We take a closer look now at what drove those voters with Sir Michael Leigh, a former senior official with the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission. He is now a consultant to the German Marshall Fund. And Tim Montgomery is a conservative columnist for the Times of London. And we welcome both of you to the program. Tim Montgomery to you first. What was your reaction?
Tim Montgomery: Surprise first of all. I think few people expected that Brexit would actually prevail. And it was a close result, just under four percent, but a decisive result. And I think what has been impressive during the course of the day is the number of MPs who have campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union saying the British people have spoken and they will respect the result.
Journalist: Sir Michael Leigh, what about you?
Michael Leigh: My prevailing reaction was one of deep sadness. Part of it is personal, I acknowledge I worked for three decades in the European Institutions and during that period I believed the European Union was a major peace project for Europe. Britain had a decisive influence on the way the E.U. developed. I saw Britain influencing the single market enlargement. So the E.U. I really felt was an institution, a set of institutions, that were in the interests of the UK and of Europe and, therefore, I was deeply saddened by this result.
Journalist: Tim Montgomery, what do you believe was driving the vote results here?
Tim Montgomery: I think what Sir Michael says about the European project’s past contribution is correct. As the European nations traded with each other, they bound themselves together and the war that has characterized the Continent in the past was put to an end.
Tim Montgomery: But when that European project died, it became much more ambitious. It decided to abolish national currencies and wanted to abolish national borders. And with the Euro-Zone crisis and the huge unemployment and austerity it created, the sense of the passport free zone, the Schengen Zone, was ideal for terrorist activity. I think the British people decided that the European Union was no longer working as 28 member states, it was a dysfunctional organization that couldn’t take decisions. And the major for the Brexit vote was a freedom of movement regime which meant that Britain did not know from one year to the next how many immigrants would be entering the economy and it meant an inability to plan for public services like schools and hospitals.
Journalist: Sir Michael, is that how you see what went into people’s thinking?
Michael Leigh: The issues that Tim mentioned are, in fact, quite pertinent and he’s right that the E.U. faces many real challenges. I only wish that the campaign, particularly on the leave side, had focused on these issues. Instead it focused single-mindedly on people’s fears of immigration, even in areas with virtually no immigrants. And it concentrated on backward looking arguments related to sovereignty which have little real meaning in the this globalized world. So I feel the decision was not taken after a serious debate of the pros and cons, but rather an emotional argument that looked backwards rather than forwards. It looked backwards to an imagined past, a golden age, that will not come again.
Journalist: You’re describing a misleading campaign?
Michael Leigh: I would say it was seriously misleading. One of the main leaders of the Leave Campaign, Nigel Farage, has acknowledged today that one of his main arguments that the E.U. was costing the UK £380 million (a month!), and that this money could be redeployed and spent for the National Health Service, was a mistake. It was also argued for example that Turkey was about the join the European Union and we would be flooded with Turkish immigrants. Everyone knows that Turkey will join in a decade if ever. And other such arguments that played on more upon fears than on the legitimate issues that Tim raised where there should have been a proper debate on the relative merits.
Journalist: Tim Montgomery was it a misleading campaign then after all?
Tim Montgomery: I think some of the criticisms Sir Michael makes of the leave campaign are fair. I think it’s also the case, however, that that the Remain Campaign did not ever really try to sell a positive view of the European Union. It was also based on scares. The Prime Minister said that leaving the European Union would put a bomb under the British Economy there were even hints that it might lead to a World War. The British people, felt that was insulting to their country. The British people are a proud people. And I think it was also the case that when President Obama came to London and said to the British people that if they didn’t stay in the European Union they would go to the back of the que, the back of the line in terms of trade negotiations with America. If you are rude and insulting to a people, which I think David Cameron and President Obama could both be accused of being guilty of, people fight back. And I don’t think the American people would accept what the British people have to accept as members of the European Union. The right for example, if it was in the American situation, for Mexicans and Canadians to be able to work and live in America freely without restriction or for a Supreme Court in Ottawa or Mexico to rule over the U.S. Supreme Court. And I think the British people weren’t willing to put up with that anymore either.
Journalist: I want to get your response and I want to ask both of you if you see this result as permanent…as, as, as a result that will stand.
Michael Leigh: This is pretty strong language concerning President Obama that we’ve just heard which, sadly, typified the Leave Campaign and is deeply to be regretted. President Obama came to Britain as a friend of the United Kingdom and friends do give advice to other friends.
Michael Leigh: This is something that they do. If they think that their friends are about to take a misstep whether in public life or private life they say so. That’s what friendship is all about. But to come to your second question,…..I do think that this decision is irreversible. There has been a campaign, there has been a referendum based on universal suffrage. I think that there’s no turning back.
Journalist: Tim Montgomery…is there a turning back?
Tim Montgomery: I think that’s right. I hope that’s right. The British people against the weight of advice of all the party leaders in the British political system, against IMF and international institutions, against the President of the United States and other world leaders. They ignored all of that because they really did feel that the European Union was an insufferable organization to continue to belong to. The E.U. has a habit of ignoring the referenda decisions of member states, but I don’t think Britain will allow their vote to be ignored.