What contributed to this fast transformation?
Brexit had to be made real and given a face. Soon after David Cameron’s announcement of the referendum, MPs had to come to terms with their own views and take sides. Brexit manifested itself in the form of a cross-party campaign called Vote Leave. It had members from all the leading parties, economists, and historians -- slowly but steadily gained numbers.
It formed a company, set up a headquarters, and formulated action plans. It opened a website (http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/) complete with an app you can download in your mobile device.
In a quiet part of East London where I live, I must have received twice the number of flyers from Vote Leave than Vote Remain. The flyers were always single-paged and had a simple, clear message “take back control” on one side and the key pointers on the other. Leaving would:
1. Stop the handover of £350 million a week to EU. Money which they said could be given to the National Health Service (NHS)
2. Take back control of UK borders and the ability to kick out violent criminals
3. Take back the power to make laws (suggesting EU forces laws on UK)
4. Free businesses from damaging EU laws and regulations
5. Take back the power to make UK’s own trade deals
6. Regain influence in the wider world and become a global nation
Vote Leave members worked hard
The £350m statement was also sprawled across big, red coach buses which crisscrossed the country, making an unavoidable impact on anyone visualising it that £350m are lost every week to the EU. The Vote Leave campaign ensured that their statements were disseminated across the nation by meticulous leafleting. Vote Leave members worked diligently, turning up in every possible public appearance and every opportunity to further their campaign.
In fact, my first encounter with any of the EU referendum campaigners was with a staunch Vote Leave campaigner, and this was as early as February. I was attending a conference arranged by the British Bangladesh Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs. The aim of the conference was how to encourage more Brit-Bangladeshi woman in trade and commerce.
One of the speakers was Priti Patel, a conservative MP of Indian heritage, and the Minister for Employment. This was the first time I met her and seeing her I was quite pleased that a woman with roots in my sub-continent made it in the upper echelons of British politics.
However, within minutes, my image crumbled as it was obvious she was making a case for Brexit. She started talking about why British-Bangladeshi woman should vote leave as they can trade beyond EU and more importantly with their country of ethnicity -- Bangladesh.
It is not that the Vote Remain campaign was a sitting duck. It was lead by the prime minister and the chancellor
She said EU held UK back from forging trade ties and that she dreamt of “a world of open markets and free trade, where a customer in Dartford can place an order from Dhaka simply and securely.” As I listened to her, I was shuddering. Being a practising lawyer of business laws of Bangladesh in the UK and serving the British-Bangladeshi community members and businesses in both countries, I knew very well that Britain and Bangladesh had very strong ties economically, politically, and socially.
There was nothing from stopping her vision from being reality. Anyone from Dartford could place orders in Dhaka. Exports in the form of education to Bangladesh and imports in terms of garments and fisheries were getting stronger than ever. The EU never stopped or held either of the countries back from flourishing together. I did not think much of what else she said until after the referendum results.
What I realise now, something I did not realise then, is that Priti Patel had friends who were doing exactly the same thing as her, relentlessly, every day. Pushing their Brexit agenda, the embodiment of which were the six points above, and they started doing it early. They picked occasions where commoners gathered, spoke freely, built mistrust of the EU and made a financial case for Brexit.
They demonised migration and played on the people’s worst fears: Financial distress, lack of public resources, and unsecure borders. It is also notable to mention Farage was never an official member of Brexit, as he was never a sitting MP, yet he did everything he possibly could to make a case for UK independence from EU.
His campaign of 20 years was finally gaining momentum, even through by people completely unrelated and unaccustomed to him. He even went to the heinous extent to unveil a poster which showed waves of Syrian refugees with the title “Breaking Point: The EU has failed us all.” Politics in this country had hardly been this nasty and divisive.
The Vote Leave campaign gained further momentum when former London Mayor Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove, Minister for Justice, decided to join. They added star power and intellectual depth to its movement.
It is not that the Vote Remain campaign was a sitting duck. It was lead by the prime minister and the chancellor. They brought in experts such as the Bank of England governor to say that a poor financial forecast was imminent in the event of Brexit. The PM even invited President Obama across the Atlantic to assert that the UK would be at the back of any trade deals with the US if they leave EU.
A 16-page booklet was disseminated nationwide, outlining that jobs, businesses, and the young workforce would be lost, households would be worse off, exports would decrease as the EU was the prime trade partner, and that the UK would be left high and dry on legal, environmental, and worker’s rights fronts.
Experts, lead economic organisations all warned of doom and gloom. The brutal murder of prominent In campaigner, Labour MP Joe Cox, tragically and unwittingly furthered the Vote Remain cause. Despite these efforts, the British people only saw the PM and the chancellor making remarks which they no longer wanted to understand, and gravitated towards the Leave campaign as a means of change.
By the early weeks of June, polls were predicting a neck-and-neck outcome. For the first time, I learned that the Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn campaigned to stay in. I also received a frantic letter from my local Labour MPs stressing the need to vote In. I believe the case was already lost by then. The people had already decided to vote out.
Come referendum day, the polls showed a lead for In. In London, the in campaigners were optimistic. I exchanged words with one outside my local train station. He was young, energetic, and open -- typical features of those campaigning In. They want to be part of the EU, travel without restrictions, work without borders, have and make friends from all over the continent.
They believed in progress through diversity and they felt that their voice mattered more over the older generations as “they will be around for a longer time,” as one youngster put it in BBC news.