Don't mention the B-word
Updated: Jan 6
The people who run my gym clearly think we’re a bunch of southern softies. Despite it being located in Islington, the BBC TV news on the screens comes from Yorkshire. This meant yesterday, while on the cross trainer, I was treated to Look North’s interviews with the leading candidates in the Wakefield by-election, with Labour’s Simon Lightwood squirming like a toad when asked about Brexit. He clearly is a remainer, but was trying to avoid the debate saying the people had voted to leave the EU, now it is about how to implement it.
This is the mantra overshadowing politics six years on from the Brexit vote. Ardent pro-EU campaigners, such as Liz Truss, are trying to be more anti-European than the Brexiters – see the farce over the Northern Irish Protocol. Meanwhile the Labour Party, which believes any softening of the hard Brexit stance will go down badly in Red Wall seats like Wakefield, is committing itself to policy self-harm by not advocating moves that might ameliorate the implications of the divorce from the EU.
The Financial Times – which, like me, has never hidden its opposition to Brexit – has written a long article about the damage caused to the UK economy over the last six years. It says that the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility says that leaving the EU is costing the UK £100bn a year, which means £40bn in lost taxes. “That is £40bn that might have been available to the beleaguered Johnson for the radical tax cuts demanded by the Tory right — the equivalent of 6p off the 20p in the pound basic rate of income tax.”
Recent polling suggests 47% of Britons think it was wrong to leave the EU versus 39% who say it was the right thing. This suggests that if the referendum was run tomorrow, Remain would walk the result.
So given this convincing data, why are the mainstream parties so loathe to even soften the Brexit approach, never mind calling for a rerun of the referendum. This is because the “B-word” is like the issues of abortion or gun control in the US – the majority want both but the minority is vocal, well organised and located in areas where they can swing the vote. It doesn’t matter if New York, San Francisco, London or Edinburgh are in favour of tighter gun control or re-joining the EU, it’s the votes in Georgia or Wakefield that keep the political leaders awake at night.
So when the FT wonders why “ Brexit has become the great British taboo”, that the answer.