govt?

    So if we can sort out that issue without a hard border there’s no reason why we can’t apply the same processes to different rates of duty on cheese or whatever? Do we have to have machine guns in watchtowers simply because we are concerned about Stilton or Wensleydale smugglers? Never mind about those Kalashnikovs in the trucks its that Brie in your sandwiches we are really worried about! 🙂

    There’s some discussion here about the Irish border.


  • Daniel Walker 1st Mar '19 - 1:39pm

    @Peter Martin “I don’t remember anyone, from either side, saying during the ’16 referendum that the GFA would be a problem. There was no argument, as far as I remember, that we couldn’t leave the Single Market and Customs Union because of GFA commitments. IF it was such a showstopper why didn’t the Leave side use it?”

    You may not remember, but it absolutely was raised. It was dismissed by Leave campaigners as scaremongering.

  • @John Marriott

    As far as I can see there are no rules on the format of the question or that a “preferendum” is ruled out in any way. Wikipedia notes that under Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) – “there is no pre-determined format or voting franchise for any such vote.” Indeed that seems to be borne out by the section in PPERA on referendum question(s) – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/41/section/104

    Obviously there is primary legislation that authorises and sets up the rules for a specific referendum

    We have of course already had a sort of a “preferendum” – in the one on Scottish devolution people were asked a second question on whether a Scottish Parliament should have tax raising powers if it was agreed to. So there were 3 options – no Parliament, a Parliament without tax raising powers, a Parliament with tax raising powers.

    A question could be answered by preference numbering or indeed any other method Parliament so decides is in the legislation that sets up a specific referendum. A referendum restricted to the under-16s answered by drawing emojis of a face of different degrees of happiness is perfectly legal under PPERA should Parliament so decide 🙂 !

    On the Electoral Commission, under PPERA it is only consulted on the “intelligibility” of the question and any statement that precedes it.

    Of course Parliament could also ignore the Electoral Commission – it is only consultative or it could change PPERA.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 4:31pm

    @ Daniel Walker,

    OK but I don’t see any reference to the GFA in your supplied link. Yes Tony Blair and John Major are in NI at the time, but their comments seem more directed towards Scotland and the independence issue than to any practical problem arising on the Irish border.

  • Daniel Walker 1st Mar '19 - 5:02pm

    @Peter Martin From the atricle: Leave campaigners say the free travel area between Ireland and the UK would be retained – but Mr Blair said this would be “difficult if not impossible” because checks would either be needed across the border between the two countries.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 5:54pm

    OK but we’d have the same problem of extra checks being needed between France and England. So this kind of comment was neither here nor there in the context of what was being discussed at the time.

    On the other hand if there was a genuine potential for the border problems in Ireland to undo the GFA, and potentially lead to a resurrection of the ‘Troubles’. that was much more significant. I’d like to think I was reasonably well up with the referendum arguments as presented at the time, but the GFA only started to be mentioned when it was all too late to make a difference.

  • marcstevens 1st Mar '19 - 7:22pm

    The arguments that the brexit brigade use should be countered more effectively by Remain such as taking back control of our borders when they can already be controlled within the EU, getting back our sovereignty – try telling that to all the other democratic EU nations, getting control of our laws, which laws. Most of the regulation from the EU is on the single market and frictionless trade, only the government implements laws on housing, crime, education, health etc so a lot of these statements are false. Then as others suggest the benefits of remaining need to be stressed, ESF funds have barely been mentioned, as well as the need for reform of institutions.

    I would however suggest a 2nd referendum, if another ever comes to light and I hope it does, is more inclusive and democratic than the last one which wasn’t. People were shut out rather than included and all 16/17 year olds should have the right to vote as should citizens of the EU living over here, in the same way that Commonwealthy citizens were entitled to vote. After all most EU citizens work and pay taxes to the state so why can’t they also have a say in the future of our relationship with the EU in the country they call home. My Polish neighbour would be delighted.

    I do think though that the question should also include leave as it would be only right that leave was there. If the referendum was done using PR then there would be a clear outcome if votes were cast in order of preference with the three choices. Ideally though it should be just another leave/remain vote as if the PM’s deal is soundly rejected as seems likely then just remain and leave would be more legitimate as the options.

  • Denis Mollison 1st Mar '19 - 9:35pm

    @Peter Martin – Bill Clinton wrote `I was honoured to support the peace process in Northern Ireland. It has benefited from the UK’s membership in the European Union, and I worry that the future prosperity and peace of Northern Ireland could be jeopardised if Britain withdraws. ‘
    Restrained language – he wanted to be careful not to be seen too much interfering with our decision – but a clear expression of alarm. And I think the potential problem was pretty obvious; it was just that Leave supporters were mostly not interested in Northern Ireland.

  • A few facts for our brave Brexiteers
    1. The Irish border was a known problem, the fact you didn’t know this reflects on you, more due diligence is required I do feel
    2. As with Brexit were you get the Brexit you are given ( not your fantasy) in a new referendum you get to vote on the question put not the one you fantasise about.
    3. EU immigration has gone into reverse and yet immigration hasn’t, is that the fault of the EU, no it is a UK choice. If as some of our brave Brexiteers obviously did, egaly cast their vote for no more furrins, well you have truly been had. Now picture this my brave Brexiteer ( yes you know who you are) no longer will you have to wait until they open their mouths to know they are furrin, it will be obvious. The UK needs young skilled and unskilled labour the fact you don’t like that won’t alter the need. Bless.

  • Peter Martin 1st Mar '19 - 10:36pm

    @ Denis @ Daniel,

    This article makes the point that:

    The “hard border” question that the Brexit referendum ignored has come back with a vengeance

    So it’s not just me saying this!


    I can understand why Leavers wouldn’t want to make an issue out of it but I’m just wondering why the Remain side largely left it alone too? Both sides had some pretty smart people at their disposal so I can’t believe it just went unnoticed.

    There must have been a conscious decision to downplay it. The only explanation I can come up with is that it contradicts the line that we often heard before June 23 that the UK wasn’t enmashed in the EU to any significant extent, and of course we were free to leave if we really wanted to. We still had our sovereignty etc etc.

    It’s turning out not to be like that at all and it does look like we might well be trapped in the EU. Well almost anyway!

  • We are not trapped in the EU. Leaving is easy. The problem that we have failed to solve is the one about Ireland. It is time we focussed on the real problem – Northern Ireland. The answer from the majority of people as to the future arrangements in Northern Ireland may be unpopular with many. But we need to start start talking about the real situation in this as in so many other areas of our national life.

  • David Evershed 2nd Mar '19 - 2:45pm

    The last referendum deicded we should leave so any second referendum should be a choice between Leave options eg

    – Latest Deal negotoated with the EU

    – Leave under WTO terms

  • Arnold Kiel 2nd Mar '19 - 4:00pm

    Tom Harney,

    “leaving is easy” only if you do it very softly (pointless) or disregard the consequences (painful). “The real problem” is not “Northern Ireland”. The real problem are politicians who do not care about peace in Ireland and their contractual obligation to safeguard it.

    David Evershed,

    so revisiting a past decision is never possible, no matter how bad the choice turns out to be?

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Mar '19 - 4:33pm

    What is more important, to remain in the EU or to forge a consensus around our relationship with the continent of Europe. The latter is a real challenge and the only way to progress it is to hold further referenda on this issue. This is a real opportunity to make Britain great again – united we grow, disunited we wither.

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