The shadow of Brexit and the future of Conservatism – John Stevens | The Rejoin EU Party


June 20th, 2024

The shadow of Brexit and the future of Conservatism

Opinion piece by John Stevens, Rejoin EU Party candidate, Kensington & Bayswater

Two weeks before polling day, this General Election is already the most extraordinary of modern times. The victor has been beyond doubt from the start and there’s been no sign of the tightening of opinion polls in favour of the incumbent government usual previous comparable contests. Indeed, the reverse – a steady further deterioration of its position – has happened.

In prospect isn’t merely the largest reversal of fortune under our hitherto-normally stable, if not really very representative, first-past-the-post electoral system – from a Conservative majority in 2019 deemed at the time as assuring two terms in office, to a Labour majority many anticipate as sufficient to guarantee power lasting decades.

We’re apparently witnessing the probable de-facto destruction of the Conservative Party without creating any alternative to constitute a numerically credible, let alone ideologically coherent, opposition. For what can be expected from the remaining rump of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, Northern Ireland’s parties, the Greens and – if it wins any seats at all – Reform UK?

Already participants and pundits, particularly Conservative ones, are trying to comprehend the coming cataclysm: a catastrophe seemingly so complete and contrary to even relatively recent expectations as to defy conventional explanation. The disruption of normal life caused by the Covid pandemic, Putin’s Ukraine invasion, China’s challenge to the US-led global political and economic order and America’s response, its Middle East ramifications, the climate-change debate, the corrupt character of Boris Johnson, the ineptitude of Liz Truss and the peculiar persona of Rishi Sunak, are all prayed in aid, to differing degrees.

Within the Conservative Party, this is already assuming the form of blame allocation between its various factions in anticipation of a jackal-like fight for its carcass.

But there’s one explanation so far absent from this impending autopsy and its likely acrimonious aftermath, absent as it has also been from the policy debates in this election. Almost exactly eight years on, Brexit’s shadow still looms over everything: for the nation, the loss and for Conservatives, the cause, that now dare not speak its name. It should surely be blindingly obvious that this greatest and most disastrous decision of our post-war history, the culmination of a generation-long controversy that has hamstrung our national strategic will and corroded Conservatism to its very core, is the one factor equal in magnitude both to the evasion of reality that infects our democracy generally and to the governing party’s imminent evisceration.

Critical to the country’s – and particularly the Conservatives’ – capacity to recognize this truth will be the performance of Reform. Nigel Farage has been deceiving and distracting the public, particularly the Tories, so assiduously for so long and has, yet again, been permitted by our so-grossly self-serving and supine media to command a level of attention out of all proportion to his probable post-election parliamentary position that it’s easy to overlook the extent to which he too is now suffering under the shadow of Brexit.

His return to the fray, after his earlier intention to campaign in what he considered the more important campaign of his friend and role model Donald Trump, despite the best polling efforts of Aaron Banks and his friends, has not significantly improved the likely performance of Reform in the forthcoming ballot, though it has evidently enhanced the propensity to panic in Conservative ranks.

Again obviously, this is because Farage, more than anybody else, brought us Brexit. Now less than a quarter of the electorate believe leaving the EU was the right decision and that proportion continues, with good reason,  to decline. Reform’s flagship policy, with which it’s intimately and inexorably identified, is a failure: one so great it undermines the plausibility of every other policy it now proposes. Indeed, Brexit is especially a failure on Farage’s own terms. He sold it, above all, as essential to reducing and even eliminating immigration. By this was meant, though rarely admitted, not primarily culturally European immigrants, but those from outside Europe, who constituted a greater cultural challenge to a perceived traditional British, or English, identity. But by ending EU freedom of movement – in precise terms a labour mobility, not immigration policy, since the overwhelming majority of European citizens coming here returned to their home countries after a period – has resulted in an enormous increase precisely in people coming from outside Europe, most of whom seek permanent settlement here.

Reform is trying to pretend, like Communists explaining the fall of the Soviet Empire, that the failure of Brexit, and specifically the failure over controlling immigration, was due to Brexit not being implemented properly and to the machinations of malevolent saboteurs. But given the structure of our own economy and its interactions with that of the wider world, it couldn’t have been otherwise. Prospects are good that this election will mark the moment the British people admit this fact and, notwithstanding the utter lack of leadership from Labour and the Lib Dems in their campaigns, begin to put real pressure upon the new government to begin the process of reversing Brexit. Ironically, Farage’s personal intervention has made this more likely. However, whether it also marks the moment Conservatives admit it is another, albeit in the short run, secondary matter. Here, the effect of Farage’s personal intervention is more ambiguous. But in the longer run, of course, for the nation to re-join the EU, there must be pro-European conviction right across the political spectrum.

One thing is already certain – Labour has won this election. So pro-Europeans have the opportunity, in several seats, to cast a more meaningful vote: for the Rejoin EU Party, for this will send the most explicit message that such is the path the nation must now travel – almost eight years since the EU referendum.

Visit our website at, follow the party on Twitter at @rejoinp and read our 2024 General Election manifesto at

The Rejoin EU party is campaigning to re-join the EU because we believe re-joining is the only way to solve the multiple problems Brexit has created. Brexit is broken and it’s breaking our country too. All the promises on which Brexit was sold to the electorate in 2016 were nonsense. Far from reducing red tape and providing £350m a week for the NHS, Brexit makes trading with the crucial European market more complex, difficult and expensive and threatens to reduce funding for public services. If you agree Brexit is making our country poorer, less tolerant and less united, join us and send a message to Westminster that you want your EU membership back, with all its freedoms and benefits.

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