Brexit: The Poor People’s Vote?

This article appeared in the Evening Telegraph: 25/02/2019 [Online], Available:  [Accessed: 2019, Feb 25]

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Last April, the campaign for a people’s vote on Brexit burst onto the political agenda with the force of a freight train but it has felt recently as if the amber light on the fuel gauge has been signalling that momentum is low. That was until last week’s kiss of life which was several Labour and Conservative resignations in which one MP, Anna Soubry, stated that the final straw was the government’s handling of Brexit. And on Saturday some of the new independent group were seen at the people’s vote march in London.

Can you handle another referendum? I still vividly remember the 23rd June 2016 as the early results were about to roll in. Nigel Farage had already, despairingly, declared a Remain win and retired to the bar. Newcastle, which was expected to produce a big remain vote delivered only a one per cent majority. Then Sunderland, a beneficiary of significant sums of EU funding, voted by 61% to leave. This was the moment I, and those gathered in my house that night, realised something strange was happening.

A recent article by Helen Barnard, Laurie Heykoop and Ashwin Kumar at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation stated that, although poverty rates are not predicted to be hugely affected by Brexit, there are “strong risks of price rises, falls in real wages [and] lower employment.” So I took these questions to Scotland’s busiest foodbank in Dundee to test the theory that those on the lowest incomes voted to leave and to find out if they are concerned that some say they are the most likely to be affected by it.

The first person I met was Angela, 52, who said: “We survived before we joined and we’ll survive in future.” She added, “Food prices always go up anyway. That is nothing new.” Steve, 47, recently made redundant from Tokheim also voted leave. He said: “I do worry that prices will rise but I also believe we make better decisions when we own the decision-making process.” John, 21, was a first time voter and voted leave. He said: “I support independence from the EU and the UK because I believe we would manage our own affairs better but, in the long run, I think we will be fine.”

The only Remain voter among the many I met was foodbank manager, Ken Linton, who grew up in Belfast during the troubles with bombs going off overhead each day. He expressed concern over the Irish backstop. He said: “I think Europe is using the border as a political pawn and that could very dangerous as it will raise tensions on both sides.” However, amid fresh calls for a people’s vote, it does appear clear that Brexit was the poor people’s vote and, also, they seem unflinching in their support.

Young Voters Might Change the Outcome

A fortnight ago, within 24 hours of one another, I had two encounters at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. The first was a breakfast gathering of a few hundred businessmen and women featuring the UK poll expert, John Curtice, at Dundee’s Apex Hotel and the second (as stated above) was an afternoon at Dundee foodbank. However, what both experiences had in common was the topic of discussion – Brexit.

Curtice, like a political prophet among men, believed that the encroaching prospect of a no deal Brexit would lead to the fragmentation of the presiding government – a statement that was ratified when it was revealed this week that up to 22 Cabinet resignations could follow if no deal goes ahead. He added: “The real question now is not what most people want but what most people are most willing to put up with.”

On the unlikely prospect of a people’s vote, Curtice said that there has been little movement between those who voted leave and remain, which suggests the likelihood of a different result could depend upon whether eligible new voters registered and then turned out. However, he also said polls suggest a second referendum and a different outcome are both unlikely.