On the day Nigel Farage attempted to drown Bob Geldof with a water cannon, I genuinely believed I was witnessing one of the most baffling moments of British history. The months since have only shown how wrong I was. Welcome to Brexit Britain – the weirdest and loneliest island in the world.
As politicians abandon their promises, disillusion is the new lifeblood of Brexit Britain
Summer is over and the back-to-school feeling rife in the UK, as MPs are recalled to parliament and forced to confront the reality of Britain’s shock decision to exit the European Union. While Theresa May dons her largest shoulderpads and heads across the channel to perform damage limitation, at home the cross-party Vote Leave campaign have reformed, in the manner of 80s cult phenomenon The Thing, into a new pressure group called Change Britain.
At a glance, the group’s agenda is to deliver the ‘best possible result’ of the Brexit decision. Familiar faces from the Vote Leave campaign have emerged from the woodwork to wave their flags, with mop-haired Boris Johnson ponderously rhapsodising about the ‘vote for change’ and ‘a new global Britain’ on their website. Notably absent, however, is any mention of the formerly headline pledge to deliver a weekly £350 million of EU funding to the NHS. Instead the manifesto suggests that any savings gained from leaving the EU should be spent on “farming, science, universities, and poorer regions of the UK.”
As a staunch Vote Remainer and Europhile, I struggled to see the Brexit NHS promise as anything other than white noise from the beginning – but even writing from an objective perspective, this is a truly embarrassing claim for Vote Leave/Change Britain to have abandoned. A poll conducted by Ipsos MORIA poll conducted by Ipsos MORI a week before the referendum found that 47 per cent of the public believed the claim that the UK pays £350 million a week to the EU. In the last year the national health service has been stretched to breaking point by government cuts, and this was a manifesto point voters held genuine faith in. The Vote Leave camp were not quiet about this pledge; it was pasted on the side of a battle bus and driven around the country, urging a divided electorate to take back control.
But now, chair of Change Britain Gisela Stuart, is downplaying the promise. “The NHS was the example of that if you’re spending that amount of money and you don’t have control of what to do with it, I would spend it on the NHS. It was about taking control of your spending decisions,” she told the BBC’s Daily Politics programme.
The camp’s swift backtracking on the NHS promise – demonstrated beautifully by former UKIP leader and notorious bigot Nigel Farage on the morning after the referendum vote – would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing. MPs across the party spectrum have criticised Change Britain for quietly abandoning the pledge, saying “they must either admit it was a lie and apologise to their voters, or justify it”; but whether an apology is forthcoming or not, the disillusion the abandonment will create, among an electorate already suffering severely from Brexit fatigue, will be yet another symptom of the highly toxic relationship between British politicians and the public.
The post-referendum line currently runs along the lines of ‘Brexit means Brexit; because democracy, therefore get on with it’. But as of yet no-one has volunteered to be held accountable for the barefaced misinformation touted throughout the campaign. Those in power can talk about upholding a ‘democratic decision’ until our ears bleed – but if this referendum has achieved anything, it has shown the ease with which politicians on both sides of the campaign lied and manipulated facts for the sake of their personal and political agendas.
A case in point – within hours of drafting this blog, David Cameron resigned from his MP post in Witney; hammering one of the final nails into his political coffin, and showing the world that leading campaigners on both sides of the EU debate are doing all they can to walk away from the chaos they have created. National trust in politicians is grinding to an all-time low; and it’s going to be a long recovery.
The Euroculturer is delighted to have Emily Burt joining us for a series of articles dissecting post-referendum Britain. A writer with People Management and blogger operating in London, Emily will be back with e ‘Notes from a lonely island’ soon!
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