What did they think Leave was about?

The spectacle of people defecting from the campaign to leave the EU has been truly bizarre. Sarah Wollaston switched sides because she decided that the Leave campaign was lying about the amount of money Britain could spend on healthcare if it weren't in the EU. Sayeeda Warsi, a Tory member of the House of Lords, became too disgusted with the xenophobia of the campaign to stand, and so this week she switched sides as well.

At first glance this doesn't make sense. If you really thought the UK would be better off out, then it's hard to see why the Leave campaign's tactics would change your mind about that. If you think the Leave battle bus is covered in lies, then don't campaign with them, or don't campaign at all - but what does that bus have to do with what really matters, with the economy or sovereignty or immigration or whatever you want to focus on?

Warsi's explanation is a pretty decent one. Leave, she said, has become "small-minded, xenophobic and inward-looking", and "if that is the message you run on then that is the Britain you create afterwards." Alright. If you win a referendum on the back of a campaign of ethnic nationalism, then ethnic nationalism grows.


But what were they expecting? The leaders of the Leave campaign were always going to try to win by appealing to the most common reason people are sceptical of the EU - their anger about immigration and about British taxpayers' money being spent on non-British people. (Either through welfare for immigrants, or through contributions to the EU budget.) Even if the official leaders of the campaign somehow, and for some reason, restrained themselves, a winning vote for Brexit was always going to be built on these sorts of concerns. It was always going to be propelled by inward-looking xenophobia of a more or less virulent form.

These are the reasons that real people dislike the EU. Some political elites may really care about the sovereignty of the UK Parliament and the democratic deficit of the European Union. Out of those people, many - Michael Gove, say, and maybe Boris Johnson (though it's hard to say, since Boris doesn't appear ever to have had a genuine thought) - have long since reconciled themselves to what motivates most of their Brexit allies. Perhaps they're sympathetic, or perhaps they're just biting their tongues for the sake of the grander values they see as being on the line. Hard to say. It's pretty amazing, though, that some Brexit supporters like Warsi managed to con themselves for so long that ordinary people really cared about the European Commission or the minor infractions on the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. It's never been hard to see: the whole history of how this referendum came about, from the Referendum Party through the rise of UKIP and David Cameron's attempt to stop Tory voters splitting in favour of Farage, tells the story very clearly. If you didn't recognise before what the real meaning and motivation of this movement is, you can't have been paying attention.

Anyway, vote Remain, please.

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