The UK's population faced a referendum in June 2016 on membership of the EU. The results were very close, with Leave winning by just a 2% margin (37% Voted Leave, 35% Voted Remain), but many news (and government) outlets scale up the difference by ignoring the "don't knows", and citing "Leave" as "the will of the people"1.
Also in June 2016, the EU appointed Michel Barnier to lead a team of legal experts. A full year later, he complained that the UK had still not appointed a representative to talk to him2. The UK arrived late and unprepared for negotiations, and engaged in a series of embarrassing and harmful name-calling tactics, publicly insulting the very people they were trying to negotiate with3. A month into talks, and Mr Barnier is still trying to ascertain what the UK's stance is on most issues4. The UK government has been surprised by simple facts: It argued that Euratom's treaty only covers uranium even whilst its own scientific advisors cried out that hospitals need Euratom to source medical isotopes from Belgium, the Netherlands and France as the UK doesn't have the specialist nuclear reactors to make its own5. And as July 2017 drew to a close, the UK government finally thought to commission a year-long investigation on the economic and employment ramifications of losing EU workers. Most other responsible governments would have engaged in a fact-finding mission before making the most important decision made for 40 years. Even in 2019, when a last minute "here are the effects you need to prepare for" document was released, the title of the document was "[Insert title of report]".
Brexit within the UK's governing Conservative Party was led by a hard-core of 'Brexiteers' organized into an internal party division called the European Research Group6, borne from a policy of removing as many foreigners as possible from the UK, no matter the cost. To achieve this, they spoke only in positive terms of the ramifications of Brexit and did not have a realistic understanding of the benefits of EU membership for the UK. With this slant, they could not give sensible advice6 nor make practical plans on how to deal with issues arising from Brexit. Most of the prominent "Brexiteers" have exited the scene at various points7, leaving a void filled with politicians who are pursuing a policy they don't think is good for their own country.
It is worth noting that it is not just Conservative politicians who were uninformed about the EU; in 2016 researchers found that the UK's citizens were the least knowledgeable about the EU8. After the vote, data released by Google tragically shows that "the British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it". The UK has suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers that have managed to misinform the masses on almost every aspect of EU involvement with the UK9,10.
Janan Ganesh describes the UK as "reluctant Europeans"11,12. The UK has voted "no" to EU proposals more than anyone else since 200913. We dislike learning about the EU, we don't keep up to date on EU news14, the most prolific newspapers on the EU don't have correspondents in Brussels, and the UK is the least educated of all EU nations on the very basic facts about the EU8. We are "marked by misguided assumptions and missed opportunities"12. UK citizens' complaints about the EU are mostly based on misinformation, such as complaints about "health tourism"15. The UK has suffered from having a dominant right-wing popular press which has served to actively misinform the populace about Europe, and about the EU in particular - the faction led by Rupert Murdoch has been particularly influential16. The eventual result was the UK referendum on 2016 Jun 23 which saw "Brexit" votes narrowly outnumber those of "Remain", leading to the UK withdrawal from the EU.
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Of the registered electorate of UK nationals, 72.15% voted in the EU referendum in 201617. In general, one third didn't vote, one third voted Remain and one third voted Leave. Between the two active camps, 16 141 241 people voted Remain, and 17 410 742 voted to Leave18 the EU; it was a very close vote, with Leave winning by 2%. Government and news sources often looked at the 35:37 split and scaled it up, misleadingly saying that 52% voted leave19,17 and that this was 'the will of the people', hiding the fact that only 37% voted to Leave. To say "will of the people" is baseless nonsense.1
Undemocratic: The United Kingdom is comprised of four countries - England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Constitutional-level alterations to the UK require unanimous approval, but, in the 2016 referendum Northern Ireland voted Remain by 56% and Scotland by 62%. The UK signed the Venice Commission's 2006 document on how to run a referendum. Section 2.3 states that a referendum is only democratic if minority countries (e.g. NI and Scotland) are not forced into decisions by a majority nation (England).21. Brexit only had a mandate in England and Wales.
No consensus, no 'will of the people': 37% voted leave, 35% voted remain and 28% abstained. The victory margin is not enough to force through changes of this magnitude. Before the referendum, Leave campaigners created a petition arguing that if the majority was less than 60%, then, the referendum was not a valid indicator of the will of the people. The result was below this threshold, and this is why it has resulted in deadlock.
Misinformation: There was no informed vote: The UK's citizens are the least knowledgeable about the EU8 and have suffered from many high-profile long-term campaigns ran by sensationalist newspapers with anti-EU agendas9,10. The Leave Campaign Director Dominic Cummings admitted in 2017 that the Leave campaign relied on lies and misinformation22.9
No Differentiation of Leave Options: Section 3.1c of the Venice document on how to run democratic referendums states that there must be clear effects23. The Leave campaigns were based on various kinds of resultant deal with the EU, implying that voters were not envisioning a no-deal situation. This has led to a impassable stalemate between the different camps, disabling the ability of UK government to proceed. A properly-organized valid referendum would have avoided this outcome.
The Leave Campaign Was Illegal: The UK's House of Commons has found that the Vote Leave campaign committed "serious breaches" of campaign law24,25, with millions poured in by anti-EU foreign government and anti-democratic institutions in Russia26. Cambridge Analytica illegally influenced an uncountable number of people with targeted misinformation based on data obtained from a Facebook data breach. Vote Leave intentionally broke electoral law by donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to avoid spending limits27 and Leave.EU has also been found guilty in court of committing four electoral offences during their own campaign27. Illegal overspending influenced "tens of millions" of people, and statistics show that it directly led to over 800,000 people changing their minds28, changing the result of the referendum.9
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Allowing reasonable debate in a tolerant atmosphere is a fundamental part of British culture. It allows communities to have their voices heard as part of the democratic system, rather than them having to find disruptive means of being heard. But in the Brexit debate, irresponsible tabloids, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and those around him, are yelling "traitor" at democratic opponents, calling their ideas "surrender bills" and using language so divisive that it makes democracy impossible, and has enraged Brextremists into a series of violent acts.30,31,32. The Daily Mail's infamously ignorant "Enemies of the People" piece that led to three judges facing years of unfounded hate was authored by James Slack: he is now an official spokesperson for the Conservatives33. Even whilst liberal Members of Parliament face a wave of death threats and harassment, the Leave.EU campaign has re-run the "Enemies of the People" piece. Boris Johnson dismissed the fearful cries of Parliamentarians saying that their claims that he needs to use more civil language as "humbug"30,31.
Democracy is being damaged by a Brextremist government that only represents the one-third of the population that voted to Leave in 2016: Boris Johnson has argued that this 1/3 must get their way, else there will be riots. Unless the Conservative Party adopts a strong stance on civility, adopts a democratic stance where Government represents all 47m of the electorate from 2016, the instability is going to get somewhat worse. The only possible way out is such a large scale move away from The Conservatives, UKIP and The Brexit Party that the agitators learn without doubt that the UK is not prepared to go down another multiple-decade fight against sectarianism.
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Brexit within the UK governing Conservative Party was led by a hard-core of 'Brexiteers' organized into an internal party unit called the European Research Group, borne from a policy of removing as many foreigners as possible from the UK, no matter the cost. To achieve this, they spoke only in positive terms of the ramifications of Brexit and did not have a realistic understanding of the benefits of EU membership for the UK.
With this slant, they could not give sensible advice nor make practical plans on how to deal with issues arising from Brexit. With this blind-spots, Ideology led policy, rather than evidence or fact-based rationalism, so much so, that the Government was reluctant to even investigate the potential negative sides of Brexit.
When it came to the buildup to the negotiations with the EU over the UK's departure, the EU spent a very long time waiting for 'first contact'. They said the meetings could start in May, but UK Prime Minister Theresa May delayed arrival until June. Infamous photos circulated the Internet of politicians sat around a table whilst the UK's chair remained empty, with a caption of 'we are waiting'.
“Officials have bemoaned the fact that, one year on from the referendum, Britain has still not officially appointed a Brexit negotiator to be their main point of contact. The EU's man, French former Commissioner Michel Barnier, has been in place since July last year, valuable time spent consulting with the 27 national governments and building a formidable team around him.”
In the absence of communication from the Conservative Government, our news outlets (unfortunately) remained the only loud voice to be heard. They reported on what our politicians were saying about their goals in negotiations. These unrealistic statements have been harmful to the UK's negotiating position.
“The pre-negotiation phase has been a disaster for the UK. The UK government first tried to divide the EU27, and then, when that didn´t work, set about deliberately breeding resentment and mistrust. [...] Its Cabinet ministers hectored, smeared and threatened the very people they are asking for help and concessions from. [...]
Then came the ill-fated “No Deal Better than Bad Deal” rhetoric. This had a disastrous effect on the UK's credibility, largely because it is demonstrably untrue. [...]
The UK government has acted as if the EU27 countries are yet to discover the internet, and don´t have access to UK news. The EU27, though, knows the UK has backed itself into a corner on so many issues that its positions are fundamentally incompatible with the positive outcomes it has said it will get. [...] Ruling out these things publicly, instead of explaining and managing expectations at home, shows the UK government is either willing to lie to its people or genuinely ignorant of the realities. This weakens any sympathetic voices for the UK.”
Steve Bullock (2017)3
UK Representative to the EU from 2010-2014
Article 50 (withdrawal from the EU) was invoked by the UK in March 2017, negotiations began in June, and by late July the EU's diplomat (Michel Barnier) was still complaining that there was no clear UK position on most issues4.
The UK's preparations for negotiations have been poor and disorganized and our "absurd" actions "served to make [the] UK look like it was not a serious negotiator"3. Steve Bullock, whose opinions I have been citing, was the UK's official negotiator and UK Representative to the EU from 2010-2014 and has also worked for the European Commission. He thinks that this level of disorganisation and the failure to prepare for negotiations (including fact-gathering) is due to the fact that the government is planning to walk away without a deal3. This would make sense of the ridiculous "No Deal Better than Bad Deal" slogan. John Crace says simply: "the plan was to be unprepared"4.
Most of the prominent "Brexiteers" have themselves exited the scene (including both of Prime Minister Theresa May's strategy advisors, who authored her speech on Brexit)7. All of these issues tell us that we don't have a caste of politicians who are capable of forging a post-Brexit Britain, and leaves us with Vince Cable's comment, as leader of the Liberal Democrats (who campaign for the UK to Remain in the EU):
“We need an exit ... from Brexit.”
Vince Cable (2017 Jul 20)
On appointment as The Liberal Democrats leader34.
In 2017, the UK's government's Home Secretary (Amber Rudd) commissioned a major investigation and analysis of the role of EU citizens in Britain. One year after asking the populace to vote on leaving the EU, the UK government began its most important piece of information-gathering on the EU. They justified the expense of this research by saying that it is essential for the decision-making process, so that plans can be made to avoid a "cliff edge" for employers. Too late! Not only too late, but the investigation was important enough that's planned running-time was one year. Who has time to plan, when this principal piece of evidence would come after the exit date has already passed? There was widespread condemnation, criticism and confusion from all quarters that this basic research was not part of the initial preparations when deliberating over EU membership. Without this, nobody who voted had an informed vote.
They explained that the investigation covered these areas:35:
It mattered little what was in the final report. The news was not good. But it was all simply too late; ideology and sensationalist newspapers drove drove Brexit, not evidence.
As a community, farmers are a staunchly Conservative bunch; 60% of them voted for Brexit, nearly twice the rate of the general population37,38. The Brexit campaign promised farmers in particular that they would better off, better funded and less encumbered with regulation. All three points have proven to be untrue and the UK farming industry has been suffering terribly for years as a result of loss of access to markets39, loss of EU labourers40,39 and removal of essential EU funding that hasn't been replaced by UK government funding.
To make up for loss of a trade deal with the EU, Liz Truss, the Government's head of trade negotiations, made deals with Australia and New Zealand, but the UK's trade power compares to the EU's "so badly that they gave the farming sector's competitors almost everything they could have dreamed of"38. Exports and imports must travel further, face higher tariffs and barriers, and are subject to more paperwork than ever before41,39.
The UK farming sector in 2021 found itself five hundred thousand workers short, out of 4.1 million42. A quarter of some crops have gone unpicked and one single farm chain reported £500,000 of produce has been left to rot in fields due to lack of workers. It's also impacting on meat production, meat processing, poultry production and food processing with up to 20% of orders being late or unfulfilled38,42,39,39. A Government report in 2022 found problems in four areas: 75% of them squarely due to the loss of workers caused by Brexit43.
The Conservative Party was led by a hardcore of Brexiteers that did not have a realistic understanding of the benefits of EU membership for UK farming, and therefore, could not plan appropriately. As of 2022, there are still no mitigations against these issues, and the industry, academics and internal Government investigations are warning of the permanent shrinkage of UK farming38,42 despite food produce being in increasing demand across the globe.
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Radioactive isotopes are required for cancer treatments and medical body scanners; they are produced only by specialist nuclear reactors. Not many countries have them, and the isotopes in involved do not last very long. Tc-99m has a half-life of just six hours and it is made from molybdenum 99, which also has a short half-life of 66 hours. The supply chain is delicate and must operate efficiently and with good international coordination. Therefore, Euratom organizes the storage and transport of these commodities. Not many people need pointing out that Euratom (the European Atomic Energy Community) is a part of the EU.
But the UK government Brexit's team doesn't have a scientific advisor, despite the urgent advice of its own Commons Science and Technology Committee5. It also doesn't have a representative from the Health Department, as recommended by its own Commons Health Committee5. And when the Financial Times in February 2017 highlighted that leaving the EU would entail supply problems for medical equipment, and nuclear industry experts sounded the same warnings, the government doesn't seem to have paid much attention. Even in July 2017, the government said it doesn't "envisage problems"5 and, apparently not understanding the issues very well, it also argued (wrongly) that Euratom only deals with uranium. It turns out that all of the UK's medical isotopes come through Euratom from Belgium, the Netherlands and France. Has the UK government gone rogue and started secretly building new specialist nuclear reactors? Given that they seem surprised by some of their uses, the answer seems to be: unlikely.
“Although it may be possible for the UK to remain within existing arrangements, it will be exceptionally complicated and the UK's position will inevitably be weakened. Crucially, the government has offered no real clarity on how any agreement might be achieved. The position paper on Euratom published by the government in July 2017 contained little detail even on nuclear power and did not mention medical isotopes.”
"Why we must stay in the European Atomic Energy Community" by Martin McKee, prof. (2017)5
And to continue with a note of unpleasantness, even Dominic Cummings, the initial campaign director of Vote Leave, said that politicians who support leaving Euratom are "morons"5.
In case the UK governments needs any other advice on areas to investigate, here's a partial list of the benefits of EU membership: