Ed West

It’s nonsense to claim Russia influenced the Brexit vote

It's nonsense to claim Russia influenced the Brexit vote
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Q: How many Remainers does it take to fix a light bulb?

A: Why should we fix it? It's Russia's fault it's broken

An old joke; I think the original concerned Arabs and Israel, but then there are numerous parts of the world where all manner of events are attributed to historic enemies. I remember a few years ago, after reading an article about how Poles tended to think the Russians were behind everything bad, a journalist explaining that this is the historic result of being ruled by tyrannical regimes, low social capital and little trust in government. That's eastern Europe for you; luckily we north-west Europeans, with our long history of open government and self-rule, were not susceptible to such second-world paranoia.

What a difference a few years make, with the White Scare now obsessing the centre-left across the western world, seeing the Russians as behind everything, and giving that economic basket case far more credit than it is due.

The latest is the fixation with the Russians playing some role in the referendum, which therefore – and this is where we veer into black comedy – some even think makes the vote invalid.

So Russia launched some fake Twitter accounts, a tiny, tiny number in the greater scheme of things and which almost certainly had no impact on the result. Oh, but even if it didn't swing the result, the argument goes, they still helped to polarise the debate. I don't know about that; quite a few people have spent the last 18 months tweeting about how they can't wait for Leave voters to die of old age, or maybe in hospital due to a shortage of nurses, while on the other side self-style patriots refer to 'saboteurs' and 'traitors' like some demented tin-pot dictator whose genius five-year plan has gone awry.

Overall I'm not sure we really need foreign powers to divide us; it's been a pretty polarising debate already, and not many people on either side have come out of it well.

Alternatively, I've read that this is really serious because a 'foreign power' is interfering in our politics. But isn't that why people want to leave the EU – because they don't want foreign powers interfering in our politics? Sure the EU is a friendly power and Russia a hostile one, but that makes it all the less surprising they're behaving in a hostile way, any more than it would be if, say, Iran or China were spying on us. Then there is the argument that Russia stood to benefit from Brexit, and therefore it must have played some role in it; sure, just as the neocons and military probably had the most to gain from 9/11.

Sure, if you think Russian bots during the Referendum are worth wasting your breath on, then at least acknowledge the overwhelming major cause of the Leave vote: Labour's policy, from 1998-99 onwards, of vastly increasing the number of migrants to Britain, of which only a minority were in fact from the European Union.

For better or worse – and I'm pretty pessimistic – that is why people chose to leave. And also for better or worse, the resulting social change from that demographic revolution is going to have vastly more impact on Britain's future than whether or not we stay in the EU.

But rather than accept that a lot of people took this vote as their one chance to have a say on this crucial issue, to basically have their revenge, those who supported New Labour now come up with some convoluted explanations involving foreign powers.

Britain is among the top 20 most political stable countries on earth, and after Germany the most stable large country; it has strong, historic institutions and a deep liberal-democratic tradition. It would be incredibly hard for a hostile power to seriously interfere in our political system, because a country has to be completely enfeebled and divided before it can succumb to foreign interference, such as Russia was in the early 1990s.

This kind of debate only embarrasses Britain even more, making us look credulous and easily duped. Maybe it's only a matter of time before we start accusing the Russians of controlling the dolphins and vulturesor putting something in A.C. Grayling's coffees to make him tweet like that.

Written byEd West

Ed West is the author of The Diversity Illusion, 1215 and All That and is writing a series of books on medieval history

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