A few weeks ago, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier provoked headlines when he said that the Brexit process would be an education for the British public. What he actually said was, “[t]here are extremely serious consequences of leaving the single market and it hasn’t been explained to the British people.” But was this an unveiled threat to make the “divorce process” painful, or was Barnier just stating the obvious?
Despite public debate that preceded the vote to leave the European Union last year, and the endless coverage since, many people remain relatively unaware of the advantages and disadvantages of membership of the EU and what this actually means for the UK. In a survey by the ING Economic Network ten months after the EU referendum, 45% of the respondents did not fully understand the economic consequences of leaving the EU.
One of the main talking points from the referendum debate centred around the Vote Leave campaign’s narrative of ‘taking back control’. The question is, what did we give away that we needed to claim back? Before the referendum in January 2016, a survey from Ipsos MORI placed Europe as the 8th most important issue facing Britain while immigration, the NHS, the economy, terrorism, poverty, housing and education were rated more important. However, the power of the Vote Leave message – especially from high political figures such as Nigel Farage and Daniel Hannan – lay in the way it grouped these concerns together and blamed the EU for the government not being able to deal with them.
This is why the clear majority of the British people do not understand Brexit – because the idea of leaving the EU was based on a false pretence. For example, the EU does not have any control over the lack of house building in the UK over the past 30 years, or the lack of funding for the NHS relative to the increase in the elderly population; or even the weak growth in the economy. Yet people were told that by leaving these issues could improve.
Fast forward to the Brexit negotiations being led by David Davis and Michel Barnier, the UK government are still unsure of the path to take regarding issues including what a transitional deal might look like and for how long the status quo would continue as part of that. Simply, if the government are not sure on the process and what Brexit means, then how can the British public be?
Understanding Brexit is crucial for the British public. Trade deals with the EU will impact on our goods, services and jobs in the UK. Changes to immigration quotas will affect higher education, our economy and those working in healthcare and the agricultural sector amongst others. Other consequences look likely to hit the pockets of British citizens because of a weaker exchange rate. The list will continue to go on as the Brexit process ensures. It is the responsibility of the UK government to ensure the British people understand what Brexit means – and assure us that they do too.