Remainers must not be silenced

In the aftermath of the referendum, the Remain viewpoint has been a still small voice. Too still and too small. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first to do with the character of Remainers and the second with how they’ve been treated.

Remainers on the whole are civilised people, reflective and self critical, inclined to see the other person’s point of view. They are not given to elbowing their way to the front of the bar shouting their order for a drink; they leave that to the Nigel Farages of this world.

You saw this with the protest march on 25th March, a model of dignity and decorum. The placards were inventive and humorous. How did the BBC reward them? By giving the event scant coverage. Unfortunately good manners and disciplined behaviour are not very newsworthy and they devoted more time to Mr Farage on that important day.

Considering the huge importance of Brexit, protests about it have been less than expected, and the reasons for this have been analysed by Davidson. But now it’s time to take the gloves off. As Emmanuel Macron has said, liberal values must be defended with a vigour to match that of the far right. Otherwise, they are dead in the water.

Britain is like a ship cut off from its home port, drifting out into the Atlantic. It has been boarded by buccaneers, and the passengers taken hostage. The first thing these desperados do is silence all dissent. “We are all buccaneers/Brexiteers now”, they say. And woe betide anyone who isn’t.

Stockholm syndrome

Under these conditions, a curious thing happens. Many of the passengers start singing from the buccaneers’ song sheet, claiming they always wanted to be pirates. It’s called the Stockholm syndrome, in which the allegiances of victims become reversed. In a milder guise, it is simply the tendency to give in to bullies. In Brexit Britain today, many have trimmed their sails according to the prevailing wind. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” has become their motto. Of course everyone prefers to be on the winning side. The problem is that over the long term, Brexit will make us losers.

To cap it all, most of our MP’s were effectively silenced too, trooping meekly through the lobbies to support what most of them knew was wrong.

To those familiar with the experiments of Stanley Milgram, this is familiar territory: people will set aside their normal misgivings to a surprising extent if they are ordered to. In this case by the whips, or ultimately by the need to observe “democracy”. In other words to obey the “will of the people”, despite the validity of that notion having been effectively demolished by Britain’s leading philosopher, AC Grayling, who had written to all MPs personally.

Fighting for our future

Many have assumed that as the pain of Brexit bites, leave voters will wake up and change their minds. I hope this happens, but, if my Stockholm syndrome analogy is correct, the opposite will occur. As situation worsens, loyalty to Theresa May will increase, and any overture by the EU to “rescue” us or take us back will evoke hostility.

A formidable struggle therefore lies ahead, but I take comfort from the confidence of A C Grayling, that we will win in the end. The fight-back begins with the coming election, where we should “consider supporting the Liberal Democrats as much as possible”, he says. (New European, 28 April-4 May).

So in practical terms when engaging the public, what should be our message to the doubters? This is something we have been debating in my local campaigning group, Stratford4Europe. First and foremost, to defend the EU, its noble ideals and magnificent achievements; the fact that it is a protector not a persecutor. Flawed admittedly, but still a great institution over which we were due to preside this year. And which we should be leading, not leaving.

* John King is a retired doctor and Remain campaigner.

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  • Remainers on the whole are civilised people, reflective and self critical, inclined to see the other person’s point of view.

    Really? Remainers are inclined to see Leave voters’ point of view (as opposed to, say, calling them either racists or dupes of powerful media interests)?

    That’s… not a universal experience.

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '17 - 4:47pm

    I agree that psychology and related disciplines will surely have many applications in the social sciences, such as understanding how campaigns can succeed or fail, how voters choices can be influenced through illusion, etc.

    However this article seems to come across as a bit superior, which is to be avoided. In my Remainer view, there are sound rational reasons to remain. If Leavers are driven instead by misled emotion, that might tend to explain the difficulties in discussion!

    My experience of arguing against Leavers is that their choice is primarily emotional, based around the false idea that we will somehow gain freedom

  • My experience of arguing against Leavers is that their choice is primarily emotional, based around the false idea that we will somehow gain freedom

    Both sides are emotional, because reason alone cannot motivate anyone; it is, as Hume observed, the slave of the passions.

    Reason is like a satellite navigation device: it can find us a route. But it cannot, of itself, come up with the destination: that has to be punched in by our emotions and values. Without emotion, reason just sits there, not doing anything.

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '17 - 9:51pm


    To clarify, my impression is that many Leavers start from an emotional base in which they believe they will personally achieve freedom through Brexit. This us “identity” politics of a new kind. I find that many will then use any argument they can find, whether sound or not, to try to argue their case. On being defeated, they will abandon one argument and latch not another. After several iterations, they will cone back to the first one, forgetting that it has been defeated.

    I don’t see this in every leaver, but I see it in many – I’ve been in lots of arguments! 😀

    I don’t see the same in Remainers. Typically Remainers start from emotions that are not hidden, such as an emotion associated with wanting the best for people in general. Perhaps I could call this a desire or value of sociability. Typically I think we Remainers use linear rather than circular arguments, and ones that are well connected to this kind of emotion.

    We all have different impressions of each other, and it would be good to know what others think and feel. For myself, I feel that, while this article tends to have a somewhat superior tone, which is not good, the idea of using psychology to understand political movements and motivations is one that has lots of potential. I feel it has already indeed been exploited used.

  • Of course Remainers are superior to Leavers, Richard, it’s a well known fact. Seriously, I accept the article makes use of stereotypes like the quiet intellectual Remainer versus the yobbo Leaver and may come across as smug for this reason. Surveys have suggested that Leavers, like Trump voters, are more authoritarian in their attitudes but in practice everyone is different and these generalisations can be misleading.

  • As a leave voter I agree. Remainers should not be silenced. However. it’s not my experience that Remain voters more inclined use rational non circular arguments. In my experience loads of them fall back on believing they can see into the future and read other people’s thoughts (projecting anger on to people , claiming hidden racism and so on). You can see this in any number of comments in The Guardian.

  • I am a lovely Leaver – educated, ‘reflective and self critical’. I consider other points of view and dislike obstinately entrenched opinions.

    But I have to admit, I don’t want my country to be absorbed into a European superstate which is where we were heading before the Brexit vote and I hope TM gets a resounding ‘thumbs up’ from the electorate on 8 June. I’m just as guilty of having a resolute opinion – just one that is different from yours!!

  • Three cheers for my namesake John King. I have been saying in some places that the wheels could come off the Brexit bandwagon. And Mrs May’s pseudo-certainty means that, in the face of settled carefulness and logic, her fragile case will be shown up for what it is.

    June 8th will not be a Waterloo for her – not yet, thanks to Labour’s fragility. But she is not going to get the enhanced backing in the country that she craves. Tory poodles may follow her, sheep-like, but that is a long way from the Boadicea that she fancies.

    Libdems are gaining – but we do have to be careful not to be one-trick ponies. Those who voted to leave were unhappy about several things, and not just ‘Europe’. They need improved social services and real attention. In this leave-voting town, we need to make a solid, wide-ranging case for support. Come on, Tom Snowdon.

    Paul King, Chesterfield.

  • “Absorbed into a European superstate”. It sounds terrifying, Pat, like the Borg from Star Trek. This rhetoric from the tabloids doesn’t scare me though. I prefer Churchill’s description of “a changed sovereignty, but no less agreeable”.
    “The wheels will come off the Brexit bandwagon” – my thoughts exactly, Paul. We could be related, you never know.

  • I don’t think you need to resort to ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ to empathise with leave voters, just human nature. Therefore a couple of things on human nature. People get tired of the fight and at some stage surrender. People will seek the security of the powerful group. People do not like to admit mistakes. As a result those of a remain conviction should; stay strong in our beliefs and look to turn the tide of battle. Events may transpire which change the landscape. IMO there will be no deal and a lot of bad news coming down the road. People will regroup. At the same time we need to acknowledge the failings of the EU and look to project a Remain and Reform agenda. Give leave voters some sort of validity. There is enough support in Europe for an alternative vision. I know things look a little bleak at the moment but that does not mean that I will be changing my views. At some stage we may all have to come to terms with the reality that expires. Not yet!
    p.s. I may have little bet on another GE before 2020

  • Good points, P.J. The Stockholm paradigm was most evident at an earlier stage and used to explain Theresa May’s own conversion to the cause after being “captured” by hardliners. Especially with an election victory it may become less relevant and other factors will come to the fore as you say, though the result may be similar. But a Remain and Reform agenda might enable Leavers to feel their efforts had not been in vain.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th May '17 - 9:11am

    I am no supporter of Mrs May, but there is nothing Stockholm syndrome about a leader who accepts the result of a referendum that was billed as a ‘once in a lifetime vote’. Even Nick Clegg described it as such.

    She seems to be trying to do the best she can given the outcome of the vote, although her record fill me with any confidence at all.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th May '17 - 9:15am

    ‘ does not fill me with any confidence at all.

    Like Bill le Breton I would recommend one listens to Professor Varoufakis on the subject of making the best of where we are now.

  • I am not sure that a once in a lifetime vote is legally valid, any more than, say, a once in a lifetime Will. You can always make another Will, and this is as it should be because circumstances change.

  • John Littler 5th May '17 - 11:53am

    Britain has changed and in doing so it’s partly left the world of the sane. It will have to learn the hard way of the consequences because there is nothing out there to to sustain making a living from this madness.

    We will lose our pre-eminence for trading in our own region, while USA is already moving it’s predominant interest into prioritising the much bigger block on the adjacent mainland. When USA does focus on the UK, it will be as breakfast, after which it will dump on us from a great height with the likes of TTIP, secret offshore courts and demolished standards, while this will prevent the UK from exporting in our backyard.

    American people are obsessed by buying domestically produced goods when they are available and the UK can neither offer this, nor the prices from China.

    Anyone who believes that the EU can somehow be replaced by Commonwealth countries are the deluded fools who are yet to discover the facts.

    We already have free trade through the EU with an additional 53 countries including Canada and the EU had Australia down for a deal anyway. But Australia + NZ only adds up to 1.9% of UK exports and it is expensive to ship to, with it’s own priority pacific trade deal well established. In any case, long distance trade deals change little. As if that was not enough, Australia and India want visa free access for their people. India takes under 1% of UK exports, which is less than Luxembourg.

    Any more foolish suggestions? That the UK can make a living selling to African or South American countries perhaps or South East Asia? Perhaps the claimed trading global super power to come will be able to undercut them on basic foodstuffs from our efficient farms?

    The herd has spoken and it’s decided to run westwards until it falls over a cliff. In doing so, the comedic clowns of UKIP have fallen face down and been consumed comprehensively by May.

  • A pessimistic assessment John, but I am inclined to agree. A Brexit fever is sweeping Britain, for which we have no cure at present, so it will probably have to run its course. We may take some comfort from the fact that, quarantined as we are on our island, it is unlikely to spread to our continental neighbours.

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