Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part series on Remainer strategy.
Let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine you’re a staunch Remainer, keen to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union at any cost – and that you’re trying to work out how to respond, in the early hours of June 24th 2016, following the referendum result. Under these assumptions, you don’t care for the democratically-expressed will of the people and you’re not inclined to give up just because democracy demands that you do. How would you act? I think a plan would look something like this:
Step 1 – Acknowledge and accept the referendum result publicly and with good grace
In order to undermine Brexit, you need to keep your sour grapes to yourself. The better a job you can do of that, the more persuasive you’ll be later.
Step 2 – Try to muddy the waters by asking existential questions
What does the referendum result actually mean? This might seem obvious – it’s a mandate for leaving the European Union. But if you think hard enough you’ll perhaps be in a position to obfuscate. Remember the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “Did God really say…?”. That tactic has worked since the dawn of time (if you believe the Bible) or since Genesis was written thousands of years ago (if you don’t). Question everything. Does leaving the European Union really mean ending unlimited immigration? Does quitting the EU really mean that EU courts shouldn’t keep overriding our own? Do we really have the legal right to start negotiating with other countries? Is joining the EU Army after Brexit really such a bad idea? Do we really have a mandate to take our fishing grounds back?
By the time you’re done, there should be no part of Brexit that isn’t ‘in name only’. Patience is called for – you need to achieve all of this before you can finally, trying to keep a straight face, ask what Brexit is actually going to gain us.
Step 3: Make sure the new Prime Minister is a Remainer
Whoever replaces David Cameron as Prime Minister must be a Remainer. If their heart’s not in Brexit, they won’t be able to negotiate a good one. All you have to do is torpedo the claim of any Leave supporters to become Prime Minister, and you instantly make the chances of negotiating a good deal for the UK less likely.
Step 4: After a decent period, start trying to undermine the basis of the referendum result
To achieve this step, you’ll need to be fairly brazen. You’ll try a multi-pronged means of attack.
A) Try to find any means of claiming unfairness within the process itself
This one isn’t going to be easy, because Remain had most of the politicians on side, most of the media, and were helped out by a £10 million government propaganda campaign. If only there were some way of blaming the Russians…
B) Can you dig up any Leave lies?
You know perfectly well that your side lied – about job losses, about World War 3, about immigration and the number of EU citizens living in the UK, about ‘the end of Western political civilisation as we know it’, and about the impending economic doom. You can avoid having to defend your own lies if you try to find something – anything – that was slightly misleading in the Leave campaign. The easiest target for faux outrage is Boris Johnson and the Vote Leave bus. Double down on that one.
C) Decide that people were voting on something else
People were angry. They hated the Tory government. The people voting Brexit just wanted to give the government a good kicking, but they didn’t really mean it. They couldn’t possibly have meant it, could they? After all, Brexit is a Bad Thing and people don’t really want something bad to happen to them. You’re going to have to be the one to protect them from themselves.
D) Alternatively, perhaps they didn’t actually know what they were voting for
People are perfectly clever enough to vote at a General Election, when they’re voting on every single issue simultaneously, considering tactical voting due to the electoral system, knowing who’s more competent, and judging which Party’s economics makes more sense. They can handle all that with ease, but now you’ve got to argue that people weren’t capable of understanding the single issue of Brexit.
E) They didn’t get the chance to vote
Under-18s would have voted to Remain. Even though it’s almost inconceivable that unilaterally giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote in the referendum would have actually changed the result, act as though it would. Even though 16 and 17 year olds have never voted at any UK-wide election before, and can’t vote in a parish council election, clearly they should have been given the vote for this one referendum only. It’s obvious when you think about it, right? And remember, when your argument is weak, seem confident and hope nobody notices.
[To be continued in part II]