7th January 2020
Historians and others pundits will spend many years discussing and disputing why and how Remain lost.
They will have access to documents and private information not available to onlookers at the moment, and so they may be able to provide better explanations than any of us currently can.
That said, there is a certain value in setting out how things looked at the time, as contemporaries can often be aware of many things that a historian can never recapture.
And so this is a brief post setting out the reasons why Remain lost, as they seemed to an observer at the time.
(I will below use Remain(ers) and Leave(rs) as shorthand, and I hope readers can see beyond the shorthand to the substantive points. If your only objection to what follows is the shorthand, then this really is not the post for you.)
To begin with, my view is that Remain lost rather than Leave won.
After over forty years of membership of the EEC/EU, there should have been a more compelling Remain case made at the 2016 referendum.
And even after the narrow referendum result for Leave, the lack of clue of Leavers about what to do next meant Remain still could have secured a further referendum with a Remain option.
But there were (again, it seems to me) three reasons why Remain still failed.
First, Remainers became accustomed to Leave failures – and so became complacent.
There was mistake and mishap after mistake and mishap by the May and Johnson governments.
It often appeared that Brexit would fail all by itself, just because of the accumulation of pratfalls and folly.
There were even three extensions to the planned departure date, and so it appeared that there would always be another extension.
Second, the focus and efforts of Remainers were too often away from the political battle.
There was crowd-funded court case after court case – some worthwhile (for example the Miller cases) and others far less worthwhile.
There was excellent investigatory journalism, exposing the irregularities of the various Leave campaigns, followed by regulatory and police investigations.
There were also marches and petitions and hashtags.
But none of this led to any political breakthrough.
The majority of MPs remained opposed to a further referendum and, in the 2019 general election, little of the Remain passion was converted into concrete political achievement.
Third, at the crucial political moment – just over two months ago, but now an age away – the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties enabled a general election which neither party turned out to be in a position to exploit.
Neither party were required to consent to this, but they did.
Until mid-November 2019 it was still plausible that a further referendum could be forced, with the prospect of a Remain victory.
The Labour leader even proposed that in return for a being able to head a government there could be a referendum where Remain would be an option.
But the window of opportunity was closed, and then boarded-up.
It was not inevitable that Remain would lose either the 2016 referendum or the campaign for a further referendum before any departure.
Indeed, the idiocies and antics of Leavers in government provided far more opportunities for Remain than Remainers perhaps deserved.
Yet Remain still lost.
Of course, many Remainers will be quick to blame and accuse others.
And they are right, in that Leavers were and are culpable in many ways.
But both the 2019 general election and the campaign for a further a referendum were there for the taking.
Brexit was not inevitable at any point before the December 2019 general election, and the only reason it is now virtually certain is not because of any genius move by Leavers but because Remain let Leave win.
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