OK, we’ve cast the die. We’re Brexiting. There’s no way back. Learn to live with it, you Remainers; or ‘Remoaners’, as the tabloid press is dubbing us.
Ever since they won the referendum, in fact, the Brexiters and their tabloid cheerleaders have been getting nastier towards the 48% who still don’t like what the country has done. You would have thought that they would have become more conciliatory, generous towards the vanquished, especially when the latter make up such a very large minority. And also in view of the acknowledged dishonesty of the Brexiters’ propaganda during the referendum debate: that ‘battlebus’, for a start. (‘£350 million more a week for the NHS.’) That could have accounted for the 2% difference. It will probably occupy a leading symbolic role when the history of the recent decline of British democracy comes to be written. But the Brexiters prevailed, however crookedly. So why are they so bitter?
Maybe it’s because they suspect that they might not prevail after all. All may still not be lost for us Europeans. Maybe there is a way back. There are at least two years of complex negotiations ahead of us; years in which some Brexiters, at least, might come to see the full import of what they’ve done. The EU may not have been perfect; but were its deficiencies really worth causing so much chaos and – probably – real harm on both sides, in order to correct them? Few of us, I think, were aware of the complications of unraveling ourselves from the 44-year complex of common laws and treaties that comprises the EU. Brexit’s leaders led their supporters to believe it would be easy, and painless. We’re seeing now that they lied on this, too.
Luckily the changes in our laws that will be necessary to effect the separation, or at least the most important of them, will need to be debated by Parliament, which could reject them. That would cock the whole process up. The government would fall, and a new general election serve as a second referendum on Brexit in effect. A friend of mine (Robin Ramsay) suggests that all the EU negotiators need to do is to make the terms of the uncoupling so disadvantageous to Britain as to provoke this scenario. ‘If it’s occurred to me,’ he writes, ‘it must have occurred to them.’ That’s his reason for thinking that Brexit won’t happen, whatever Mrs May tells us today. She may be in on the plot: purposely pressing for a ‘hard’ Brexit not simply to appease her Right-wingers, which is the common assumption, but also – as a committed European herself formerly: she campaigned for ‘Remain’ during the Referendum – in order to incite the Europeans into terms that the British can’t accept. It would be a cunning plan, indeed; but after all those years at the Home Office, directing the ultra-cunning intelligence services, I wouldn’t put it past her.
In any case, as one of my Facebook Friends comments, ‘much can happen in two years.’ That’s what I shall tell my sad and puzzled Swedish friends when I meet up with them again this evening. (I’m on my way there now.) Don’t give up on us yet.
(In the train to the airport I was surrounded by Daily Hatemails, their post-Brexit headlines still spewing out their triumphalist bile. There ought to be Daily Mail-free carriages.)
“She may be in on the plot: purposely pressing for a ‘hard’ Brexit not simply to appease her Right-wingers, which is the common assumption, but also – as a committed European herself formerly: she campaigned for ‘Remain’ during the Referendum – in order to incite the Europeans into terms that the British can’t accept.”
If she is in fact playing a double game, such subtlety would be totally of character, according to David Runciman in his review of Rosa Prince’s biography of May in the LRB. He says that: “She takes a position and then …. sticks to it, seeing it as a matter of principle that she delivers on what she has committed to”. She presses on with a policy, not because she is emotionally or ideologically committed to it, but because it is her style never to bend once a policy has been determined. She is a Thatcherite in style but not in substance.
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Thank you Philip – very interesting. I always consider that sticking to one’s convictions – ‘the lady’s not for turning’ – is a sign of rigidity of mind, and should never be regarded as a virtue. If May were REALLY cunning, however, this would all be part of her career-long preparation for the current ‘plot’: cultivate a solid reputation for consistency, then at the crucial moment break it.
I think I spent too much time working on the history of MI5 and the Special Branch, which is what encouraged this tortured way of thinking, and why I got out of that field in the end. Before I did, however, I contrived this even more cunning scenario for Thatcher, as a KGB ‘mole’ in Britain: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/01/31/the-thatcher-conspiracy/. It was an attempt to apply spookish ways of thinking to her. Of course it was a joke (as is my May theory); but a couple of reviewers took it seriously.
I missed the joke, obviously. However, in defence of the truth of your joke – taking Freud’s side – the government must know that Brexit will have seriously negative consequences for the UK; surely, they will want to do more than merely manage the situation.
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Bernard, I hope you saw the Guardian centre picture spread of Brexit reaction from Romford (Havering) There is a limit to nostalgia!
Yes. I never feel nostalgia for Romford! https://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n10/bernard-porter/iniquity-in-romford