I voted remain in the Brexit referendum, but I don’t want a re-run. I don’t want MPs to reject it. I don’t want a High Court ruling to stall it. I just want out – asap.
Why? Because I believe that this sorry saga can only be properly resolved by seeing it through. The only way to end the argument over the impact of leaving the EU is to leave it. To some remainers, this is like watching a child put a finger in a flame. Their instinct is to stop it. But this isn’t a child. It’s 17.5 million fellow adults who need to be treated as such. They chose to ignore thousands of politicians, business leaders and economists and put their faith in Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, the Mail and the Sun. Maybe they were right. Maybe the experts will be proved wrong. Maybe not. But let’s see.
Plenty of remainers disagree and are trying to stop the bus. The group British Influence is proposing legal action to keep Britain in the European Economic Area – distinct from the EU. Some MPs are set to vote against triggering the EU’s Article 50, which starts the Brexit process. And Tony Blair, John Major and Paddy Ashdown are calling for a second referendum on the basis that the first one only offered an in-out choice and not a new deal. I sympathise, nostalgically, with this class-of-97 party leaders’ reunion. It has a logic to it – the argument that true democracy demands two referenda – one on the principle and another on the practice. But at a deeper level, I think it is an intervention of its generation. It speaks of an era when representative democracy ruled, when people voted for an MP and then left the experts to make decisions. We still defer to experts every time we call the doctor or get on a plane – but no longer in politics. It’s gone. Years of simplistic propaganda – plus the antics of some in politics – have led people to think politicians are all useless and they know better. Now’s the time to see if they’re right.
A British Trump?
Imagine what lies ahead if Brexit is stopped. The leavers will claim, with good cause, that the wishes of the people have been over-ridden. The anti-EU press will howl about stolen freedom and never be proved wrong because you can’t prove a negative. The ground will be cleared for a British Trump promising to sweep away the corrupt politicians who have betrayed the people. Democracy itself could be at risk.
On the other hand, if Brexit goes ahead, the shouting will cease and reality will take over. And if free movement is to end, as it surely must to deliver on the Leave campaign’s promise to “decide for ourselves who can some into this country”, single market membership will end as well as I believe it will pan out as the remain side predicted. Tariffs will be re-imposed. Investment will migrate from the UK for mainland Europe. Prices will rise. Jobs will be lost. British influence will decline. Leavers will try to blame the problems on scapegoats – immigration, protectionism – whatever. But substance will beat spin. Remainers will be able to join the dots and demonstrate cause and effect. Slowly, people will see the decades of deceit by anti-EU media and politicians for the Wizard of Oz style sham they were. And then, in time, the damage can be repaired. Britain can re-join the EU. Representative democracy can make a comeback. It will be a bumpy ride, but better than the horrors risked by over-turning June’s democratic decision.
Post-truth and post-reality
So-called ‘post-truth’ politics applies only where nothing is proven and people are choosing between claim and counter-claim. But once claims give way to realities, facts become undeniable and consequences indisputable. In politics, some things are decided on claims; others on reality. Brexit was almost wholly the former. The Leave side even boasted about disregarding facts. By contrast, for example, the landslide election of Attlee government was a collective reaction to the brutal reality of World War Two. In 1983, Thatcher instead appealed to individualism with the very real offer of rock bottom prices for the homes Attlee built. Three centuries earlier, in 1660, the experience of civil war and then dictatorship led the country to restore the balanced relationship of monarch and Parliament, with the Chancellor Edward Hyde declaring “All the motions of these last twenty years have been unnatural.” Funny how history repeats itself. Once again today, we look back on 20 years of distortion which only the reality of Brexit can expose. You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry, as the song says.
It will take a few years, but those few years are also needed for Britain’s progressive forces to regroup and rebuild a political movement capable of governing and leading Britain back to the EU. And hopefully a similar restoration of sanity – based on reality – can occur in the US. The right is rampant in the UK and US right now – but based on words, not actions. Instead of trying to fight a rear-guard action, the remainers should hold their fire, believe in themselves, and let events show who was right. That is the way back. We may live in a post-truth world – but not a post-reality one.
David Vigar is a former Director of Communications of the European Movement and was press secretary to Paddy Ashdown MP as Liberal Democrat leader