40 years of integration with our neighbours is about to be fundamentally reversed. Borders, custom checks, policing, nuclear, genetic – the beginnings of the negotiations have shone a penetrating light upon the previously nebulous picture of our relations with the EU. The last weeks of the referendum campaign centred on the £350m for the NHS lie, and Turkey – two giant red herrings devised to stop the real gambit of Brexit from being explained.
Removing ourselves will be a mission that a slim majority, some unwittingly (disclosure: such as myself), decided to impose upon everyone. It will be a mission which will require the sum of our concentrated, collective energy for the next decade and more. The year following the vote should have instilled doubts in any Leaver barring the blind, feckless and couldn’t-give-a-feckless. The economic argument has only become clearer. Philip Hammond challenged Liam Fox, in charge of negotiating all the new wonderful trade deals, to show that any number of post-Brexit trade deals could compensate for leaving the single market. Liam Fox is yet to reply. Politically, on a daily basis we seem to be learning the value of institutions we had either never heard of or assumed to be useless. Take Euratom, I still can’t explain what it does – something to do with nuclear safety, but I know that even the head of Vote Leave called Theresa May a “moron” for trying to take us out of it.
The matter was always finely balanced. There are still indisputable benefits of Brexit to be realised. Democracy can’t work in such opaque circumstances, across cultures so different, and with no general understanding of who the main parties or politicians are, and what they stand for. Democracy behind closed doors isn’t really democracy – the EU has amassed power and accountability in a dangerously unequal ratio. The EU also has its eyes on further expansion and integration – something that our country will likely never come around to.
I readily share these sceptical sentiments, but I’m willing to suppress my intuitions because I recognise I can grasp very little of the complexity regarding our relations with the EU. And the opinion of those who are unfortunate enough to have spent some of their life reading about EU law and supranational cooperation – MPs, industrialists, economists, political relations experts, the Prime Minister – could not be more clear. The unanimity and clarity, in the year when political gravity was suspended, became a weakness of the Remain campaign – how dare those in the know lecture us about things we know nothing about and are expected to vote on?
After the mess that Brexit has become, the likelihood of our being handed a hefty exit bill acceded to by May a couple of weeks ago being a case-in-point, it seems that the one remaining argument for Brexit is that we voted for it. This is marked by a certain Corrigan-esque British aversion to admitting cock-ups. “So.. you’re going to leave the EU and stay outside the EU for the rest of your life out of embarrassment?” … “Yes, and I’d appreciate it if, for the rest of my life, you don’t bring it up”. However, as comical as this is, the mandate is questionable for two reasons.
Firstly, an Ipsos poll conducted after the referendum suggested that people of voting age who chose not to vote supported remain by a ratio of 2:1. Even without considering the 12.9m who did not turnout, a Financial Times model indicates that based on the same turnout, with the necessary adjustments to the demographic profile of the electorate (i.e. older voters die, younger voters enter), the result would be reversed by 2021.
Secondly, it is questionable how final referendums are. As pointed out by Vernon Bogdanor, Farage said that if Remain won 52-48 “this would be unfinished business”, and that “win or lose this battle, we will win the war”. Suddenly, the battle is now a war. Had Leave lost, the night of the vote the Brexiteers would have been plotting how to expand their coalition into a majority within the next thirty years whilst publicly nodding that they accept the vote. David Cameron has gone off to live in an expensive shed, Will Straw has disappeared, and Nick Clegg is unemployed. The best case for remain is currently being articulated by a rogue SpaD gone bad’s intoxicant fuelled 2am tweets.
Remainers, like last year, have all the intellectual credibility and no momentum. We are not blessed with a leader, or even a movement, to capitalise upon the currents favouring the case to remain. The case for Scottish independence collapsed with the oil price post referendum yet the movement strengthened. The case for remain has only grown stronger since the referendum yet it is the movement that has collapsed. If you feel so inclined do not submit to the country’s fate but be naive enough to attempt to influence it. A young Churchill wrote “Twenty to twenty five! These are the years! Don’t be content with things as they are. The earth is yours and the fullness thereof”. With the stakes as high as they will ever be, a government totally unequal to the task, and spiritless politicians unable to challenge the so-feared people’s verdict – a verdict likely to change with time, it is left with those outside Westminster who still believe in the same principles they did last year to convince the confused middle to come to their senses.
The only escape from this mess is a second referendum. Whilst its not currently on the cards, as the details of Brexit become clearer, and more politicians and journalists find their spines, it could be the least damaging way to avoid this nightmare.