Over the last 2 years, there has been considerable discussion about how Brexit voters may feel if there was a potential second referendum or how they may feel with a Brexit deal. In a recent BBC Question Time panel, Angela Rayner conveyed the view that many Brexit voter have; having a second referendum may “undermine democracy itself”. This view is regularly suggested by Brexit politicians; Ian Duncan Smith suggested “there would be riots” if a second referendum was called. There is very little talk on the other hand of the 48%, those who voted to Remain. What are the potential political effects of a No-Deal result for those who voted Remain and what would be the political effects on the UK as a whole?
A No-Deal could very realistically break up the UK over a period of 30 years. A Hard-border with Ireland would create tension and drive Nationalist supporters to the IRA. The longer-term effects of a Hard-Border would likely create a situation in which Northern Ireland may actually leave the U.K. The major differences between Northern Ireland now and in The Troubles, the period of time marked with terrorism and violence, is that the Protestant community in Northern Ireland is in long term demographic decline with 48% of the population compared with 45% of the population who are Catholic in the 2011 census. It is true that the largest plurality in that census regarded themselves as British only; around 40% and that Catholic population in Ireland weren’t overly Irish in their affiliation. However, that was before the possibility of a Hard-Border with Ireland. Given the issue of a No-Deal Brexit, with the decline of Protestants, rise of Catholics and growth in those who identify as neither, it is very possible that Sinn Fein and other Nationalist parties campaign for a break-away of Northern Ireland from the UK. Bear in mind that Northern Ireland voted Remain, it may be possible to convince people who aren’t Catholics or Protestants to support a break-away from the UK if there was significant financial hardship caused by the drop in trade from leaving the EU.
Scotland, with it’s largest support for Remain would also represent an existential threat to the U.K. breaking up. The SNP remains a very strong threat to the Unionist parties of the U.K. in Scotland. According to the aggregate poll analysis on Electoral Calculus suggests that the SNP support is on 38%. Given that isn’t enough to force an independence referendum but a large core base of supporters that wouldn’t require many more voters to be able to gain a second independence referendum. There is some evidence to suggest that the Scottish Tory party would support a Second EU Referendum, although they have denied this. This maybe to do with the threat of a No-Deal on the Union between Scotland and England would push Scottish voters into supporting the SNP.
The most interesting potential effects of a No-Deal Brexit on politics is the possible the fragmentation and decline the both Labour and the Tory parties. Labour party has lost considerable amount of support to both Greens and Liberal Democrat parties since 2017. Using data from Electoral Calculus between July and October 2018, the average support in the polls for Labour was 38.4%, reduced from 41.8% in 2017 from June to December. In that same period, Liberal Democrat support went from 4.2% polling average in 2017 polling to 5% in July to October polling in 2018. Greens also increased support from 2.2% in 2017 to 2.9% in 2018 July to October polling. What the evidence suggests is that Labour has lost voters from Labour to Liberal Democrats and Greens over that period of time. Whilst many theories could explain this phenomenon to some extent, the single issue that unifies both Green and Liberal Democrats is support for a People’s Vote or a Second Referendum on the European Union.
Worse still for Labour is that much of its core supporters in the younger categories are not traditional Left-wing supporters when it comes to economics. A Populus research study conducted for the RSA, found that those under-40 were more likely to support less public spending for lower taxation, whilst the opposite is true for those over 40 supported more public service provision. What is interesting with this is that voters currently vote for political parties opposite to their current political values in that under-40s vote Labour and over-40s vote Conservative. Brexit may be the issue that will fundamentally realign voting interests. Labour by its failure to oppose Brexit, may be rejected by millions of younger Labour voters. What if the Liberal Democrats capitalised on this and went for the under-40s vote by arguing for an internationalist, liberal, low tax party? It is important to point out that prior to 2015, the Liberal Democrats received a substantial amount of the younger adult vote. Given that Brexit has fundamentally shifted UK politics, it is possible to see the demise of Labour if No-Deal is the result of them not shifting to supporting a People’s Vote.
For the Tories, the threat of a Tory party implosion is higher than many would expect. Around 117 people voted against Theresa May in a vote of confidence. Such would be the basis for a party split. British politics has various political crises that cause the rise of new political parties. The Corn Laws helped give rise to the Liberal Party, whilst World War 1 saw the large split in the Liberals that caused them to eventually collapse and allowed the Labour Party to rise as the major Left of centre party. There is no reason to see why Brexit could be cataclysmic for the Conservatives. Around 26% of Conservatives supported Remain in the EU referendum according to Ipsos Mori. Given their demographic distribution, it is possible for the Liberal Democrats make substantial gains in the South-East by targeting Tories in Remain supporting constituencies out of the backlash of a Tory No-Deal, whilst the Tories themselves may collapse into two-parties thanks to Brexit.
The UK is in a political state of flux. Tension is high. A No-Deal vote may be the most attractive proposition to Leave voters, but Remainers may completely desolate the political order. Such is the result of ignoring will of the 48%.
Article by Daniel Clemence