Confronting the Roots of Brexit

The roots of Brexit need to be confronted, not just the pantomime of British government, argues Peter McColl.

Yesterday’s events seem to make both a hard Brexit, and – indeed – any Brexit less likely.

But we need to think deeper and broader than the all-consuming ‘politicians as celebrities’ approach to politics. We’ve spent a lot of time taking about Brexit and very little time thinking about the causes of Brexit. That’s important because as the debate becomes more complex so the expected benefits will come into focus. I think that whatever happens after March next year risks deeper divisions amongst progressives. And it risks a rise of the hard right.

The reason why the hard right wanted a Brexit referendum was precisely because it would unleash racist forces and divide the left. We need not to fall for that tactic.

This is because Brexit can never solve the problems it was meant to address. There were two major drivers of the Brexit vote: opposition to austerity; and opposition to immigration and the presence of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK.

But Brexit isn’t going to end austerity – it may well deepen it. And Brexit isn’t going to make Britain white again. At heart we all know that no Brexit can be sufficiently Brexity for the Brexit enthusiasts.

That puts us in a difficult situation. We know that Brexit is – at best – austerity neutral. And we know that the sort of racial purification process some Brexiters want is totally immoral.

I am very concerned that any failure to leave the EU will be a massive recruiting agent for the hard right. They will be able to make the case that democracy doesn’t work, so we should have authoritarianism instead. This is almost certainly what will happen if Brexit is stopped.

But it’s also what will happen if we have a Brexit that doesn’t end austerity, or doesn’t end immigration, or doesn’t create a racially pure Britain. In other words, any actual existing Brexit.

And everyone who understands politics or economics knows ending austerity will be more difficult outside the EU than inside the EU. And it is both impossible and totally wrong to end immigration or revert to the racial mix of the 1950s.

We need to focus on the causes of Brexit and the real solutions to those. We need to change how we make the case on austerity and we need to win the argument for immigration and anti-racism.

There have been effective campaigns against austerity, but the lesson from the Brexit vote is that they need to be clearer about how austerity can be ended. We focused on the problems of austerity, rather than the ways we could end austerity. There’s good evidence that people believe that there is a limited amount of money which had to be allocated by government. It’s, of course, not true. But it makes arguments against the EU (and international aid) very attractive. It is a significant part of what made people believe the notorious ‘£350m a week for the NHS’ lie.

This is not just an expression of regret. We need to change how we do politics so we can avoid Brexit becoming a permanent recruiting agent for the far right.

There has not, on the other hand, been an effective campaign for immigration. And this is what we need to change. The first priority must be to make the moral and economic case for immigration. Immigrants have the right to be here – it’s not just Scotland that is a mongrel nation – and they make our economy and our public services function. We must be on the front foot about immigration and race.

Whether you are in favour of Brexit or not, whether you are campaigning for a People’s Vote or not, addressing the causes of Brexit must be a higher priority. We are at a very dangerous juncture, and we need to ensure that we speak to the concerns that led to the Brexit vote.


Comments (22)

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  1. William Ross says:

    Sometimes you really have to wonder what goes on in the minds of writers for BC. Let`s look at some of these assertions.

    1. ” The reason the hard right wanted a Brexit referendum was precisely because it would unleash racist forces and divide the left”

    That is a novel interpretation of history. Cameron was “hard right”? Which legislators in the Westminster Parliament of 2015 were “hard right” and wanted to “unleash racist forces”? The rise of UKIP drove the Brexit referendum because a significant part of the British people did not want to be part of the European Union. The “hard right” were ( and are) irrelevant.

    2. “There were two major drivers of the Brexit vote: opposition to austerity; and opposition to immigration and the presence of black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the UK.”

    This is nonsense. The question on the 2016 ballot was about leaving the EU not about austerity. Lord Ashcroft`s polls showed that the overwhelming reasons why people voted Leave were sovereignty and immigration. However, immigration concerns were principally not racist at all. They were about “taking back control”. The SNP used to interested in that concept. I remember when my SNP card said ” Put Scotland First” . I wonder whether Peter actually knows any Leave voters? I do not know of any Leave voter and certainly no Leave politician who want “racial purification” That is irresponsible nonsense. My wife by the way is a dark skinned immigrant.

    3. “And everyone who understands politics or economics knows ending austerity will be more difficult outside the EU than inside the EU”.

    It seems that Peter is a really intelligent man who understands all that is to be understood about “politics or economics”. One wonders where he was in 2016 when Remain told us that a vote to Leave would immediately reduce GDP, lose us 500,000 jobs, cause rampant inflation or sink the FTSE? I wonder what Italians would think about austerity being more likely to be ended in the EU? Would it be too much for some Remainer, some time, to engage in a credible economic analysis of the implications of a real Brexit?

    4. “There’s good evidence that people believe that there is a limited amount of money which had to be allocated by government. It’s, of course, not true. But it makes arguments against the EU (and international aid) very attractive. It is a significant part of what made people believe the notorious ‘£350m a week for the NHS’ lie.”

    I am not sure what the first two sentences in this stanza actually mean? But Peter has a go at the “notorious £350 million a week “lie. Peter: can I clarify one thing? Do you accept that the UK is a major NET contributor to the EU? If so, what is to stop the UK, as an independent and sovereign power, using these net amounts to fund the NHS?

    5. “We are at a very dangerous juncture, and we need to ensure that we speak to the concerns that led to the Brexit vote”.

    Yes, we are indeed at a very dangerous juncture. If the greatest vote in the history of British democracy is to negated by Westminster elitists allied to Brussels oligarchs then all bets are reaaly off. Peter: I presume you want Scottish independence? After this terrible humiliation for democracy, tell me what happens when Indy Ref 2 is won by 52 to 48%? There will be the devil to pay. What did the suffragettes march for?


    1. david kelly says:

      What Fun!!

      “Sometimes you really have to wonder what goes on in the minds of writers for BC”

      Which is, of course, EXACTLY why it is worth reading.

      One. I don’t think Peter identifies here that anyone in Parliament was hard right. However, the forces that made the referendum happen were not parliamentary. The Tory Party’s attempt to make the hard right irrelevant – having an EU referendum – was not one of their best ideas.

      Two. I certainly thing the EU referendum was a mono-cultural project. How many racists voted to stay in the EU? – I don’t think we need bother John Curtice with that question.

      Three. Whataboutery. Although I don’t think an end to austerity played much conscious part in the leave vote, compared to the warm mono-cultural security blanket disguised as taking back control.

      Four. Oh dear. Essentially there is a magic money tree. Who owns the tree is the issue.

      Five. Relax. We are not leaving.

  2. w.b. robertson says:

    this piece is unadulterated rubbish. why did so many Scots vote Leave? Perhaps they saw themselves as the true Nationalists. If you love your country you don`t wish it to be ruled from Brussels.. Particularly if you can`t stand being controlled by Westminster. Simples. my old dad, long dead, did not fight Hitler and (thank the Lord) did not then live long enough to see his country ruled by Mrs Merkel.

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      I wish I could say I’ve rarely read such unadulterated p*sh as espoused by Mr Robertson. However, in Brexit Britain, it is sadly all too common. British nationalism is truly a blinkered, negative, destructive dogma.

  3. Jim Morris says:

    Your article has given some of the smoke and mirrors propaganda of Brexit. The reason for it is simple and clear: the EU Finance Bill 2019 – ending offshore banking, tax avoidance, both for individuals and companies (including multi-nationals). Powers include the recovery of unpaid tax for up to 20 years of back tax. “I’m too rich, get me out of Europe” was the sole motivation.

    1. MBC says:

      Yes, those are the sort of reasons I think lay behind it. Regulation. The Brexshits architects wanted to avoid any form of regulation, environmental standards, employment rights, banks, whatever. They cynically played on people’s anxieties about immigration and ‘sovereignty’ as if it matters who makes regulations, Brussels, or London. They just don’t like regulations. Same dark forces that got Trump elected. They want to disassemble the entire post-war order that has guaranteed peace and stability. Started with Thatcher.

  4. William Ross says:

    So Jim Morris now comes up with the real “secret knowledge” behind the Brexit adventure: we Leavers were desperately trying to avoid a single EU tax directive. In order to do it, we just summoned the greatest democratic exercise in British history. It is the type of fantasy that you would find in the Protocols.

    Well, Jim, there are a few problems with your approach. Firstly, the great majority of the City voted Remain. Silly boys. Is this what you guys call “false consciousness”?

    Why did that major tax avoidance jurisdiction Luxembourg allow such a directive to pass? Why did Gibralter vote 98% Remain?

    Did no one explain this situation to Dennis Skinner and George Galloway?

    Even in the ( laughable) scenario that you were right, why do we need Brussels oligarchs to fix our tax system?

    Santa is clearly coming……


    1. Redgauntlet says:

      “The greatest democratic exercise in British history….” another TOTAL BREXIT LIE given there have been plenty of UK wide referenda without the following, all of which were present in the Brexit vote:

      1) Cambridge Analytics.
      2) Dark money – possibly Russian.
      3) No vote for EU citizens in UK, or UK citizens in EU = democratic deficit.
      4) A campaign of lies at worst, artful deception at best, with no preparation by anybody, Govt or Leave, about possible consequences of a Brexit vote, hence present total chaos and shambolic international embarrassment of English politics…
      5) A huge spike in hate crimes against foreigners…
      6) One murdered MP, the late Jo Cox….

      You narrow-minded petty, stupid Brexiteers ALWAYS forget Jo Cox…

      And it is exactly that dark sentiment in a minority of the British population that you people have unleashed, that is your fuel and that is the resource you draw on…

      The UK is an international embarrassment.

      This article, by the way, strikes me as being extremely poor…

  5. William Ross says:

    Now Redgauntlet, the last champion of Republican Spain, enters the lists.

    Brexit was not “the greatest democratic exercise in British history” he assures us. Wrong, mi amigo. The 17.5 million people who voted Leave were the greatest number of British citizens who have ever voted for anything in British history. We have only had one other UK -wide referendum which is really significant, the EEC referendum of 1975. Stuff and nonsense Redgauntlet .

    But even so, per Redgauntlet, Brexit was fatally flawed. Why.

    1. Cambridge Analytics — So what has actually been proved? Anything?
    2. Dark Money ( possibly Russian — ooooooh) Proof?
    3. No vote for EU citizens in UK. This is not a democratic deficit at all. EU citizenship is a “funny big pretendy ” type of citizenship, but EU citizens ( not being also British citizens) should never be voting in our elections at all. Normal countries allow only their citizens to vote.
    4. A campaign of lies? Well both campaigns did tell lies ( as political campaigns do). However, Remain was the very incarnation of deception. Remain outspent Leave by 1.5 to 1, had the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments in support, all the elite institutions, all the qualities ( bar one) and all international organisations. Sorry, Remain were rubbish.
    5. Huge spike in hate crimes. Not true. Come and live here Redgauntlet.
    6. To try to blame Brexiteers for the utterly tragic death of Jo Cox is low even by Remain standards.

    We have whipped up ” dark sentiment in a minority”?? And I thought that we won 52% to 48%?

    Sounds like a whine to me.

    You are right about one thing. This was a lousy article.



    1. Redgauntlet says:

      William Ross, get one thing straight: I am not your amigo, you stupid, smug, ridiculous wee shite. Don’t you dare take that presumptuous tone with me.

      As far as I’m concerned, you can fck off to England with Cameron, Farage and your Brexit pals…

      You complete clowns don’t even a) know what you want, b) how to achieve it…

      Meanwhile, people like me, who didn’t even get a vote, are in Limboland, with stress levels through the roof…

      You can go and fck off William Ross, ye smug wee shite….

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        But he won’t. His claims are, at best, shallow, uninformed and naive. His apparent view of himself as some sort of knight in shining armour defending Albion from the evil empire, and its traitorous allies working from within, should inform our views of him.

    2. Louis says:

      Dear William

      Here is a link with a plethora of articles all researched, the information coming from UK Police, Crown Office, Home Office, ONS, etc …

      The running theme is that England may be a tad upset since Brexit.

      Take care old bean

  6. William Ross says:


    Thanks for your comment and website regarding hate crime. At least you make a valid point of sorts.

    What we have to remember about hate crime is that the victim defines it. It is a rather odd kind of mens rea. A much better test would be the number of hate-related assaults which are very low. If this really was a racist society, then it would not be attracting this level of immigration. A vote with a foot is much more powerful than a vote with a hand.

    I do not mind you having fun with “old bean” but I thought that you should know that I was born in Dingwall in 1960 and was brought up in a Highland Council house. I have supported the SNP all my life and I campaigned for YES in 2014. My wife and son are Venezuelan immigrants. Like nearly half a million nationalists I also voted LEAVE in 2016. I have never before experienced the demonisation that Leavers now face. Let any reasonable individual review the postings on this article and judge who is winning the argument.

    Peter just does not seem to get it. The principal concern that led to the Brexit vote was constitutional in nature. I want decisions affecting Britain to made in Britain. Better still, let’s have decisions affecting Scotland made in Scotland.

    While I would not stoop to analyse Redgauntlet’s ultimate posting, I think it is important to look at one thing he said in his first posting. He brought up the subject of Jo Cox and her tragic death. He writes that the “dark sentiment” that killed Jo Cox is [our]”fuel”. Murderous hatred of foreigners or their protectors is thus the “fuel” of Brexit. We are the new SA on the march! That is rather like blaming Harold Wilson for the atrocious actions of the German Red Brigade. I am simply non-plussed by someone trying to associate myself with the killer of Jo Cox. What do I tell my immigrant wife??


    1. White people denying that the society they experience isn’t racist is always a very strange thing.

    2. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Your point regarding the tragic murder of Jo Cox by an extreme right-wing, pro-Brexit Unionist (who carried out the murder while shouting “Britain First”) is where your arguments fall into the category of naïve William. You seem to believe that the fact YOU happen to be married to an immigrant somehow washes the taint of racism and xenophobia from the entire Leave campaign and those who voted for it. That I originally come from Lanarkshire and support Motherwell FC does not mean that everyone from Lanarkshire must therefore support Motherwell FC. Similarly, that you happen to have voted Leave and are not a xenophobe does not mean that everyone who voted Leave was not a xenophobe. Can you see that? Whatever your own personal views, the fact remains that an uncomfortably large percentage of the Leave vote was driven by racism and xenophobia. It cannot be denied with any credibility.

  7. William Ross says:

    Dear Mr Editor.

    I must apologise for being very remiss. I, as a white older man involved in the oil business obviously have no right to argue about racism in our society. I am just, in Gordon Brown`s phrase a ” bigoted ” man?

    In fact I have to wonder how you, as another Scottish white man, have have any valid views on racism yourself? Your contributors like Louis regularly try to argue that hate crime levels are lower here than in England, and we are somehow better than the English. How can we argue that Scotland is less racist than England? How would we oppressors know?

    Your problem is that actual levels of racially driven assault are very low, and immigration levels into this “racist” country are very high.


    1. You can argue anything you like. But if you don’t see the irony in a white person saying ‘racism doesn’t exist here’ then I can’t really help you out …

  8. William Ross says:

    Me Bungo Pony

    It is somehow comforting, even in the safety of cyberspace, for someone to conclude that one is not a closet racist and complicit in political murder. So far so good.

    However, your argument is that while Ross may be a reasonable enough cove, LEAVE as a movement is irrevocably tainted with racism and xenophobia.

    I was loosely connected with Vote Leave, the official Leave campaign. I would defy you to find any leader or spokesman of Vote Leave who uttered a racist word in the campaign. Gisela Stuart ( a German?) Boris Johnson ( a buffoon at times but racist?) Michael Gove ( too smart for his own good at times but racist?) David Davis, buddy of Alex Salmond? Can you identify a single racist or far right speech or article by any kind of spokesman for Vote Leave?

    LEAVE EU had more questionable characters like Farage and Banks. But I do not see them as racists. The current UKIP is collapsing and has fascist. racist problems for sure.

    There certainly are a small minority of hard right people living in Britain. I think I am right in saying that in 2010, the NF got around 500K votes. These people would certainly have voted Leave. and probably voted UKIP in 2015. ( but 4 million people voted for UKIP in 2015) A previous commentator on this thread was right when he said that very few bigots would have voted remain but then again there are very few bigots at all.

    In early Soviet Russia, it was objected that many Bolshevik leaders were Jewish and this was true. However, very few Jews were Bolsheviks.


    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      You ask me a question and then answer it yourself. UKIP is the elephant in the room. The party that made xenophobia seemingly respectable. Along with its fellow travellers in the BNP and EDL, they were the main drivers for a Brexit vote that the Tories caved on to both avoid a split within their own ranks and to cash in on the “Britain First” sentiment given its head by UKIP. No mainstream is going to make outright racist or xenophobic speeches in public, though the main Brexit party saw no problems with it. It still does not disprove the fact that millions voted for Brexit on an anti-immigrant basis. I just hope you and your wife don’t live to regret your uncritical support for this essentially xenophobic project.

    2. Redgauntlet says:

      William Ross

      My apologies, I should not have lost the rag with you, but I think you severely underestimate how much anxiety Brexit has caused to millions and millions of people who have chosen to make either the UK or Europe a new home.

      Losing freedom of movement would not just be a blow to me, it would severely alter my life prospects. By not giving people like me a vote, you stoke up anger and feed resentment. It makes me feel powerless and at times, bitter and angry.

      And then, your inability or else unwillingness to reason properly and to simply parrot the Brexit campaign lies is extremely exasperating.

      You say that things should be decided at the local level, but this is the argument of a child. Local issues should be decided at the local level, national questions at the national level, and international matters at the international level, surely? You can’t solve the Cuban Missile Crisis from the local parish church.

      You parrot the lie that Brussels imposes laws on us, when you must know, when everybody must know by now after the Irish border question, that this is simply not true because every Member State of the EU has a veto.

      The Backstop is in the Brexit deal because the Irish will veto any deal which doesn’t have it. What don’t you get? What don’t you understand? Any “unfair” EU laws which you perceive could have been vetoed by the UK. Take it up with your local MP, and stop blaming “the Europeans” .

      As for the question of Brexit and inciting xenophobia, do I need to remind you that an image of Syrian refugees, people fleeing from war, vulnerable and desperate, was used by Nigel Farage on a poster to fool voters into making a link between a refugee crisis in the Middle East and the EU’s four freedoms?

      Can you actually get any lower than that pathetic beer swilling lout Farage? That wide boy trash? It is a despicable, vile and totally exploitative thing to do to people in despair, and it is mendacious and false that there is any connection between Syrian refugees and the EU’s four freedoms: an arrant lie.

      Boris Johnson is a racist – there is evidence in abundance in statements he has made – Farage is a racist and so are millions of others who voted both Leave and Remain.

      Racism exists at all kinds of different levels, from those overtly racist to those covertly racist to others who merely hold prejudices or even just reservations about outsiders. All the studies suggest that, at the least, we all have some “biases”… we’re tribal animals, some more than others. We’re not perfect.

      Your posts on Bella – the repeated and quite bizarre references to your wife being “dark-skinned” – your comment to me about “try living in the country” – suggest to me that perhaps you do in fact, at a very basic level, have reservations about foreigners.

      Maybe that’s not the case at all, but the fact that you have a foreign wife does not necessarily preclude you from harbouring doubts, reservations or even mild prejudices against foreigners, though I am not saying you do either: I don’t know you.

      And nobody on this thread has blamed you, or anything like it, for the murder of Jo Cox – stop twisting words.

      What I said is that Brexiters always overlook it, always forget it, and get very upset when somebody makes the slightest link between a Brexit campaign centered on foreigners in the UK and their right to be here, and the gunning down of an MP known for her sterling work helping refugees,…

    3. What astonishing nonsense.

      The entire campaign was riven with racist messaging.

      Boris Johnson is unquestionably a racist.

  9. William Ross says:


    I unreservedly accept your apology and that issue is over.

    You and others make a number of points and I struggle to deal with them all for lack of time. In any event this is my last contribution on this thread. Just a few thoughts.

    1. I am very sympathetic to your personal concerns about the end of free movement for UK citizens in the EU. You are also concerned about your status in Spain.
    My position and the position of every single significant Brexiteer politician ( including even Farage and Co) was and is that EU citizens living legally in the UK on Brexit day should have the inalienable right to continue with their lives and livelihoods in the UK under some kind of special visa programme. The UK government under Theresa May and Amber Rudd ( both Remainers) took a different view and tried to negotiate the issue. This was the wrong matter to negotiate on. I would naturally expect EU governments to extend the same courtesy to British citizens living in EU 27 countries. I gather that the Withdrawal Agreement does cover the rights of British citizens in EU countries. EU countries also negotiated the status of Britsih citizens. That was wrong also.

    The hard fact is that there is only one way to be ABSOLUTELY sure of not prejudicing the post- Brexit rights of UK citizens in EU countries: not leave at all. If Indy Ref 2 is ever won, the same issue will arise over the rights of Scottish citizens in RUK. If civilised values prevail there will be no problem. There is no constituency in the UK ( except perhaps these 500K fascists) for the expulsion of legal residents, and it is not happening.

    2. You are completely mistaken about how the EU works and you derive the wrong lesson regarding the Irish backstop. The Irish can certainly veto a withdrawal deal but this has nothing to do with European legislation. The UK can also certainly veto the expansion of EU powers but EU legislation can only be initiated by the unaccountable EU Commission. This legislation is then approved by two bodies. The European Parliament is directly elected by the various electorates of the member states but as there is no European people the will of Parliament is not the will of any demos. The UK represents 12% of the MEPs? The second approving body is the Council of Ministers. The great majority of EU legislation is voted on by QMV in the CM so there is rarely any effective veto.

    3. I stated that my wife is dark skinned because she is dark skinned. I am not a racist. It is not complex really.

    4. Editor: Boris Johnson is definitely a racist is he? Well as the successful two term mayor of the most diverse city on Earth he sure did a good job of hiding it.


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