If this big Brexit speech is what Boris Johnson means by reaching out, he's doing it wrong

The Foreign Secretary is misreading why people voted to leave the EU.


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Roses are red, violets are blue/Boris Johnson is in all the papers/so now I am too. 

The Foreign Secretary's big speech to reach out to Remainers is trailed across the press and the big news sites, and Johnson has written for the Sun, warning that Remainers should not try to stop or reverse Brexit and arguing that leaving the European Union is actually big, liberal moment which we should all be excited by. My first thought is that if this is what Johnson means by "reaching out", he's doing it wrong.

But the bigger problem speaks to the long-run problem of Brexit, one with implications for all the political parties but which are particularly acute for the Conservatives, which is that the Brexit vote was not a liberal moment or anything like it. Yes, many of its cheerleaders in the press are liberals. Yes, its most thoughtful policy thinkers are liberals.

But the impulses that drove the majority of Leave voters weren't: they were to spend more money on the public realm, the NHS in particular, and to take a greater level of control over immigration and to end the free movement of people. While the votes of people who wanted to stay in the EEA, or to strike ambitious trade agreements with India were bigger than Leave's margin of victory, they aren't a significant electoral force.

While it's not the only governance problem that Brexit throws up - the biggest of course is the complexity of having to end a four-decade long relationship - that's further aggravated by the fact that the electorate in 2015 and in 2017 was majority-Remain and in all likelihood so too will be the electorate in 2022. That means that the quarter of Remain voters who are not yet reconciled to the referendum outcome have a larger impact in general elections than they would in a referendum re-run and that has big implications for Tory hopes for a majority that allows any Conservative leader to pass radical legislation.

There may be a path to a significant Tory majority, but it involves either bringing about a genuine reconciliation with that quarter of Remain voters or becoming a "full" Leave party: that is to say, more statist, more nativist, and altogether a different party to the one that Boris Johnson hopes to lead. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.