Brexit – What is fiction? What are facts?

And the reason why the Swiss shouldn’t believe in Brexit at all...

by Karl Müller

There is a vegetating tendency to deny honesty and valid arguments of one’s political opponent. One example (of many) is the public dealing with the proponents of Great Britain’s exit from the EU by other EU states, including, unfortunately, as well Switzerland. Some motivation is obvious, however, equally dangerous are the risks emanating from such patterns of public debate.

Great Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the EU is on the minds of many within the EU-states, but also in Switzerland. On 12 September, just a few weeks before the Swiss elections to the National Council and the Council of States, Swiss TV SRF 2 broadcast a British film dating from 2019 at prime time, dealing with the campaigns for and against the exit. The film starts with the label “This film is based on factual events.” The SRF’s  accompagnying text reads as follows: “In 2016 the British voted YES on the Brexit. How could it come to that? Political strategist Dominic Cummings believes he knows the answer. As the YES-campagne’s leader he pit on new methods by manipulating the electorate  which  leveraged the Brexit which was up to then considered a forlorn endeavour. At first Cummings got rid of his intern conservative opponents, next he formed a professional squad which helped him use the most effective weapon today at the disposal of political electoral campaigns in the 21st century– the social media. When a member of the data firm Cambridge Analytica assured him to be able to precisely reach individuals who up to then had never voted before by “micro-targeting”, Cummings immediately understood the method’s potential.” And this is how Cummings is characterised: “The politically obsessed consultant’s reputation whom former conservative prime minister David Cameron had once called a “career psychopath”  had been a rather dubious figure before the Brexit-affair. In the meantime he has moved up the ladder to become the personal advisor of Boris Johnson and is considered the “dark power” of No 10 Downing Street. With his ingenious-autistic behaviour he gets on the nerves of many politicians as well as on those of other communicative spin-doctors. However, his success record seems impressive and he is considered the right “man for the lost cause”.

SRF TV messages

To make a long story short, the film’s messages1 can be summarised as follows:

  1. The Pro-Brexit campaign had primarily targeted people’s emotions, whereas the campaign of the Brexit-opponents and EU-remainers had been objective. The majority of YES-voters on 28 June 2016 hadn’t observed any factual arguments but had been victims of a highly manipulative and mendacious campaign.
  2. 2The main Brexit proponents had all of them been ambivalent characters, whereas the EU-Remainers had been very serious, contemplative citizens whose concern had been the well-being of their fellow-citizens.
  3. The campaign for the Brexit had engulfed Britain’s political culture into the abyss. Good British and European traditions had been overthrown and the tip of the iceberg had been the murder of the British Member of Parliament, who had spoken out for remaining in the EU a few days before the vote.

Thus, this Swiss TV film just falls in line with the EU-mainstream. It can hardly contribute to the discussion’s objectification.

Different Brexit-motivations of the British elite

True, it is a fact, that the motives of Britain’s political and social elite to favour the EU-exit, were not homogeneous. Take Theresa May, who at first advocated to remain in the EU, later, however, as party leader and prime minister was destined by her own Conservative Party to prepare the EU-exit. Britain’s EU-exit evoked all the old British world-power dreams in her. Only a few days after Donald Trumps inauguration as the new US-President, on 26 January 2017, she travelled to the USA and addressed a conference of the Republican Party.2 In her speech she emphasised the special relationship between Great Britain and the USA and expressed her hope that after the Brexit Britain together with the USA would be able to lead the world again, just as it had often been the case in the history of both states. By the way: she did not receive a positive feed-back by the US President.
Such opinions, however, do by no means represent those of millions of the British people who had voted for an EU-exit. However, speaking about the factual arguments in today’s mainstream media would raise some difficulties for the EU – as well as for EU-advocates in Switzerland. Only accidentally you may find such indications, partly from sources where you wouldn’t expect them, for instance in the “Magazin” of the
“Schweizer Tagesanzeiger” from 14 September 2019.

Hear the voice of a Swiss-British  historian

In this magazine we find a contribution of the Swiss historian Oliver Zimmer, who has been teaching history at Oxford University for some years now. In his article he focuses on the English school and university system and critcises the rigid British fixation on an academic career. However, at the end of his contribution Oliver Zimmer makes the Brexit his subject of discussion. And here you find very interesting statements. He mentions for instance Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequour under Theresa May, an “ardent remainer”3 , and “since Boris Johnson took over, also the hero of many Brexit-reports in the German speaking media.” The reader learns hat Phillip Hammond even in office stepped forward  “as the pronounced lobbyist of big companies like Amazon, BP, Siemens and Tesco”. Furthermore we read: “For these politically influential companies the EU-regulations mean primarily a protectionist barrier keeping unwelcome rivals at bay. These multinationals  are among the profiteers of globalisation and of the EU single market. They profit from the opportunity to rapidly and cheaply recruit foreign labour, while relying positively on the short-sighted and always (for them) favourable British industrial policy.” And further down: “In comparison the enterprises employing less than 10 employees – they also constitute the big majority on the British island – were put in second place by the Government.” And finally: Does it really come as a surprise that according to the last survey the entrepreneurs of smaller firms spoke out five times as often for the Brexit than the bosses of bigger companies?”

Why the Brexit can still become a success

Concluding, Oliver Zimmer judges the Brexit in principle as follows: “The Brexit, in particular, the one without a deal would certainly put the country to the test, however, it might as well become a success. For the YES vote for the Brexit has been a rebellion against the elite with their fixation onLondon and the major corporations. […] The flimsy argument saying that we must obey since globalisation and the EU require us to, will no longer have the desired effect. The favourable and favoured excuse about populism will eventually have to be renounced by the politicians, as well for the public benefit. For the problems of the status quo are not to be resolved with more status quo. What we need is the compulsion to take our leave from the status quo. Let us hope that leaving the EU will become the initial spark for the basic reforms necessary in economic and social life.”
Such voices are rarely to be heard, not in the EU mainstream and unfortunately neither in Switzerland. The above-mentioned Swiss TV film suits them better.
The question remains, how the citizens are to deal with this, my suggestion: Thinking independently, acting humanely and not forgetting the fundamentals of direct democracy might be good guidelines.    •

1     The line of argument in the British SRF2 film follows the line of former British prime minister David Cameron. Recently Cameron has published his memoirs, in which he reproaches his former ministerial colleagues of having joined the Pro-Brexit-campaign and in which he conducts sharp attacks against the campaign.  An uncritical commentary in the “Basler Zeitung” of 16 September reads as follows: “In an important passage in his memoirs Cameron lists up the concentrated power of all the instruments with which populists nowadays  manipulate and stir up public opinion. There comes the day when all factual arguments will have been overlaid – by the aggressive dominance of the social media, of fake news, of the hatred against the establishment, of a foggy criticism of globalisation and the rage against immigrants. The ‘physics’ of politics, according to Cameron, has been changed.”
2    https://www.businessinsider.com/full-text-theresa-mays-speech-to-the-republican-congress-of-tomorrow-conference-2017-1?r=US&IR=T
3    “Remainers” is short for those forces in Great Britain who spoke out and still speak out for the country’s stay (remaining) in the EU.