By Anita Graafland

When starting to read this book for its intriguing title, I was hoping to find definitive answers as to why the biggest political movement in the United Kingdom had failed to move the goalposts on Brexit by as much as an inch, not even securing concessions or compromises as activism often does. Or as the authors observed: “We undertook this study to discover why the anti-Brexit movement did not galvanise sufficient support and influence to stop Brexit, or at least shape the terms of the United Kingdom’s departure.”

Though very much an academic treatise rather than an easy-to-read overview, The Failure of Remain finds a movement floundering because of its heterogeneous nature and lack of affiliation with one of the dominant mainstream parties, Labour and the Conservatives, “that have been internally divided about the merits of European integration” (p. 141). As the authors describe, “The anti-Brexit movement as a whole remained heterogenous in terms of strategies, priorities, ideology, and eventual goals (…) while the emergence and growth of the movement were largely driven by a disconnect between pro-European citizens and political elites, the political opportunity structure was ultimately hostile to its chances of success (pp. 142-143).”

Reasons for this hostile structure included decades’ old anti-European sentiment in the UK press, the rise of UKIP, the absence of a single pro-European slogan to rally around, different goals on the type of relationship sought with Europe after Brexit, the “unusual-ness” of a protest movement defending the pre-referendum status quo, a campaign offering no place for discussing EU reform, and framing strategies often focusing primarily on the problems of Brexit.

“The main vision espoused by activists was that the pre-referendum status quo may be highly flawed, but it was at least better than the scenario of the United Kingdom suffering the adverse consequences of Brexit. What was lacking was an identification of potentially legitimate reasons why citizens did not support the idea of European integration.” (p. 150)

The authors’ research reveals that “if pro-European social movements wish to counter Euroscepticism effectively as well as to set the agenda on European integration, they first and foremost need to articulate a cogent vision of a future Europe that at least addresses Eurosceptic concerns.” (p.151)

Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us at Cornwall for Europe!

Verdict: Although the book is very good at drawing all the strands together, I did not come across anything really new, as is often the case with academic studies. One observation made me sit up and take notice, though: how the anti-Brexit movement is an unusual protest movement in advocating the status quo, and how that in itself contributed to its failure.

Next time: Fintan O’Toole’s The Brexit Chronicles, as it’s been waiting for me to finally read it. I have high hopes of it being rather more accessible.

*Fagan, Adam and Van Kessel, Stijn, The Failure of Remain: Anti-Brexit Activism in the United Kingdom, in McGill-Queen’s Studies in Protest, Power, and Resistance, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, London, Chicago, 2023.

1 Reply to “The Failure of Remain* – Impressions

  1. Perhaps we should all read it and agree how we are going to galvanise ourselves across Cornwall and indeed the whole nation to ensure we rejoin Europe as soon as possible and before we become a third world nation.

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