Britain Analysis: The U-Turns of Brexit’s Misleading Politicians

PHOTO: Gisela Stuart MP with Boris Johnson during the Leave campaign for the EU referendum (Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty):


Sotirios Zartaloudis of the University of Birmingham writes for the Birmingham Perspective:


The result of the UK’s referendum on EU membership produced a narrow victory for those wanting to leave the European Union, with 52% voting to leave and 48% voting to remain. The stock markets reacted with a mixture of shock and fear, the value of the pound dropped to its lowest level since 1985, and global affairs were initially shaken up.

Perhaps that is why key Brexiters have been unsure of what to do, or are backtracking from their pre-referendum positions. One surprising change is that of Gisela Stuart’s sudden concern about protecting the status of EU nationals living in Britain.

The Labour MP, who represents Birmingham Edgbaston, was one of the key Labour figures supporting Brexit, but she now seems concerned about what will happen to EU migrants (it should be noted that Gisela Stuart moved to Britain from Germany in 1974).

It is curious why the MP did not think of the potential repercussions on migrants living in the UK, before she backed the campaign to Leave — unsurprisingly, in the weeks after the vote a number of far-right groups and individuals started attacking foreigners, minorities, and cultural centers in an unprecedented rise of reported hate crime in the UK.

“Like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the netherworld whom he has called up by her spells”, Stuart is now going to lead a research project looking at how the rights of EU migrants can be protected once the UK leaves the European Union.

This initiative seems futile if we do not know what Brexit means. A number of possible scenarios have been floating around, ranging from membership to the European Economic Area (which, like the EU, does not allow restriction on free movement of people), membership of the World Trade Organisation, a complete EU exit, or even an EU membership with some guarantees on immigration. Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to declare that the rights of Europeans living in Britain are guaranteed without a reciprocal agreement by the EU. So until the British government and the EU reach an agreement, the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK will remain in limbo.

Stuart’s late concern about the status and rights of EU nationals living in the UK seems to mark another U-turn on the Brexit agenda. The Labour MP cannot have been oblivious to the fact that a large number of her fellow Brexit proponents were from the far-right, the UK Independence Party, or the Tory nationalist camp. Stuart was either naïve or irresponsible to assume that EU nationals would not be affected by a pro-Brexit result, given that immigration was the campaign’s main reason to leave the EU altogether.

Ironically, if one key group should feel betrayed by Stuart’s sudden interest in safeguarding the rights of EU nationals living in Britain, it should be those who voted to leave the EU. They were led to believe that immigration would be significantly reduced, with some recent EU migrants likely to return home.

In a campaign that was led by scare-mongering and populist paranoia on both sides, it seems that some political elites may have misled the British public over what Brexit means or the implications of such a vote. That is important because there are still a lot of issues that need to be decided.

The post-referendum agenda should not be driven by political chameleons that do not have a clear and consistent agenda based on facts and evidence. This issue is too serious to be left to political spin.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.

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