Remain is Dead. Long Live Remain

Four years after the referendum, and six months after final defeat at the latest General Election, Remain continues to motivate voters and party supporters in (mostly) predictable ways.

Defeat

In many ways, the referendum in 2016 was not the defeat of remain, it was the birth of it. Until then the case for European Union membership was apologetic, apathetic and pragmatic. Since then it has become passionate and determined.

Defeat came three and a half years later, not in a referendum that this new passion might have won, but at a General Election in which Brexit basically had one party to vote for while Remain was split among many.

Those splits are now shaping British politics for the decade ahead because defeat hasn’t ended the motivations involved.

Predictable Division

In January 2020 we wrote two articles about the future of Remain. One was explicit that remainers would split into camps now that Brexit was inevitable. The other was about how Scotland would be affected by shifting remain allegiances.

Things have moved on since then (for many, at least) and some predictions came true. Other things have also happened though, that we didn’t foresee.

English Parties – Labour

The divide in England has both vindicated and disprove the Labour-Brexiter claims last year that Labour should not have moved towards remain. They argued that remain was just a centrist/Lib Dem attack on Labour so there were no votes to be won there.

With Keir Starmer as leader, Labour have a recognisably pro-remain leader. He pushed Labour to support a referendum last year and his views are well known. But he became leader two months after Brexit had happened and is thus behaving as the first post-brexit leader of any major party.

Proving those Labour-Brexiter claims false, he does appear to have benefited from support among those remainers who accept scrutiny is now all that’s left. The Tories have absolute control and Brexit has officially happened, but he has opened up consideration of things like electoral reform to appeal to remainers who would have won under PR.

Proving those Labour-Brexiters partially right, however, are the Lib Dems.

English Parties – Lib Dems

Three groups on social media appear to hate Starmer even while much of the public seem positive towards him. Tory diehards, Rebecca Long-Bailey diehards and Lib Dems.

The reason Lib Dems attack him is that attacking Labour as insufficiently remain was their key strategy in 2019. Ironically that strategy failed so severely that they’ve been stuck with it ever since – though they will one day choose a new leader and the search for a more productive strategy can begin.

Lib Dems doubling down on their defeated remainiest of remain strategy was predicted in January. What wasn’t predicted was fighting endless futile battles over Brexit that a majority Tory/Brexit government can keep ignoring. A new leader will surely move remainiest of remain into rejoiniest of rejoin so that the party has some prospector recovery in post-brexit politics without losing its hard core remainers.

The SNP

While England’s Remainers have no path back to Europe, the SNP have offered Scotland’s Remainers exactly that. As predicted in January, Scottish politics is shaping up as a battle between independence-and-rejoin Vs Brexit-Britain. 

Latest polling suggests that independence-and-rejoin is winning, which is hardly surprising given that every part of Scotland had a remain majority long before the upsurge in remain passion.

Of course, many Remainers are not willing to give up the Union to rejoin the EU. And this is the remain split in Scotland, in contrast to the Scrutiny v Purity split in England. The winner will depend on who offers the best vision to remainers long term. Presently that’s the SNP but opinions may change back again if someone can make a better case than “independence is too hard”.

Wales

The articles written in January overlooked Wales for a reason. There was little scope for predicting how things would play out in Wales. Six months on the picture remains unclear.

For example, while while a shift of remainers towards “independence-and-rejoin” seemed likely to an extent – and has happened – independence is not so popular in Wales as to make it a real prospect for this decade.

This may explain the less clearcut party split on the subject compared to Scotland. One in six Plaid Cymru supporters oppose independence and around three in ten Labour supporters back it.  So the impact on Welsh politics of “independence-and-rejoin” is ambiguous at best – especially as Welsh Labour, unlike English Labour, was unashamedly pro-remain in 2019 – reasserting it’s its status as the anti-Westminster party under a Tory brexity government.

So independence support is rising in Wales but without obvious implications yet for where remainers take things.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the one part of the UK where remainers have now won.

People of Northern Ireland will remain in the European Union in all but name. Yes they’ll be denied a say on EU policy but they will retain rights to live and work in the EU, retain rights to EU citizenship, and will retain an open border too.

This must be devestating for the DUP which backed Brexit at the referendum and is now being sliced off from its beloved Britain with a new fixed border in the Irish Sea. But this article is about remainers.

The future in Northern Ireland is highly contentious for obvious reasons. It’s hard to see past reunification in all but name causing tensions but eventually it seems set to be one what everyone has to get used to.

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