Social Media’s effects on the Referendum

The comment (January 31st) by Simon Nixon, the Times’s leader writer, that “ Brexit  was driven by a slick social media campaign that lured millions of voters with the prospect of an island fantasy” does not accord with the experience of many tens of thousands of Leave campaigners who knocked on doors, manned the street stalls, arranged and addressed public meetings, with the simple message that it was Britain’s freedom to live under its own laws, and only those laws, which was the real issue.

The overall voting data also contradicts his assertion as to the role of social media in swinging the vote to the Leave side in the Referendum.  The over 65s, who were the least likely to use social media, were the most likely to have voted “Leave”, while the youngest demographic (18-25) was the most likely to use social media and the most likely to oppose “Leave”, although only a third actually voted.

As for a lack of plans for post-Brexit, there were many: in 2013/14 the Institute of Economic Affairs ran a €100,000 international competition for the best Brexit Blueprint. From the shortlist of entries, six finalist essays were published and widely circulated in April 2014. The book “Britain’s Referendum Decision and its Effects” published on May 9th 2016 with 268 pages, and available at , lays out in Chapter 10, in appropriate detail, post-Brexit strategies for industry, energy, and immigration. Chapter 11 details the way the actual leaving negotiations should be conducted.

What nobody predicted was the Prime Minister’s appointment of a civil servant with no professional experience of the EU or of trade matters, and to boot a past supporter of a Federal Europe, to lead the UK negotiations to separate the UK from the EU.  Nor could any Leaver have foreseen that Mrs May would accept the EU’s demands that the financial and other arrangements attached to Britain’s leaving should all be legally settled before trade negotiations could even be started.  Which, after two years, is where we stand now, with the crucial difference that in 8 weeks’ time, Britain will be free to open negotiations with the EU as a completely independent country as Korea and Canada were when they concluded their respective trade agreements with the EU in 2011 and 2016 respectively.

A two-page Standstill Agreement by the EU and the UK to apply both the present zero tariffs to UK-EU trade, and the EU’s common external tariffs to imports from non-EU countries, for a maximum of 12 months after March 29th, to allow enough time to finalise additional customs arrangements at the EU-UK entry points, is all that is required to maintain the present smooth flow of goods, and to open trade negotiations with the EU and separately with Australia. No continued UK membership of the EU’s Customs Union would be necessary for this arrangement. The WTO would see the 12-month standstill period of zero tariffs between the UK and the EU as a reasonable exception to the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) rule during the run-up to a full trade agreement (FTA) between the two parties.

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