Daniel Korski, deputy director of the policy unit in David Cameron’s government, explains Why We Lost the Brexit Vote.

Korski offers a look at policy attempts, EU infighting, backroom deals that collapsed, the EU’s mistrust of conservatives, and what he believes the Remain camp should have done.

The article is lengthy, but for those interested in a nice take on the inside workings of politics, it’s well worth a read.

Key Ideas

  • Korski blames the Remain camp for not doing enough to highlight the benefits of the EU.
  • He blames Merkel and the EU for not budging enough.
  • He describes numerous instances where agreements were made and quickly reversed.
  • He says the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker was a huge mistake, Merkel understood that, but did nothing about it.
  • He blames Cameron for saying “I want less Europe”
  • He blames the referendum itself.
  • He blames the tabloids.


Article Snips

Officials in the newly elected Socialist government in Portugal, for example, refused to budge on any of our demands and were deeply skeptical of our motives — not least because of their mistrust of conservatives. I had to get the Social Democratic Austrian chancellor’s adviser to vouch for me with the Portuguese prime minister’s chief of staff, so that I could make our case directly. Even then, after the frostiest meeting I have ever attended, we only managed to move Lisbon because we persuaded the newly elected president, an avowed Anglophile, to raise our concerns with the prime minister at their very first meeting.

The Swedes were another difficult negotiating partner. As a Swedish diplomat remarked to me in private, give a Swedish politician a choice between his or her principles and what works and they will always choose the former. That approach was certainly on display when Cameron met Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, a former trade union leader, on the margins of an EU summit in Riga. Sweden, he assured us, wanted the U.K. to remain in the European bloc, but could under no circumstances agree to what we were asking.

In Brussels, most of the European Parliament saw it as a bid for special treatment and, eventually, as an attempt to violate the EU’s basic freedoms. Juncker seemed to be seeking to give the U.K. a fair deal — as long as it didn’t require too fundamental a reform (exactly where his all-powerful chief of staff Martin Selmayr came down was never made clear).

We used high-level gatherings, like the NATO summit in Wales, not only to lobby European leaders but also to illustrate what the U.K. offered the EU.

When commentators in the U.K. described the negotiation as a charade, we in No. 10 would laugh wearily. It wasn’t staged and easy. It was hard. And despite our efforts, the negotiations failed. Europe’s leaders refused to break with the — in my view, erroneous and ahistorical — consensus around the freedom of movement of people.

Ironically, when Cameron launched his effort, laying out his demands in the so-called Bloomberg speech in 2013, this was not an issue.

That changed with the opening of the borders to Romania and Bulgaria, the rise of UKIP and the relentless, shrill and occasionally xenophobic anti-immigration campaign by the British tabloids. By the time of the Conservative Party conference in late 2014, it was clear that Cameron had to make immigration reform a centerpiece of the renegotiation effort. “I will not take no for an answer and when it comes to free movement I will get what Britain needs,” he said at the time.

Europe’s leaders were not only dismissive of this political reality, they declined to open discussion on the issue. During meetings, we were constantly subjected to lectures about the inviolability and indivisibility of the EU’s so-called four freedoms: the free movement of goods, the free movement of services and freedom of establishment, the free movement of persons and the free movement of capital.

It never seemed to dawn on them that these freedoms are less real than aspirational. The energy, finance and transport markets have not been liberalized. Residency requirements, licensing rules, training requirements and other barriers make entry into many professions very difficult. As the Economist noted, “ask architects or notaries trying to set up shop outside their home country, or anyone trying to break into Germany’s heavily regulated (and low-growth) services sector. Some countries have over 400 regulated professions. A special diploma is needed to become a corsetmaker in Austria.”

Nor would our counterparts in Europe acknowledge that the EU’s four freedoms are very much divisible. A country can reduce tariffs and remove trade barriers and still maintain restrictions on which foreigners are allowed to enter the country. This is what the United States has done since World War II, with NAFTA being the best example.

We tried using absolute numbers: three million migrants likely to come over the next 10 years, 6 percent of Lithuania’s population living in the U.K. already. We highlighted the pressure on public services like schools and hospitals. And we appealed to European leaders to consider the impact of migratory flows on their own economies.

These arguments were quickly shot down. We were also over-reliant on Angela Merkel, even after she showed us that she wasn’t as dependable a supporter as we might have wished. We invited ridicule with how much we feted her — inviting her to address parliament, which she did movingly, and flying to a succession of events in Germany. But our efforts yielded little.

Normally, she seems to relish the chance to do deals — for example on Ukraine where she would huddle for hours in the margins of the European Council. But I think she thought we were asking for too much. She certainly seemed to take much more of a back seat during the final, crucial weeks of negotiations, giving advice, offering support and laying out red lines, but not getting too involved.

After the referendum, when Cameron met Merkel at what would be his swan song European Council, Merkel made clear there would have been no other offer forthcoming — whatever we had offered, threatened or pleaded. Ending freedom of movement for an EU member was, at the time, not possible for her politically or philosophically.

Blame Game


Korski repeatedly states the EU will regret their decision. Well, no they won’t.

They would not budge on anything. And they still won’t.

Korski noted “Some countries have over 400 regulated professions. A special diploma is needed to become a corsetmaker in Austria.”

There was article on that setup the other day in the Wall Street Journal: Germany’s Apprenticeship System Comes Under Attack.

After 18 months of study, $2,200 in tuition and three exams, Ewa Feix is now permitted by German law to bake two variations of cupcakes.

“Not pretzels, not Black Forest gâteau, not bread,” said Ms. Feix, a Canadian who moved to Germany in 2009. Becoming a professional bread baker entails a three-year apprenticeship and more exams.

Germany’s thicket of rules and standards shields roughly 150 professions from competition, from ski instructors to well-diggers. Stiff fines await uncertified practitioners. German authorities conduct thousands of enforcement raids each year.

Strong middle-class support, particularly among Chancellor Angela Merkel’s supporters, means the German system has defied repeated attempts at reform.


For all the attacks on French, Italian, and Greek rules, it seems Germany is just as bad. What this all proves is the UK Remain camp was foolish for wanting to Remain.


  • The EU agricultural tariffs are a nightmare.
  • The EU rules and regulations are a nightmare.
  • The EU was never going to be satisfied with a “two-speed” Europe.
    There would have been constant pressure for the UK to adopt the Euro.
  • There are European defense issues in play.
  • Europe does not generally like conservatives.

Cameron proposed changing the EU from within. The effort was futile. The pre-Brexit and post-Brexit conversations prove exactly that.

Koski should have come to the conclusion it was a good thing Remain lost. He made the perfect case. Ironically, he laments the decision.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock