Opinion – We’ve Left: Supporting Remain is Political Suicide

Deia Russell-Smith argues Labour, the Lib Dems and others must accept Brexit if they want to be in government again anytime soon

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The pollster Peter Kellner predicted in early 2018 that 450,000 net Brexiteers were dying per annum. On this logic, he suggested that by 2020 Britain would want to remain in the EU for the foreseeable future. An opaque cloud of smog descended on Remainers, in which the inevitability of our farewell was soon veiled.

Politicians who are/were Remain, or are in some way sceptical about Brexit, must realise that any remark about their incredulity is political suicide. Jess Philips recently fell into the trap of Brexit-scepticism. She wasn’t the first or last. She revealed to Andrew Marr that the prospect of re-joining was not far-fetched, and would depend on the circumstances of the post-Brexit economy. Whether you agree or not, Philips evidently forgot the outcome of the recent election/ Jo Swinson’s apologetic face at having led her party to ruin was seemingly not imprinted in Philips’ mind.

The election was fought on ‘getting Brexit done’ and that is what 43.6% of voters choose to do, compared with the meagre 11.5% share to the Liberal Democrats, the only mainstream pro-remain party.  

Remainers, becoming Remoaners, still do not believe they are in the minority. While the vote in 2016 may have been a battle over a percentile, last year’s election saw a rise of 47 seats for the Conservatives. The change in demographics which pollsters, Remainers and Remoaners predicted by 2020 were unequivocally incorrect.

Wounds need to be licked and placards put aside. Brexit-sceptics need to accept the facts – that Britain wanted to, and voted to leave the European Union, twice.  

Hopeful Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been praised as Shadow Brexit Secretary praised for moving forward on the question of Brexit. Although Starmer seemed an obvious choice for the next leader, his Brexit policy is misted by ‘Remain fog.’ Starmer’s recent decision to call on Labour to back the reintroduction of free movement within the EU, bringing the issue of migrant toleration to his campaign. Immigration, and the press hounding of migrants, was, of course, something in which Brexit was won on. It was based on an accumulation of concerns, mounting from 2004 onwards, in which the government did not impose immigration restrictions as many other countries did. The way in which any future leader of the Labour Party can hope to ever win back any seats – and dare to hope to be back in a government – is by incorporating Brexit into their strategy for the ‘future’. The electorate is passionate about climate change, and their ‘Green New Deal’ may gain traction with voters, but not if they do not incorporate what Britain has already voted on.

The party most disillusioned, and still clinging to Remain, are indeed the Liberal Democrats, who have been thrust even further into the political wilderness. The disunity of Remainers in the election was what Johnson was betting on for his victory, while the Lib Dem input was the final nail in the coffin for anyone wishing to remain in the EU. Swinson’s apology to the party at having failed to win and unite remain voters was lacklustre and ineffectual. Swinson’s apology should not go out to just her party but to the electorate more widely. It was the Lib Dem’s attacks on Labour rather than the Conservatives, with their huge misjudgement about the political mood and desire to split the Remain vote, which has caused the great loss.

James O’Brien was forceful after the election in hounding Labour for their misjudgement, and specifically Corbyn in letting down the electorate by sticking to morals rather than concrete and popular policy. But this is a responsibility in which Labour and the Lib Dems share: their Remoaning has forced many people into another five years of Tory majority, with a further rise of the use of foodbanks (up by 23% in the last year) and some 30,000 deaths, the Royal Society of Medicine say, are due to austerity policies since 2017.

The election was always going to be fought on Brexit and it was both parties’ failure which has contributed to the continuation of such Tory policies on our society.

The prospect of re-joining the EU has become a lifeline for Remainers to hold on to. The prospect of rejoining the bloc in the future is, of course, a possibility. Just as Britain joined the EEC in 1973, after over ten years of rebuff from de Gaulle and the hostile political climate around immigration in the ‘70s, we can theoretically join again. There is some tract to say that gaining support for the Re-join movement would theoretically be doable. Brexit has been won on ‘promises’ of sovereignty, independence and heightened British trade. If these promises are not adhered to and Johnson’s deal is substandard, then there is the possibility for such a movement. But those people who want that to happen must bide their time, for Brexit has to fail, and people have to believe it has failed, for a re-join movement to ever widespread support.

Where re-joining the EU seems most probable in Britain is in Scotland and Northern Ireland. With Sturgeon gunning for a second independence referendum, since 55% of Scots voted to remain part of Britain in 2014 but 62% voted to remain in the EU two years, is certainly credible. Donald Tusk, former president of the European Council, has been positive about the prospect; while he cannot interfere with diplomatic conventions in a different country he suggested their application as an independent country would be welcomed. Of course, there are limits to this: re-entry into the common market would mean Scottish adherence to the EU’s fishing policy, something deeply unpopular. Scotland also doesn’t qualify fiscally for membership. Recent data has put their deficit at 7.2%, while member states are required to have a deficit below 3%. These issues are rectifiable, sure, but independence would need to be won against the government voters before they would even be able to apply for membership of the bloc. The process is one that would take time but may have popular support.

The question of Ireland and border controls has festered around discussion of Brexit since the proposition of the ‘Irish backstop.’ After the recent surge in popularity of Sinn Fein, questions about Ireland’s future and the possibility of reunification have risen again. Southern Ireland as a member of the European Union, would automatically pull Northern Ireland in if they reunited so that the whole of Ireland would be part of the EU. Any border between North and South has severe historic connotations, and Ireland understandably never wants to return to full separation. While the customs border would be moved to the geographical border between the islands, crossed by a ferry, this poses the question of what the need for a separate North and South is. If Northern Ireland is part of the customs union and has to go through checks into mainland Britain anyway, why not remain part of the EU bloc? But there is no saying that Northern Ireland would decide to do this. It’s all conjecture.

While there is the possibility of one or both of Northern Ireland or Scotland re-joining the EU, this will be undertaken outside the parameters of Westminster and would largely leave Britain (simply England and Wales) more isolated than ever. Accepting Brexit has therefore become grave importance, and Labour and the Lib Dems must wake up and incorporate Brexit into their strategy if they ever want to be in government again. Prospects of re-joining the EU should not be overstated or clung onto. As the ‘second referendum’ of the election revealed, Britain wanted to leave, and we have left the European Union.