The referendum – for the record

Musings I put on Facebook before and after the referendum result. (Read in conjunction with my last post:  24th June – the day after.) Plus a quote from a brilliant post by my son, Ben.

8th June

I came back on Monday from Spain to find – no surprise – good old England more than ever entangled in the referendum debate. My trip underlined, as did walking across Spain on the Camino last summer and autumn, what we’d endanger by voting to leave on the 23rd.

On the one hand we have a remarkable trading bloc, an open market which in all previous ages would have been inconceivable. And on the other we have – we share – a common European mentality, a sense of a common European heritage. It’s not just a British heritage but a European heritage that we, as seen by non-Europeans, present to the world.

Are they small achievements?

We have 28 countries all working together, with many a disharmony – as you’d expect – but still working together. It is unprecedented. Don’t take it for granted. It didn’t just happen.

One market with its four freedoms – free movement of goods, capital, services and people – requires the same trading conditions across the continent, and agreement has not been easily negotiated or easily won.

Europe – the EU – is unique in world history – nations after centuries of conflict finding a remarkable level of common ground, and working together, and presenting one face to the world – not just a trading bloc but an exemplar to the world of cooperation, decency and integrity – a collective advocate of social justice and equal rights – a model for the world of how a continent can put past enmities behind it.

I hope and pray we don’t have the too easy cop-out of a ‘plague on all your houses’ influencing the vote on 23rd June. Or that too many of us have recourse to a ‘close borders and close minds’ attitude. Yes, there’s much wrong with Europe, with the EU. But we should be working to put it right, to make it function in the interest of all Europeans.

By that I mean public servants, teachers, children, employers and employees, professionals, artists, musicians, charity workers, the retired, the unemployed, the disadvantaged, immigrants – and those who feel their lives are threatened by immigration.

All Europeans – anything less than that and we will continue with the same problems, the same tensions we have now. And given the impossibility of closing borders in our modern world, they will get worse.

24th June

I was a counting agent for Stronger in Europe last night, in a west London borough, and as early as midnight I could see how the Leave votes were piling up. Sometimes there would be a run of as many as ten Leave votes before a Remain vote or two showed up. That brought it home. We can’t easily take on the Mail’s bile and bitterness but we can take up the standard from Jo Cox, be proud of Britain (and in her case Yorkshire as well!), proud of Europe and what it’s achieved and where it’s come from over the last seventy years, and be open and open-hearted toward the world. That’s a challenge, and one I think with the young people if not the old fogeys of Britain on our side (a generalisation of course – I am by some definitions an old fogey!) I’m sure we can rise to. What happens over the next few months is all highly uncertain. The Tories need a majority in parliament, and as we’ve seen recently there are Tory MPs like Anna Soubry who do understand the issues and will continue to fight for the cause. 52% is not a done deal.

25th June – from Ben Collier’s post

It’s not about us. ….It’s about the union we’ve just left behind when we should have been part of leading it. It’s about the years of progress we’ve just undone for purely selfish and narrow-minded reasons. It’s about the fact that there are bigger issues to solve in this world than our own day to day problems…

26th June  – in response to a post from a UKIP-supporting friend:

Tony, I agree, we shouldn’t let friendship suffer. I remember the great solidarity shown by UKIP supporters at the Spelthorne count on Thursday night. They were good people. But I believe passionately they were wrong. When someone says to me they cried for twenty minutes when they woke in Friday morning and heard the news – I understand why. For so many of us, so many millions of us, we can see no good reason for leaving, we see only damage to ourselves, to the wider world, and to our place in the world. The EU has brought Europe together after centuries of conflict, and created a single and highly efficient market. We accept that it needs reform – and we want to be part of that process, not watching on the sidelines. In the end it’s about how we see the world – and I know that’s what you’d say as well. We may profoundly disagree – but it’s important we listen to each other. All best, Chris

Extract from Tony’s post:

Trying so hard not to open or read messages that are negative about our leaving the EU. It is upsetting that once good friends and family members are falling out…

27th June

My last post on the referendum result. We have, so many of us, expressed our consternation and shock over the result, and we’re united in arguing for an open, open-hearted, outward-looking, international Britain. That will guide our future actions – will guide mine. My aim, one I share with millions – to see the result overturned.

At the same time – the Leave vote was for many a protest vote, against marginalisation, elites, the ‘establishment’. And that needs to be immediately addressed. One starting-point would be to scrap HS2 without further ado, and switch investment to developing infrastructure nationwide. Can we seriously imagine HS2 bringing any benefit to the North-East?

Social media and Facebook. Why were so many of us so surprised by the result? We couldn’t have imagined 52% for Leave. Could we? The danger of social media is that it’s all too easy to exist inside our own cocoons, linking up only to those who share our outlook on the world. AC Grayling has argued that the Leave vote was irrational: I don’t agree. There were reasons, and we need to understand them.

An extension of this argument: don’t let the referendum vote undermine friendships. Which is the point made by the exchange between Pooh and Piglet that I shared yesterday. Keep talking. Don’t let either side patronise the other.

Having said that when it comes to Faragian misanthropy, and all its various manifestations in the media – there is no shared ground. Likewise, for me, the neo-liberal agenda which has hijacked the debate.

And finally, there has been much good stuff, many wise and passionate posts and articles written over the last few days. I shared one such last Friday – from my son, Ben Collier. If you missed it, do scroll back to read it!

In Ben’s words, ‘It’s not about us. …It’s about the union we’ve just left behind when we should have been part of leading it. It’s about the years of progress we’ve just undone for purely selfish and narrow-minded reasons. It’s about the fact that there are bigger issues to solve in this world than our own day to day problems …’

A battle against ideas??

There’s an anti-intellectual, anti-ideas, anti-authority (academic as well as political) mood out there, encouraged and fired up by the media. In the USA by Fox and shock-jocks, and Trump and his cohorts. In the UK by much of the popular press and, sadly, by Brexit campaigners. See below for two contributions, both with Facebooks videos, which highlight the dangers such attitudes present.

One, a Barack Obama speech to the Rutgers University Class of 2016. ‘In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about… But when our leaders express a disdain for the facts, when they are not held accountable for repeating falsehoods and just making stuff up, when actual experts are dismissed as elitists, then we’ve got a problem.’


As seen from the UK – ideas are out of fashion, reliable sources of information are cast as biased, or worse – establishment. Boris’s suggestion yesterday that Cameron had bought the support of big business by offering government contracts is the latest, and most absurd, example.

There have been dubious claims from leaders on the Stay side. But the weight of misinformation put out on the Brexit side takes some beating.

Almost every organisation of note, business and European, every country in Europe, groups like the Five Eyes security group (UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) – they have all come out in favour of staying in. Are they all tainted, biased, dishonested, bribed? Are they all to be damned as elitist and establishment?

Obama’s is a rallying-cry, and a reminder of what we stand to lose.

And, two, there’s a Brexit ‘film’ doing the rounds… It begins with the words, ‘We, the people are being cajoled… into surrendering our democracy and freedom.’ ‘The EU is turning into a dictatorship.’ But, given that we’re a key member of the organisation, the selfsame EU, which determines those regulations, and if we leave we’ll have them foisted on us, it’s a very dubious argument.

Happily you don’t have to put up with any further commentary from me. There’s a very good riposte:

If Scientists for EU will forgive me I’ll quote the first paragraph:

‘The whole documentary is about the need for deregulation. It’s fundamentally a neoliberal infomercial, painting history through the mantra of deregulation leads to growth and regulation leads to stagnation. They tell us that the EU is over-regulated, so we need to get out – and then we will economically prosper. That’s the thesis. The only problem is that they have no business/ economist backing whatsoever. Instead of interviewing CEOs of Airbus, Rolls-Royce, etc (all of which have come out for Remain), the documentary interviews just the standard clique of Nigel Lawson, Daniel Hannan, James Delingpole, Nigel Farage, etc… Politicians and right-wing journalists – with Kate Hoey thrown it.’

Do check it out.