On the 26th of September I had a very interesting and thought-provoking conversation with Sajjad Karim, a Conservative Member of European Parliament for the North West of England. Mr Karim campaigned for Remain during the Brexit Referendum, and the referendum, as well as the role played by the media during that period, was our primary area of discussion.
Firstly, I asked Mr Karim what impact he thought the media had on the result of the Brexit referendum and on the way it was conducted.
In response, Mr Karim noted that there were several factors to consider: “One is the traditional mass-media", he said. Mr Karim highlighted the print media, that we have had for around forty years, suggesting that big sections of it - particularly those in the United Kingdom under mass readership - have influenced the anti-European sentiment in the United Kingdom for the last forty years. "They have been drip feeding huge amounts of information regarding the European Union and Britain's relationship with the European Union. So, you had that on the one hand, and in the Referendum actually, a tremendous difference was made by the advent of social media and the role that that has played. You have very clearly through media sites like Facebook and others, real constant waves of campaigning going on, of misinformation, and actually, far beyond that we've more and more evidence coming to light of the role played by people like Cambridge Analytica, which use these social media platforms to greatly influence the types of debates that were taking place. One of the things that I really did notice at the time that I was campaigning on the ground was that it was clear to see how quickly the terms of the debate were changing, and they were changing to such an extent that it was actually quite difficult to fathom what on earth was going on. I am sure that a huge part of that was down to the social media effects playing out."
In light of this, I asked Mr Karim, firstly, how likely he thinks we are to have a second referendum, and secondly, if we were to have one, what he would like to see done differently in terms of the campaigning and the way the media conducts themselves regarding the distribution of information about the European Union and Brexit.
Mr Karim said: "Whilst I'm sitting here talking to you at this moment in time, I'm afraid on this question we're in an absolute mess. We have no real clear direction of travel, and we are in the most crucial phase of the negotiations with the European Union, and yet we have no clear idea of what it is that we want, or how it can be achieved, and these were the two questions that Donald Tusk put to us immediately after the referendum. He said, 'What is it that you want and how can it be achieved?'' and we have not answered either of them. Nor have we established in our own minds the answer to those questions. So now we find ourselves, having had to face the hard realities of fact-based decision making as opposed to just purely trying to put across arguments based on what we believe to be the situation.
"Now we are at a point where it is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot negotiate Brexit on the terms that we have currently put forward. So now we are having to try and find out how do we now chart beyond this particular point, and that is why we are in an increasingly confused state. We have even less clarity than we had before. So, it is very difficult to predict where we will go from here. I think that you can rule nothing in and you can rule nothing out at this time. So, I'm not about to start to make any predictions about what I think may or may not happen. One thing I do know for certain is that if you leave with a negotiator’s deal you will have a hard border in Ireland, and if you leave without the negotiator’s deal, you will have a border in Ireland. Therefore, you are putting yourself in a situation of putting Northern Ireland's peace process at risk, and if you try and leave the European Union without a deal then I'm afraid there is going to be ramifications with Scotland immediately as well. So, at the very least you have weakened the unity of the United Kingdom in the process of leaving the European union. So, people have to ask themselves whether that is a price worth paying."
I followed up on his comment that there is even less clarity now and asked him whether he thought, if we were to have a second referendum, people would be able to make a more informed decision now than they would have done before.
Mr Karim answered: "I think that some people would, but I think that the majority of the people are completely bamboozled by the complexity of it all."
Regarding a no deal Brexit, I enquired whether he thought it would be as catastrophic as some people seem to be making out, or if he thought it would be something we could work through.
In response, Mr Karim said: "Time will tell, and a lot of it depends on what happens finally as well. But so far as the next twenty to twenty-five years are concerned, you would be dealing with the challenges that come from trying to extricate yourself from your continent, and you will have an economic black hole that needs to be filled. The people of the United Kingdom were promised a pain-free Brexit. No such thing exists! You can have Brexit, but with it comes pain, and you have to be ready to face that pain."