Why the EU referendum results are not clear

At the Conservative Party Conference in October Theresa May made three bold statements:

The people gave their answer with emphatic clarity.

The referendum result was clear.

It was legitimate.

This is the last in a series of three posts challenging Theresa May’s statements. The purpose is not to ridicule the British voter who, in good faith and on assurances made to them by Vote Leave, chose to leave the European Union. The purpose, rather, is to highlight how all of those campaigning to leave the EU knowingly sold the voter a pipe-dream on the basis of misleading information and downright lies. This makes it all but impossible to suggest that the result of the referendum is legitimate, that it is the will of the people and that the result is clear.

Leave or Stay?

Asking the question is easy. Figuring out how to give effect to the answer is not. Those campaigning to leave the EU categorically did not offer the British state a clear road-map towards the exit. That is because they knew then what they know today:  being a member of the EU is the best deal on the table. There is no good route out of the EU  – only a swamp of tangled weeds and quicksand.  There was some talk about following the Norwegian model (EFTA) the Swiss model (EEA), a free trade agreement à la TTIP or CETA. Alternatively, the UK could simply apply WTO rules or if that fails enjoy the same status as Albania. However, that talk was all very, very complex, confusing and way off message. “Take back control” is, indeed, an emphatically clear message. As anyone whose been conned knows : hustlers like to keep their sweet talk short.

What path the UK should follow now is even less clear than it was before 23 June 2016. Theresa May’s increasingly desperate message not to give a running commentary on Brexit is beginning to sound murkier, not clearer, by the day leading many to suspect that like Alicia Silverstone (aka Cherilyn Horowitz) our Prime Minister is totally Clueless with not the foggiest idea of how to navigate Britain out of the EU. For her to suggest the results are clear when she herself appears to be all at sea does not inspire a huge amount of confidence in her abilities to do what is in the best interests of the United Kingdom.

Buyers Remorse?

“Buyer’s remorse” – how often do we hear this in the context of the referendum? All the time. The analogy to purchasing property is not far off the mark when considering whether the electorate answered with emphatic clarity on 23 June 2016. Let’s stick to it.

Asking buyers “Do you want to buy this house? Yes or No?” is easy.

How the couple reached their decision and whether or not they can give effect to their wish in the years ahead is an all together different matter.

The Tale of Jerry and Margo

In 1974 Margo and Jerry bought a comfortable, spacious house with a large garden and sunny terrace. The house sits on an estate which is based on a new concept of private living in a shared community. The idea to build the estate came to the UK from the continent where it has been thriving since 1957.  Every household owns their own property but pays a small monthly sum for the upkeep of the communcal areas.  The architecture and style date from 1957 but houses on the estate have been upgraded, renovated and repainted at various times over the past four decades to take account of urgent repairs, changing trends and innovations. Jerry and Morgo have been living in it happily for forty years. They get on relatively well with their like-minded neighbours who share similar values to them. The costs are low in comparison to the rewards they get in terms of a well maintained complex. They had not given the idea of moving any thought until one day in February Jerry is told by a friend of a friend who is an estate agent that a run-down abandoned Victorian Vicarage down the road has come up for sale. The friend of the friend insists they take a peek inside. Jeremy comes away smitten by the idea of buying it. Margo is not.

Margo: “The surveyor’s report shows the house has rising damp.”

Jerry: “Yes but the estate agent told me it is perfectly manageable. It won’t get any worse. It just won’t happen”

Margo: “What about the cracks in the wall. The surveyor’s report said there’s a serious issue of subsidence. It will cost us a fortune to repair.”

Jerry: “The estate agent assured me the cracks are due to building works down the road. They’ve been completed now and the cracks won’t get any worse. It just won’t happen.

Margo: “Is the estate agent qualified to talk about structural problems?”

Jerry: “Experts are highly over-rated these days. Surveyors charge a fortune for their report and half the time they get it wrong anyway. In fact I’d go so far as to say they’re all just a bunch of crooks. Look on-line. You’ll find thousands, if not millions, who agree with me. I read it in the Daily Mail. I trust the estate agent more than the expert.”

Margo: “The electricity will need rewiring in a few years. What if interest rates rise and we can’t afford a second loan?”

Jerry: “Interest rates have never been this low. They haven’t risen in five years. The economy is set to grow. We’ll take out an extra loan to get the repairs done. The estate agent says the repayments are well within our monthly earnings. We won’t default on the payments. It just won’t happen.”

Margo: “What if the neighbours decide to extend. It will block out all our light?”

Jerry: “No. The estate agent told me that they will never do that. They know we wouldn’t like it. It just won’t happen.”

Margo: “But, what if they do? The value of the property will decrease and we are left paying off a high mortgage on devalued property.”

Jerry: “Look the estate agent said its just not going to happen. Trust him.”

Margo: “I don’t know. I think it’s too risky. Let’s stick to what we already have. It’s the best deal on the table. We’ve been living in it very comfortably for 40 years without any problems, the costs are a lot lower then what we would have to pay if we buy the Victorian Vicarage. It’s a good deal.”

Jerry “ The estate agent told me our current house in the complex is broken. Kaput. On it’s last legs. It’s about to fall apart. No one wants to be part of it anymore. It’s so dated. Go on! Let’s take the risk. Let’s do it. It is our dream home and the estate agent assured us it is all perfectly feasible. He’ll even come around and apologise if it all goes wrong.”

Margo: “Yes but will he bail us out?”

Jerry: “Don’t be ridiculous. Anyway, as I said, he said – It just won’t happen!”

Margo: “Sorry Jeremy. On important decision we normally agree. We muddle along, by and large, pretty well but on this occasion I’m going to say no. Our existing place is not on its last legs, its constantly being upgraded and the others living in the complex, whist admitting there are problems that need addressing, are nevertheless sticking to it. There’s a long waiting list of people desperate to get in. I don’t think we should buy this Victorian monstrosity.”

Jerry: “Too late. I’ve already signed the contract on behalf of both of us. He expects our house to be sold in two years and is coming in March to put the For Sale sign up. Don’t look so concerned – we’ll be fine! Let’s give this a go. Be optimistic! We’ll never know if it works or not unless we take a leap into the dark!”

Opinion polls appear to indicate that those who voted for Brexit, like Jerry, do not have “buyers remorse”. Yet. They, like Jerry, are still living the dream. For now. The right-wing element of the Conservative Party with the support of the right-wing media cheer Theresa May’s hard Brexit rhetoric on with all the fervour of a starry-eyed buyer still convinced that the cracks are not due to subsidence but due to completed road works in front of the house.

As usual, however, there is no point playing a blame game. Margo may be ready to sue for divorce but what is the point? Jerry’s good at heart. Should she just abandon him because he was sweet-talked by a persuasive rogue into signing away the best deal they already have. In any case, for better or for worse, they are stuck together. The challenge is to get out of the con during the “cooling off” period and before the sale goes through with the solicitor. Far from clarity Jerry, like the Brexiteers, has landed Margo (or the UK) into an unholy mess that will be the mother of all knots to untangle – but not impossible. First though Margo has to prove that the estate agent is nothing but a rogue who should be held accountable for knowingly selling them misleading information and downright lies. That is the only hope she has of making the sale null and void. Given all the blatant lies told and misleading information given she has a good case.

Like Jerry there is every reason to believe that many undecided voters who opted to vote for Brexit did so on the assumption that the rising damp was manageable, that the subsistence was not a problem and that any extra costs involved would be perfectly within their income. The Remain campaign did a lousy job at selling the EU whilst Farage, Johnson and Gove, like rogue estate agents, did an excellent job at brushing aside valid concerns regarding the state of the property. Worse, they completely failed to warn the voter that the EU has the equivalent of planning permission to build a huge kitchen extension next door that can block out all the light thus devaluing their property.

Metaphorically speaking the British state is now in the “cooling off” period. There is still a small chance that the British state can extricate itself from this mess but not if it continues to maintain the fiction that the referendum is either legitimate, the will of the people or emphatically clear.  The alternative is that the UK – like Jerry and Margot – will be booted out of their comfortable abode and end up living in penury in a monstrous Victorian wreck they can hardly afford to maintain.

Perhaps those who voted for Brexit, like Jerry, need to start turning their anger not towards those who believe the best deal is staying in the EU but towards the  the con-men who deceived them. Let us hope they do so before it is too late. Con-men have a nasty habit of disappearing with the cash. Best to act before the cash is transferred abroad and the crooks can no longer be extradited from Brazil.

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