Originally published in Shout Out UK.
The student-run anti-Brexit group For Our Future’s Sake has this month released an exposé on the ‘real agenda’ of the so-called ‘Brextremists’. Featuring a series of decontextualised and out-of-date comments spoken by Conservative politicians, the document attempts to demonstrate a ‘categoric’ imperative by Brexiteers to overhaul the NHS, destroy workers’ rights, reinforce sexual inequality and decry environmental protections — all under the guise of leaving the EU. However, the unsubtle attempt by FFS to vilify those on the political right showcases the hard-left’s equally explicit political agenda: that of overturning Brexit at any cost.
While morally denouncing the Brexiteers’ politics as part of a regressive, ‘backwards’ agenda, For Our Future’s Sake conveniently overlooks its own self-serving political ambition. The report, entitled ‘The Real Agenda of the Brexiteers‘, presents to its readers a handful of provocative and selective declarations made by Conservative politicians — some over 20-years-old — that seemingly validate FFS’s demands for a People’s Vote.
Chris Grayling, we are told, argued that national minimum-wage requirements should not apply to those with learning disabilities in 1998. John Redwood, meanwhile, undermined the scientific proof of human-induced climate change in 2008. Ten years later, in 2018, Tory Peer Lord Ribeiro questioned the usefulness of EU workers’ directives that protect employment standards and wages. Boris Johnson, in 2002, floated the idea of a privatised NHS as being ‘greater appreciated’: Daniel Hannan, on the other hand, scandalously suggested in 2009 that the NHS didn’t ‘work’ at all. Jacob Rees-Mogg, more recently, is revealed to have said he could ‘not care in the least’ about ‘chlorinated chicken’; and Andrea Leadsom, in 2016, restated her view that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
The statements, when read holistically and out of context, serve to create an overall image of Conservative Brexiteers as radical megalomaniacs bent on destroying basic human rights. According to the report, Brexiteers — in which Theresa May is included — all see EU withdrawal as the ‘vehicle’ through which right-wing social and economic agendas can be discreetly enforced. The idea of an ominous, conspiratorial, Brexiteer presence depicted by FFS is an ironic one: it exists as a disturbing mimicry of Brexiteers’ own portrayal of the EU in the run-up to the 2016 referendum. This time, a few comments about the NHS and minimum wage have transplanted memorable case studies about bendy bananas and ounces and pounds. ‘Brussels’ Elites’, in the report, has been substituted for ‘Brexit Elites’.
In actuality, the ‘real’ nasty character traits of Brexiteers, as the public know them, are not their right-wing views (which, in a functioning democracy, the politicians are entitled to), but their misuse of words, facts and figures in a deliberate intention to mislead — remember the £350m on the side of the bus? Unfortunately, FFS’s catalogue of quotations attributed to Theresa May between 1998 and 1999 do just that. They misrepresent her current political stance and proven track record in order to spin a certain narrative.
The report alludes to numerous comments made in 1998 and 99, where May stated that the EU Social Chapter could be a ‘burden for business’ and suggested that many employers cannot afford to implement it. The report then claims, that in the Prime Minister’s ‘own words’, she has therefore attacked workers’ rights — and this makes her one of the right-wing, Brexit ‘crony’ elites. Unfortunately, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone entertaining this view after May’s most recent vote of confidence result. It’s clear that disgruntled Brexiteers made up the large part of the 117 Tory MPs that cried ‘no confidence’ in their leader.
As recorded in Hansard, and re-quoted in the report, the PM is noted to have said the following on the 28 April 1999:
‘The impact of employment legislation, particularly the loss of income for pre-schools caused by the loss of numbers, is exacerbated in a variety of ways by the increased costs of the minimum wage and the working time directive’.
In the report, this is followed by the words: ‘The Prime Minister has called the minimum wage costly’, without any effort to contextualise the quotation. When evidence is presented in this way, it has no persuasive force. It looks as disjointed, randomised and opportunistic as something Boris himself would come out with — and flaunts the same underhand techniques that Brexiteers are often degraded for.
FFS itself is guilty of Brexiteer-like arrogance by dismissing those individuals who voted Leave for genuine, and valid, reasons. Despite 70 per cent of Labour constituencies voting to Leave, and only 47 Labour MPs voting against the triggering of Article 50 in 2017, the report’s foreword, signed off by David Lammy and Caroline Lucas, argues that opposing Brexit is an ideological obligation for those on the political left.
Likewise, the organisation claims to give ‘young people across the UK’ a chance to ‘stand up and be counted’. However, since the movement was founded at the NUS 2018 Conference with a specific ‘agenda’ of its own — to bring about a People’s Vote — it has turned a blind eye to the non-university educated portion of young people in the UK today. These are individuals that have had little opportunity to endorse or reject FFS’s political goal. Even if you voted to Leave, FFS encourages you to see that choice as misguided and reversible.
‘Whether we voted Leave or Remain, this is not the future that young people want or expect for themselves. We [of FFS] have a responsibility to stand up and make our voices heard, for all our future’s sake’.
Those that did vote Leave, which was 29 per cent of under 25s, are dismissed and patronised:
‘This document shows categorically what we have always known — that Brexit is led by the right, of the right and for the right’.
Pushing aside Brexit voters as right-wing political cannon fodder, rather than acknowledging their feelings and views, is irresponsible and elitist — no less so than the ERG’s desperation for no-deal. However abhorrent that cadre of Conservative politician is, the statements recorded in this document do not in themselves invalidate the Brexit result, upon which the revocation of freedom of movement was the predominant concern held by people of all ages — including young people.
Ultimately, rather than helping ossify unilateral conviction among opposition MPs that Brexit must be abandoned and shelved; the ‘Real Agenda of the Brexiteers’ report has done little other than prove that hard-left Remainers are as obstinate as those they so vehemently criticise. Their political ambitions, much like those of the Brexiteers, are part of an effort to prevent national unity and consensus under a narrow and singular aim. Their desire to overturn Brexit — often against their constituencies’ wishes and the public tide of opinion — is as damaging as the Brexiteers’ ambitions to push through Brexit by whatever means necessary. I’m not sure which is worse.