A shift in the Brexit debate may be stirring out there


Something is stirring out there. We have lived now for far too long with politics dominated by the same old Brexiteers and anti-Brexiteers, slugging it out in precisely the same way as they did back in 2016.

It is in fact depressing that so few people have changed their minds since then, according to a recent poll. But then, once I reflect with a little self-knowledge, I realise that I’m one of them. I haven’t changed my mind either. I nailed my colours firmly to the fence in 2016 (as they said in 1905) but voted to remain. I would probably do the same again, if there was a second referendum.

I can’t believe I am the only waverer – I can hardly be described as a floating voter – with a connection to Radix and the radical centre. I know there are some people who feel that the very essence of the radical centre idea is a defence of the European Union. Yet only a few days ago, there was a sharp exchange on this very blog between people who had voted differently.

I am a Liberal and have always been so, which means I have some sympathy with the argument that the EU is too centralised, too obsessed with big bureaucracies, with central control and central banks, with big businesses. I am cross with them for failing to help David Cameron when he needed it – with obvious results. I fear that the EU’s technocracy is directly fuelling the rise of the far right across Europe.

So why didn’t I vote to leave? The answer is that, although I think a new trade dispensation is possible – even preferable – it requires a radical rethinking of so many of the assumption behind the way we have been governed, And I don’t believe Theresa May or Boris Johnson are radical thinkers in any way. They are manipulators, innately suspicious of new ideas.

I wrote an account of the last Brexit last year and it has sold rather well. But for the run-up to Dunkirk in 1940 required, not just a rethink of policy on everything, but a clear-out of the dead wood in government from the past generation.

To make any kind of success of Brexit this time, to avoid the looming disaster, we need to do the same.

But I said something was stirring and I keep finding myself having conversations with people who agree with this position. They could accept Brexit if it was part of a wider vision of a greener, more devolved UK, where we are not simply replacing EU with American or Chinese overlordship.

Boris Johnson appears to have come to a parallel conclusion which explains his speech last week about a ‘liberal Brexit’. But I don’t think he takes anyone in, either that he has a Liberal vision or that it amounts to anything new.

Even so, I can see – a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand – the emerging Brexit-inspired debate about a vision for the UK. And I hope that, despite the occasional spat, we can start the debate here at Radix.

Help us lay the intellectual foundations for a new radical politics. Sign up to get email notifications about anything new in this blog.

Rate this post!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

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. Stephen Gwynne says

    I think the Brexit divide exists because the value system of the EU is based on a cosmopolitan liberalism which in principle is unable to reconcile their ideals of freedom, equality, autonomy and emancipation with increasing resource scarcity, increasing human population levels and increasing surplus energy costs within a world of nations in which half are already in ecological debt.

    As an island nation, the UK tends towards more of a communitarian liberalism compared to our continental neighbours which inherently incorporates sustainability issues which for example explains why we value our countryside, our green infrastructure and precious institutions like the NHS.

    In my opinion, the Brexit vote represented wide ranging communitarian perspectives to the sustainability dilemmas of increasing resource scarcity, increasing human population and increasing surplus energy costs within a world of nations in which half the nations are already in ecological debt. Therefore the Brexit vote was concerned with cultural sustainability, social sustainability, ecological sustainability or economic sustainability. Whereas, the Remain vote largely represented the EU values of economic liberalism, social liberalism, cultural liberalism and ecological liberalism, with many Remainers deploying a liberal reformist argument as a means to circumvent the EU’s many flaws.

    Furthermore by way of a slight digression, I would add that these two competing representations of British patriotism/identity are based on Heritage regarding the Brexit vote and Progress regarding the Remain vote. The former is typically British with its emphasis on sustainability and communitarianism (which is reflected by an uncodified constitution) whilst the latter is typically continental European with its emphasis on cosmopolitanism and enlightenment ideals (which is typically reflected by a codified constitution of which the EU treaties are an example).

    Within this wider framework of communitarian sustainability and cosmopolitan liberalism, I think the biggest unacknowledged problem for Remainers is that their paradigm of thinking is outdated, in that the Brexit vote was not a matter of economics but a matter of sustainability.

    In this respect Brexit represents a paradigm shift from a sole focus on economic growth to one that seeks to resolve national based but by extension global based sustainability dilemmas, a shift that is unfortunately lost on many remainers. Hence a continued focus on the economic benefits of EU membership without attempting to reconcile liberal reformist ideals of freedom, equality, autonomy and emancipation are reconciled with increasing resource scarcity, increasing human population levels and increasing surplus energy costs in a world of nations in which half are already in ecological debt is becoming increasingly futile.

    Overall I would argue that this cosmopolitan/communitarian divide within Britain society currently and the sustainability issues that confront developed westernised nations at present is what is causing the vacuum in the radical centre in that radical or reformist liberalism is unable to deal with the aforementioned sustainability issues whereas as left liberal socialism and right liberal conservatism can, both of course being variants of communitarianism and both forming the backbone of the Brexit vote.

    At this stage I am not even sure if it is possible to reconcile liberal idealism with the aforementioned sustainability issues beyond ‘choice architecture’ and ‘nudging’ and as such we might be seeing the end of history for cosmopolitan liberalism in any political sense of the word.

    I’m not sure where this leaves radical liberalism other than somehow navigating towards a variant of communitarianism which will inevitably place limitations on the application of liberal ideals. Possibly there is a way of reinterpreting freedom, equality, autonomy and emancipation in order to align with the need for resource constraints, population constraints, surplus energy constraints in order to bring nations back towards ecological credit.

    I look forward to any attempts to do so.

  2. Chris Kilby says

    Brexit is up there with the Poll-Tax.
    Right-wing Tories over-reaching and Labour making non-committal noises.
    The lower two-thirds of the UK (remember NI, Scotland and Wales please) will be rogered if they don’t get it together and march big-time.

Leave a Reply

The Author
Latest Related Work
Follow Us