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Brexit: A journey through the archives

Published: 23 June 2021
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Coree Brown Swan goes back into the archives and examines what our experts had to say in the days following the Brexit vote. For five years of analysis on Brexit and constitutional change, visit our Brexit blogs.

Michael Kenny cautions against a simplistic understanding of the English vote for Brexit, noting that England itself was significantly divided on the issue, a fact which is perhaps even more true in 2021.

For sure English sentiment has been important to the tenor and character of the Campaign. Much of the rhetoric of the Leave campaign — notably the ubiquitous slogan ‘take back control’ – has been carefully tailored to capture a frustrated, but increasingly palpable, sense of political disenchantment and an incipient ethos of self-government among many of the English. The language of sovereignty, democracy and identity have all been prominent on this side of the Campaign, and notably absent from the more prudential and transactional appeals of Remain. The two sides have been talking in almost entirely distinct political registers, in part from a recognition of the very different concerns and sensibilities that exist in different parts of England.  What works in Clacton is unlikely, it seems, to work in Cambridge.

Christine Bell presciently spoke to the challenges ahead for Northern Ireland, noting that while Brexit posed an opportunity for England, it would manifest differently across the Irish Sea:

During the 1916 rising, almost to the century – the phrase ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ – a reference to the First World War, was key, and retains a certain grip on the Republican imagination.  In fact, however, it may be more the case that ‘England’s opportunity will be Ireland’s difficulty.’ 

Nicola McEwen identifies the questions that the Brexit vote posed for the UK and for independence campaigners, many of which remain unanswered:

There are few certainties on the path ahead. The prospect of Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will may well trigger a second independence vote. But even if Yes wins this time, the conditions of EU membership could influence whether Scots want back in.

Michael Keating speaks to the ongoing challenges facing the Labour Party:

The Labour Party is convulsed in its own leadership crisis, which also impinges on these issues. There is a historic Euroscepticism on the Labour left, which is suspicious of globalisation and sees the EU as a bastion of capitalism and neo-liberalism, but this was not much in evidence in the campaign. The most prominent Labour Leave campaigners came from the party’s right. Jeremy Corbyn, whose roots are in the Eurosceptic left, made a commitment, however half-hearted, to Remain. Labour now accepts the referendum result but cleaves to the position of the Europeans, wanting to retain the single market. It is, however, divided over migration. Even during the campaign, some figures sought to assuage the fears of their working-class voters by calling free movement in question, while Corbyn and others tried to defend immigration in principle.

Meryl Kenny asks if the vote and subsequent negotiation would reflect a turning point for women in British politics:

Whatever the face of the new leadership, then, it is vitally important that women are at the table as the UK negotiates its exit from Europe, as well as its own constitutional settlement. Hard times are ahead—continuing austerity, which has had a disproportionately detrimental impact on women, and the possibility of an economic recession; the potential scrapping of EU frameworks (including legal protections for women); the loss of the recourse provided by the European Court of Justice and other enforcement mechanisms. Leadership and vigilance are needed in order to keep women and equality issues on the agenda, as otherwise gendered inequalities are likely to widen.

Richard Wyn Jones reflects on the paradox of the Welsh vote:

In Wales, devolution remains largely a defensive project. Welsh political institutions are seen as providing a degree of protection against the depredations of Westminster rather than an embodiment of an alternative politics. By the same token, politicians in Wales are better known for what they are against – austerity, Tory cuts – rather than what they are for. Rather than wallow in despair and self-loathing, Welsh remainers would be better advised to begin constructing, communicating and delivering an alternative vision of politics in which devolved institutions and leaders become part of a politics of hope. 

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