Brexit had a Rorschach-test quality to it. Voting Leave could be the solution to any and every problem, according to many voters. Voters were encouraged to believe this by politicians and lobbyists, many of whom were being dishonest, according to political experts.
Five years since the referendum, in his resignation letter, former Brexit minister Lord Frost has put into writing why he supported Brexit. He does not mention 2016’s populist claims that the NHS will receive additional funding.
History is written by the winning side. As 2016’s Brexit referendum passes into history, the story of Brexit gets worn smooth by legacy media outlets. The winning side’s preferred narrative becomes widely accepted.
Back in 2016, on Facebook, Leave.EU released a video titled “Are you concerned about our future?“.
It summarises claims that resonated with many voters.
It implies that voting Leave would allow voters to “take back control” over:
1) The amount of crime being committed by “foreign criminals”.
2) The “overcrowding of the UK” and the “burden on the NHS”
3) Border security.
In 2021, Boris Johnson’s Conservative government is still riding on these populist, authoritarian concerns. They know fear inspires voting among “low information voters”, “a third of humanity is predisposed to authoritarianism”, according to behavioural economist Karen Stenner.
The Brexit bait and switch
What’s interesting, if not surprising, is how differently the benefits of Brexit are discussed among political colleagues. When discussed by their “social equals”, Brexit becomes about more high-minded issues.
In his resignation letter, Lord Frost does not mention borders or scary foreign criminals, instead he writes:
“Brexit is now secure. The challenge for the Government now is to deliver on the opportunities it gives us. You know my concerns about the current direction of travel. I hope we will move as fast as possible to where we need to get to: a lightly regulated, low tax, entrepreneurial economy, at the cutting edge of modern science and economic change.”
In summary, in 2021, Frost’s argument for Brexit is that it will allow:
2) Low tax.
3) Entrepreneurial economy.
4) Economic change.
Five years on, Brexit looks as dishonest as it did in 2016. It looks like a classic Conservative “bait and switch” – using stories that trigger primal fears to get the majority of people to vote against their own interests. Working people are protected by strong regulations. The NHS depends on tax. Brexit voting authoritarians usually want sameness, not “economic change”.
And the cherry on the top of this cynical cake is that some believe “Lord Frost’s” Brexit views were moulded by personal ambition, rather than a sincere concern for the national interest:
“For Frost, like Johnson, Brexit was an opportunity. He began to flash come-hither smiles at the Tory right after the referendum… for an ex-diplomat with frustrated ambitions, vacuous boosterism was the smart career move.”