Brexit Has Become the Totem of Britain’s Culture War

No matter how Brexit pans out, leavers will continue to support it and remainers will continue to bemoan it.

View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011
View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)

Why have not more British people changed their minds about leaving the EU now that it turns out the promises of the “leave” campaign are not being met?

Sebastian Payne argues in the Financial Times that it’s because Brexit has become the totem of the island’s culture war.

Before the 2016 referendum:

  • Supporters of the Labour Party sat on the left side of the economic spectrum, favoring tax-and-spend policies. The Conservatives were toward the right, advocating free markets.
  • On social policy, the Tory tribe flirted with authoritarianism while Labour voters floated toward liberalism.
  • Crucially, there was substantial crossover on all these issues — in the political center ground.

Brexit has laid waste to that

  • The crossover between leavers and remainers is much smaller.
  • Although leavers can be either left- or right-wing on economic policy, their views on social issues, such as crime and the pace of cultural change, are entirely reactionary.
  • They feel like strangers in their own country and believe life was better in the past.
  • Remainers, by contrast, are liberal in their social views and feel life is better today.