This week’s developments have thrown the spotlight – yet again – onto the loose coalition of Brexit supporters; and how they are far from united. As this coalition fractures and splinters under the mutual pressure of unrealistic promises and hard reality, it is worth reviewing who they are and what they want.
Everyone’s an individual. That’s a platitude; but it’s also very true. So any analysis or discussion of anything that splits people into groups is going to be imperfect. There will be people for whom a description will be spot on and those who fall between two groups. However, there are common threads and these help tell us why the government is having so many problems. More importantly, they also shed light on why I believe support for Brexit will continue to fall.
Broadly, there are three overall groups of Leavers; each with distinct objectives and distinct motivations. Talking and discussing Brexit with each is a very different exercise; and if you are ever looking to persuade anyone over Brexit, I would say it’s vital to identify which group you are talking to.
The Right Wing
That is the polite title that I am giving to the racists, nationalists and sometimes just plain fascists that support Brexit (And usually Trump). Some are rough looking skinheads, some wear smart suits and speak with a plummy accent; but their motivation is the same. “We are better than those foreigners and we don’t want anyone who isn’t from our tribe in our country”. (this was developed more fully in the previous article, Nation).
For them, the power of the tribe and the repudiation of anything to do with the outside world is their goal. They will inflict any cost because the tribe is everything. Most in this tribe also do not seem to understand the economic realities of the world (Jacob Rees-Mogg); and effectively say, “Just believe in the tribe and everything will be ok.” And if it isn’t, well it’s the fault of those foreigners.
If you meet someone from this group, just walk away. They are motivated by tribal faith – it’s almost a religion – and no amount of facts, argument or logic will convince them. And because they have such passion, they will never change their minds. Give up. Leave them alone.
This is the smallest group.
Honest People (dodgy facts)
This might sound an odd description but I think it’s the most accurate. These are decent honest people – often well-educated – but who have come to believe the most amazing nonsense about the EU. They probably represent about a third of the Leaver vote.
There are many different strands of this but they basically boil down to the idea that the EU is subverting our nation and aims to destroy it. This manifests itself in many ways from the writing and producing of pretty videos showing how Britain will be broken up into Euro provinces or children pledging a made-up allegiance to the EU flag; to just a feeling that there is a master plan against us. It’s almost all a manifestation of The Caesar Trap. They aren’t nationalists; but struggle to think in any other terms other than nations and so, if it’s not Britain, it must be some other nation, or aspriing nation, driving this; and that will replace the British nation.
Now the EU gives these people ammunition; but it’s the lack of context that then does the rest. For example, they often quote the fact that the EU treaties cite an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe as evidence that we are being turned into a single unitary state. This is nonsense. The phrase needs to be seen for what it was in the context of the Second World War – a desire to continually work together to prevent the divisions and conflict that had dominated the past.
Europe’s strength is in unity; but its beauty is in variety. No one wants to destroy that. But do we really need 28 different ways to make a widget? Of course not; so we work together and agree common standards and rules. This is what everyone in Europe understands by that phrase and they would echo these sentiments if you asked them. It is only the British that seem to struggle with it.
People in this group have often done their own research but, because these things can be complicated, have got completely the wrong end of the stick. For example, I had a debate with someone once who said that the UK will be made to join the Euro – “it’s there in the treaty” he explained. Now I’d read the treaty and was pretty sure we weren’t; but I said I’d check and I did.
What he’d done is read the first bit he came too – which says all members have to join at some point – and then stopped. He’d found his evidence and could now prove there was a plan to force us to join after all. Now it’s hardly a secret plan in an international treaty and, reading on, you’d find the hard negotiated exemption for the UK and Denmark also written down. This is how law is written: the rule and then the exemptions; and both must be taken together. But because he’d taken half the picture, he’d got it wrong.
This happens a lot.
The others in this group are mainly those that actually believe what they hear in the Mail and the Express and do no other research. They believe the paper over any other evidence that exists. You could write psychological papers on this – and many have and will do so again I’m sure – but I think it boils down to holding a preconceived notion of something and then only believing news and reports that agree with you because that’s comfortable. It’s also lazy. I believe the correct term is confirmation bias; and so they are manipulated by those papers for their own ends because it feels comfortable to be agreed with.
So this group is full of decent, honest people; but people who are either too comfortable in their own agreeable bubbles (Remainers can be just as bad at this by the way – especially on social media) or who are open to discussion; but have often made some massive assumptions and errors in their research. However, the mere fact that they have researched it means that a conversation is possible and they often have very valid points which governments and the EU should really address. Such people are worth talking to; but be prepared for an intense discussion and much fact checking.
These are the one who aren’t driven by a passion or a conviction. They are the ones who were convinced to vote for Leave in the referendum – often never having thought about it before – because they thought that it would be best for the country and their communities. Their support is therefore conditional on that promise of benefit being fulfilled and – as you can imagine – this is the group where support is falling.
The key to understanding this group is that their minds weren’t made up before the referendum and they really didn’t know much about the EU or the Single Market or Customs Union or Euratom etc etc (and many probably still don’t). They voted almost as a transaction. They gave their vote to the Leave campaign and – in return – they expect:
- £350m a week to spend on public services
- Better trade deals than we have now
- More jobs
- Better pay
- More investment in their communities.
There’s more – and many may have just voted for one or more of things – but the key is that they expected something tangible to come from Brexit.
Now many on the Remain side may laugh and say that was unrealistic. It’s inevitable, though, that if you ask a massively complex question that changes how we do so many things and then allow a campaign to rubbish and dismiss any expert warning as “Project Fear, you will get many who do beleive unrealistc and contradictory things.
But now it’s different. For all the predictions made by both sides, we are now facing reality. It’s still evolving; but soon we will be presented with a factual picture of what Leave means – and it’s looking less and less like what was promised.
That’s when the crunch will come. These people have probably suffered a lot of abuse for voting Leave. They are emotionally invested in it and they desperately want it to come true. They certainty don’t want to admit that they’ve made a mistake or have been conned. Some will even try and move things on so as not to confront it – “the decision been made, we can’t go back” etc. But this is a way of disguising their unease.
With one excuse or another, they will hang on and grasp at any sign that it might still just be ok. But they’re not stupid. That disconnect with what is happening can only last so long and the painful reality is making it clearer by the day. Monday’s farce was only the first act. Wednesday’s admission that the government hasn’t done any impact studies (despite claiming it had done them in excruciating detail) is the opening on the second where we see how unprepared we are – to the point where we don’t know what we want or how to get it. And as these farcical bouts occur more and more, this group will, reluctantly, shift.
Those are the three main groups; but it’s probably fair to throw in some people whose main reasons for voting was to give the political establishment a good kicking; or to get rid of Cameron. I would still then put them in the last group. They voted Leave for a particularly reason – again almost a transaction – and they got what they wanted. What do they want now? That is the vital question and one we should all be asking them. I would say part of that answer is not to be poorer but they also want to be listened to. A government heading for a crash-out Brexit in the thrall of a militant minority isn’t really delivering that. And for that reason, many of these people are having second thoughts as well.
The Right Wing is just something that is unpleasant but we are stuck with it; but it is the smallest group and there is no benefit in directly engaging.
The Honest People (Dodgy Facts) can be open to a discussion – it depends on the individuals and how they get their news and how critical they can be. If they believe the Daily Mail or Express unflinchingly with the “they wouldn’t publish it if it wasn’t true” attitude, any discussion is unlikely to go anywhere. But there are many open and intelligent people in this group that have simply –for a variety of reasons – come to some thoroughly interesting conclusions. And many of them raise important valid points along the way. So while this can be a productive discussion, it can be intense as they are still filled with passion.
The Conditional Brexiters are definitely the softest part of this coalition and a final Brexit deal (or no deal) that produces none of the promised benefits whatsoever – and that is a genuine possibility – could see this group’s support evaporate completely. They voted for a better life; not a worse one. They were promised the “exact same benefits”, not a cut down Canada deal that will decimate our economy. They were promised £350m a week that could be spent wherever we wanted, not a £50bn bill, rising cost of living and more austerity.
This third group is starting to feel conned. These people didn’t vote with conviction, they voted for what they thought was the best. They often had little understanding of the potential consequences and, when some did try and point these out, they were reassured that it was scaremongering. So they had to make the best decision with information available at the time and the offer was a brilliant one! It just isn’t possible.
So for those of you out there who are seeking to get others to change their minds (Politicians will then follow), this last group should be the focus. If you have a particular relationship with an Honest Person (dodgy facts), then talk to them; but a lot of effort is needed. But about a third of the Leavers out there belong to this third group; and they are prepared to listen. Too many have been sold a second pup that they can’t change their minds. They can; and they increasingly want to.
Listen to what they voted for and be respectful of both their decision and their honesty. That starts a conversation; and since they will not be getting anything that they voted for – reality will do the rest.