Six years ago today 17,410,742 million people [52%] voted to leave the European Union, 1.27 million more than the 16,141,241 [48%] who voted Remain. To mark that anniversary, here's John Simpson interviewing Mark Easton this week on his BBC Two series Unspun World:
John Simpson: Welcome to Broadcasting House, part of the BBC's iconic headquarters here in central London for Unspun World, the programme where the BBC's experts around the globe give in-depth answers to the big questions of the day. This week...Has Brexit done long-term damage to Britain?Mark Easton: There's a sense in which we've not really been able to have sort of normal times to get stuff done. It's warped our politics and made it very difficult for our political leaders.John Simpson: It's six years since, in a result that surprised most people, the United Kingdom voted by a very narrow margin to leave the European Union. The campaign was marked by some hugely controversial claims, which have resonated ever since - the hundreds of millions we'd be able to pump into the NHS among them. It's still too early to work out the exact pluses and minuses of Brexit, but the lines are becoming clearer. I asked Mark Easton, the BBC's home editor, for his views. Has Brexit been a boon or a disaster?Mark Easton: It is a sort of fundamental difference of view which actually goes to people's heart, actually. Almost a sort of visceral feeling, I think. People feel very, very strongly about it - on both sides of the argument. And that, I think, has been quite troubling. There's a sense in which we've not really been able to have sort of normal times to get stuff done. So I think that's been another problem with the whole Brexit debate. It's warped our politics and made it very difficult for our political leaders to really sort of plough a furrow as they want to do. For many communities where we saw very significant Brexit votes, it was about connection to power. It was a sense that they'd been ignored. Many communities that I went to, they felt that change was happening to their communities - demographic change, free movement within the EU. Immigration generally meant that the communities they lived in were changing, the shops were changing.John Simpson: Also hearing people talking Polish or Romanian and so on in the streets.Mark Easton: Exactly. In particular, people, people would say that the thought of hearing a foreign language on the bus was disconcerting to them. It was different. It wasn't what they expected, and no-one had asked them about it. I think it would be fair to say that very few of those communities feel that they are any closer to power today than they were six years ago.John Simpson: So it hasn't achieved that?Mark Easton: Not yet, no. I mean, I guess the Government would argue that, you know, their whole levelling up agenda is partly about that - it's trying to reconnect communities that felt separate. I think that is definitely, you know, job not yet done, but really, really important, whether you whether you voted Leave or Remain, actually, that Britain does better in making sure that, you know, thousands of communities up and down this land don't feel - as they currently do - that they are exempted from the decisions that actually affect their daily lives.John Simpson: Have there been any successes for Brexit?Mark Easton: Undoubtedly free movement and the end of that. I think you can say, well, yeah, that's something - those people who wanted that to stop, it's happened. That was a promise made and a promise kept. They were also told that we would move to a points-based immigration system, to ensure that we only get the migrants that we want and we need. And, yes, we do have...John Simpson: Is that happening?Mark Easton: That has happened.John Simpson: And is it working?Mark Easton: Well, I think it's difficult because we do have shortages of labour in quite a number of areas, as we transition from what people would have said was our sort of - we'd become rather reliant on European workers and being able to turn on the immigration tap.John Simpson: Will Brexit destroy the United Kingdom?Mark Easton: Well, it certainly put the Union under very considerable strain. But what's interesting is that I think there is a pressure for more devolution, because I think there is a sense in which part of what Brexit was about was reconnecting people and they need power for that to happen. But what we've seen so far is not that - what we've seen, and perhaps a result of Covid - we've seen actually more power heading towards Number 10 and to Whitehall.John Simpson: Do you think at some stage there'll be another vote and we'll go back in?Mark Easton: I don't think that's going to happen for a very significant time. But it's interesting, I think, some of the economic realities which are coming into play and are going to become even more so if the forecasts for the UK economy prove to be correct, where people are going to say, well, hold on, are we really cutting off our nose to spite our face? And we need to have some kind of sensible arrangement with our nearest trading partners to make sure that we don't miss out on all those trading opportunities. Making it more difficult for people to trade with countries just over the Channel is not very sensible when your economy is facing so many other huge challenges.