How to mobilise public opinion against Brexit (and how not to)

That is the task that Lord Malloch-Brown seems to have set himself.

It is doubtless a good idea for those who oppose Brexit to speak with one voice. To marshal their arguments and messaging and to target key constituencies.

The problem, however, remains the same as it was during the referendum campaign. The Remain side seems unable to find a message that resonates with the wider public. If anything, the challenge is now much greater than it was in 2016.

Recent research from the London School of Econimics suggests that Remain and Leave are no longer matters of logic and persuasion. They have become matters of identity. People on both sides of the argument see themselves as intelligent, reasonable people who have made the right choice. They see their opponents as unreasonable extremists trying to hijack the country. The results are almost identical for Leavers and Remainers.

Yet the Remainers are still stuck in the failed arguments of the referendum campaign. “The general economic concerns, the higher inflation, the more expensive holidays, the slowing down of UK investment is beginning to seep through, even if it has not yet changed the headline voting on a referendum,” according to Malloch-Brown. In other words, no new narrative since the referendum. Remainers seem to live in hope that if you keep saying the same things over and over they will eventually work.

One musn’t underestimate the task. The EU, for all the benefits it has brought, is still perceived as a faceless bureaucracy. Shorn of any emotional appeal (the peace in Europe line no longer works – and has never worked in the UK). Finding a route to putting fire in people’s belly to support staying in is a monumental task. It may be unachievable. But at least one Remainers have to try harder rather than falling back on what has demonstrably failed – and will continue to fail.

Identity politics are notoriously hard to influence and change. Once established they are largely immovable except over long periods. Attempts to change them with so-called ‘rational’ arguments tends to entrench and harden positions rather than shift them. Malloch-Brown and his team have their work cut out for them. Remainers must hope that they will not simply take the lazy route to almost certain failure.

As the American social reformer Henry Ward Beecher put it: “You are never so close to victory as when defeated in a good cause.”

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. nigel hunter says

    For a faceless bureaucracy a face has to be shown. More coverage of EU Parliament and how it works could help. Give it more exposure so that people can see how it works. The Democracy that surrounds it.

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