Battling over Brexit in Croydon

By - Tuesday 24th July, 2018

As Brexit continues to dominate headlines, it’s time to take a look at this national issue from a local level

It has been just over two years since the British people voted to leave the European Union and, to this day, little advancement in negotiations have been made and calls for a second vote have been consistent. It was a close vote, especially within Croydon as, while the borough may have voted to remain, the constituency of Croydon Central is believed to have voted to leave the EU.

As the 2019 Brexit deadlines loom, and debates and votes in the Commons and Lords remained heated, now is the time to consider whether a second referendum, or a vote on the final deal, is viable and how any hypothetical results will look in Croydon.

Notably, YouGov reports that there is still an even spilt over the Brexit vote. At the start of 2018, they asked if voters had any ‘Bregrets’ and 45% stated that they believed the decision to the leave the EU to be wrong, while a slightly smaller group of 42% believe that Brexit is still the best course of action. Furthermore, it reports that only around one-third of voters want to see a second referendum. One cannot help but wonder whether a form of ‘voter fatigue’ has encapsulated much of Britain, as Brenda from Bristol so empathetically stated in the run up the 2017 snap election. Since the 2015 general election, there have been a further four votes for Croydonians, including one only a few months ago. For most, by voting we are deciding the people and parties who should run our country and dictate policy; in accordance with the system of representative/constitutional democracies, they should be implementing what was voted for.

Croydon MPs are not fighting Brexit

In addition, Croydon MPs are not fighting Brexit. Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South, is largely supportive of the Conservative Party line and has never rebelled. Croydon’s two Labour MPs, Sarah Jones and Steve Reed, have also not publicly declared any support for the so-called ‘people’s vote’. Labour’s official policy is that they wish to get the “best Brexit deal for jobs and living standards”. Generally, many commentators have noted how quiet the Labour Party have been surrounding the negotiations, and Jones and Reed have largely followed this pattern throughout 2018.

While the government may not budge on their Brexit plans, many MPs’ failure to go against the grain does demonstrate, perhaps, an inability to put their constituency over the party line. Croydon, on a whole, voted to remain and our MPs are therefore failing to do their duty. Arguably, their voices might do little to sway May and her cabinet, but to uphold the principles of democracy should they not go to greater lengths to represent the views of voters?

When looking at the numbers, those calling for a second referendum do seem to be a rather vocal minority, while the ‘silent majority’ is supportive of the democratic process. Most Britons simply expect Brexit to be completed. To gauge the mood of Croydon, I spoke to representatives from both sides of the argument.

“The Green Party is fully committed to democracy”

Peter Underwood is the leader of the Green Party in Croydon and Sutton, and he agrees that a second referendum on Brexit should not take place, as he and the Green Party are “fully committed to democracy” and “we have already had two, in 1973 and 2016″. Michael Swadling – who was borough manager of the Leave campaign in Croydon – echoed this idea, stating that the fact the overall vote was so close is “irrelevant” as “for a democracy to function votes must be final and implemented”. In support of this point, Swadling made an interesting and relevant comment about the 2015 general election. Gavin Barwell’s majority was a slim 165 votes in Croydon Central but, “whilst there was a re-count, no one suggested or had a re-vote”, Swadling said.

This brings to light the overarching argument about whether a second referendum, or further vote on the Brexit deal, is democratic. Following Brexit, upwards of four million people signed a petition for another vote and in the last two years, a countless number of like-minded individuals have started similar campaigns. The prime minister is clear that she will see through the Brexit process.

The current stance of many hard-line Remainers is that the public should be given a vote on the final Brexit deal and this was represented in the recent People’s Vote march, wherein around 100,000 pro-Remain protestors marched in response to the ongoing Brexit negotiations. At the time of writing, upwards of 150,000 have signed a petition calling for the ‘people’s vote‘ on the final Brexit deal, following what organisers have labelled as “chaos” in the Cabinet and “turmoil” in the negotiating process. Members of the ‘Croydon For Europe’ group were also in attendance.

The only way to uphold democracy is to go through with the vote

Swadling disagreed with this sentiment entirely, expressing that in the unlikely event that parliament adopts the policy of a people’s vote, they will be “committing an act of treason against the British people”. He told me that the only way to uphold democracy would be to go through with the vote, but if a new independent UK finds itself in another referendum to re-enter the EU, as “unhappy” as he would be, Swadling “would accept the democratic vote of the people”.

On the other hand, Underwood and the Green Party are in full support of the people’s vote, as they believe that the Brexit deal is a “momentous decision… [it] should be put to a democratic vote, not just left to a few members of the cabinet to decide”. Underwood stated that he is optimistic that, in the event of a later referendum, people would vote against Brexit, as they begin to see how “bad” and “damaging” it is. “Some of these would be former Leave voters”, Underwood suggested.

Yet arguments about the democratic validity of a second vote may not be the largest hurdle for Remainers. It has recently emerged from the parliamentary committee on Brexit that there simply may not be enough for time for MPs to vote on the final Brexit deal – ruling out the possibility for a people’s vote as an extended withdrawal period would have to be agreed by all twenty-seven member states of the EU. The leader of the committee, Hilary Benn, stated that “time is not on our side”.

Voters’ views are unlikely to have changed

People’s views on the EU are unlikely to change overnight – and voters’ views are unlikely to have changed over the past two years. Yet, the primary criticism to come out of Brexit is, indeed, the government’s handling of it. Up until the recent meeting at the prime minister’s country estate, Chequers, the cabinet was wholly divided, with Brexiteers threatening to undermine Theresa May’s position.

Whether you are Brexiteer or Remainer, most seem to have similar criticisms of the government. As Swadling told me, “the government has been weak and has not acted effectively in our interest”. Underwood agreed that Brexit is being handled “even worse than many of us expected.” Overall, while all seem to be in opposition to the negotiating status, the areas of disagreement are different. Underwood boldly argued that the “government is also using Brexit to undermine democracy in this country”. Swadling is of not too dissimilar a belief that “people are fed up with voting, and if they are asked to vote on the same issue again, may well lose all faith in democracy”.

When examining the Chequers agreement, the government have not seemed to improve their relations with either side of the Brexit spectrum, with Underwood labelling it a complete ‘fudge’, while Swadling went further to cast it as a ‘betrayal’ of the British people. Underwood’s primary gripe with this new agenda was that he believes it is a deliberate attempt to “crash out of the EU with no deal.” Swadling, on the other hand, is more concerned with the perceived threat of the UK becoming a “vassal state” of the EU, leading – in his view – to the British people “never trust[ing] politicians again”.

The process seems to overrule all political and socio-economic issues in the UK

Brexit is an issue that cannot be placed in the backseat of the car. The process seems to overrule all political and socio-economic issues in this country; from the current rise in knife crime to issues of pay and funding, all is ignored on a count of Brexit. The media is guilty of this too; while headlines of the crisis in the NHS may be more appropriate, they will always be sidelined for an article on Brexit.

It will be a long time before Brexit is in the rear-view mirror of the UK; if we do indeed leave the EU in 2019 there will still likely to be arguments to be had and agreements to be made in terms of trade and human rights, and so on. At this late stage in the game, it is hard to imagine that anyone is in support of the government’s Brexit: staunch Brexiteers will not get their ‘hard Brexit’, and Remainers will no longer be in the EU.

Max Shirley

Max Shirley

Max recently finished Sixth Form at a local independent school and will be starting an English Literature degree in the new academic year. Max is a copy-editor at a Croydon-based start-up. Twitter: @max_shirley_

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  • Michael Swadling

    Max – thanks for putting out a balanced piece on such a contentious issue.

    • Max Shirley

      Thanks for the kind words and your help.

  • Ian

    Interesting article, Max. Nice to read something about Brexit that goes beyond the usual screaming.

    • Max Shirley

      Thanks Ian.

  • Anne Giles

    Excellent article, especially what you say about MPs.

    • Max Shirley

      Thanks Anne

  • David Aston

    You have of course completely lost the plot again, having done so previously when you edited the independent school magazine you attended.
    1. YouGov reports are consistently wrong and have been proven so again and again. Mrs May took notice of them and look what happened. And even you predicted a rise in the UKIP vote in Croydon Central general election in a previous article.
    2. Why should MP’s be fighting for Brexit when the majority of them want to remain? Including those negotiating for our departure. Yet you make no mention of the involvement of David Cameron, a key figure in the position we are currently in.
    3.The Green Parry is probably the most dangerous political movement outside Momentum right now. I doubt if you’ve ever read their manifesto in full. You’d have second thoughts about even bringing them into the equation if you had.
    4. Rises in knife crime and the “dinosaur” NHS problems have both been well documented in the media despite your comment. Sky News have consistently been doing so in a attempt to discredit the government rather than help to provide answers. But I expect you’ve been preoccupied watching CNN and their anti-Trump campaign.
    However, Brexit should have been negotiated by the existing MEP’s themselves and then “rubber-stamped” by parliament. It wouldn’t have been a problem, after all, MP’s have been doing just that for the last 40 years. It would all have been over by now.
    No, you sadly misunderstand the situation. I do hope that your English Literature degree will teach you how the history of this country actually works. If it doesn’t you’ll probably turn into another career politician, but one wonders, for which party!

    • disqus_MJM8Wf2lTL

      Suck your nan

      • David Aston

        She died years ago. lol

        • disqus_MJM8Wf2lTL

          Of shame I’ve no doubt

          • David Aston

            She survived through two world wars, and would have died much earlier of a broken heart if she’d lived to read this article.

          • Max Shirley

            David – you must think too highly of yourself if you think I would bother to create a second account to pick a petty fight with you. The fact that you felt a need to reply, and then go on to attack my parents and the school I attended, says a lot more about you than it does about me. Yes, I disagree with your comment, but it does not automatically mean that I am also the person replying.

          • Ella Jones

            Don’t give max all the credit b