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The Remain delusion: "the 48 per cent" do not exist

The number who want Brexit stopped or radically softened is only 25 per cent.

On the morning of 24 June 2016, Brexit opponents heralded the birth of a new movement: "the 48 per cent". Those who voted Remain in the EU referendum would seek to block withdrawal or at least secure the softest version.

Almost a year on, Theresa May is pursuing a "hard Brexit" (the Prime Minister prefers "clean") and is on course to secure a landslide election victory. But Remainers hope that tactical voting by "the 48 per cent" against anti-EU candidates could yet thwart the Conservatives. Their ambitions, however, are likely to be disappointed. The truth, which few have recognised, is that "the 48 per cent" no longer exist.

After voting Remain, they ceased to act as a unified political bloc. The crucial figure for understanding May's decision to pursue Brexit is not "the 48 per cent" or "the 52 per cent" but the 69 per cent - the number who believe the government has a duty to leave the EU (more than a third of whom voted Remain). A mere 21 per cent agree that the government should either block Brexit or seek to prevent it through a second referendum.

"The 48 per cent" are not even united on the desirability of a "soft Brexit". Only 24 per cent, according to YouGov polling, believe it is more important to enjoy tariff-free trade with the EU than it is to control immigration (16 per cent believe the reverse, while 40 per cent, like Boris Johnson, want to have their cake and eat it). Fifty two per cent believe May's proposed Brexit deal would be "good for Britain" (only 22 per cent believe it would be bad) and 61 per cent believe it "respects the referendum" (only 11 per cent believe it does not). Far from believing the government has no mandate for a "hard Brexit", 64 per cent believe this version respects the vote and only 12 per cent believe it does not. Finally, 55 per cent support May's assertion that "no deal is better than a bad deal", while only 24 per cent oppose this stance.

Read more: The left-wing Eurosceptics who helped topple a Prime Minister

The Richmond by-election last year, where the pro-Brexit Zac Goldsmith was defeated by the anti-Brexit Lib Dems, was cited by some in favour of a "48 per cent strategy". But by-elections are rarely a reliable guide to general elections and the south London seat, where 69 per cent voted Remain, is highly atypical. Only 35 per cent of parliamentary constituencies backed Remain and even fewer would do so now.

Politics, of course, is about leading opinion, not following it. But to grasp their predicament, Remainers most recognise that they enjoy the support not of "the 48 per cent" but "the 25 per cent". These figures help explain why the Conservatives enjoy a mammoth poll lead (leading among Remainers in yesterday's ICM poll), why the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats have not surged and why promising a second referendum would not be an electoral panacea for Labour or a new party. At Labour's general election campaign launch earlier today, Jeremy Corbyn stated: "This election isn't about Brexit itself. That issue has been settled." Based on the polling, it is hard to argue with him.

The UK has barely begun negotiating its departure from the EU and few economic consequences have been felt. But as long as Remainers speak as if there is a nascent "progressive majority" built on "the 48 per cent", they will repeat the very mistake that led to Brexit: misreading the electorate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.