All the arguments just now seem to be going the Remainers’ way. (See, for example, https://chrisgreybrexitblog.blogspot.com/2019/02/brexiters-are-finally-being-forced-to.html?m=1&fbclid=IwAR1qcs2_hzB0GGJGW8V3jOFlGHCjHobVhRqYsASaKsOxoGEwzCN93oJc5wo.) Yet the polls don’t suggest that this is having much impact on the Brexiteers, or on public opinion generally. The difference in the figures is marginal, with only a slight shift to ‘Remain’; and remember how undependable the polls were before June 2016. If there were another referendum, therefore, there’s no guarantee that it would reverse the verdict of the original one, and certainly not enough to be more decisive than the 2% that separated the sides in 2016.
Even if ‘Remain’ won referendum #2 (or #3, if you count 1975), it wouldn’t be accepted by the Brexiteers, who would regard it as having been contrived by the ‘Establishment’ in order to override the real verdict of the people, set in stone in June 2016. That’s because almost the whole debate now is centred not on the merits of the European case – we’ve heard scarcely anything about that from the ‘Leave’ side recently – but on how that vote should be regarded: as a genuine expression of the will of the country against its ‘elite’ oppressors, uniquely ‘democratic’, and hence sacred; or as corrupt (which it was), and therefore unreliable. ‘The People’ gave ‘the Establishment’ a bloody nose then, and have no desire at all to stick a plaster over it now. No ‘facts’ will deter them. Even pointing out how ‘elitist’ and divorced from ‘ordinary’ people the Brexit leaders really are – Boris? Nigel? Jacob? – doesn’t seem to be affecting that. And most people, being non-political in any thinking sense, and impatient of the current parliamentary farce, just want the whole thing finished and tied up, at almost any cost.
Worse: there are reports in all the papers about official preparations being made for ‘Brexit Day’ (March 29th) which bode ill for any kind of future, especially if the ‘people’s will’ is betrayed. Shops and especially hospitals are stockpiling goods and essential medicines; the Army has been alerted and is in training in case of civil disorder; and – just yesterday – it was reported that plans are under way to evacuate the Queen from London in that event: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6661457/Whitehall-plan-evacuate-Queen-Brexit-sparks-riots-streets-London.html. The Daily Mail prints that as a ‘scare story’, all part of the ‘Establishment’ plot against the ‘People’; but it is, in truth, scary enough.
This is serious. It has gone way beyond a civilised political debate about the benefits or otherwise of being in the European Union, and opened up a wound that has been festering in British society – nothing to do with Europe – for years. All of which needs to be taken into account when we pro-Europeans – or ‘Remoaners’ – consider practical ways out of this mess. The ideal one – abandon the whole Brexit project in the light of the facts, then settle back into Europe and try to reform it from within – is highly unlikely to calm things down. A ‘hard’, ‘no deal’ Brexit will cause untold distress to nearly everyone except the Brexit elitists (who have been able to squirrel their money abroad), and will inflame Remainers (like me). A ‘soft’ Brexit will never satisfy either the ideological Brexiteers, or the angry mob that followed them, and which wants to see more blood being spilled. ‘No Brexit’ will be portrayed by the likes of the Daily Mail and the Express as a betrayal, tantamount to high treason, and will be the likeliest trigger for the civil war that the government and Buckingham Palace are making their contingency preparations for. In the light of all this – and not just of the main issue – we need to tread carefully.
Which brings me on – again – to Jeremy Corbyn. As Labour leader, Corbyn stands far closer to these domestic issues and repercussions than the Tories (or his critics) do. He is aware that his Northern constituencies are among those that have been most neglected and oppressed by governments in recent years, and so are most careless, or care-free, about lashing out at the ‘Establishment’ they hold to be responsible for this. He has been warned that supporting a new referendum would lose him votes there, and elsewhere, among people who otherwise might go along with his radical domestic agenda. He is accused of ‘lack of leadership’; but ‘natural’ Labour voters are not the sort that can be easily ‘led’. (I blame Thatcher for the elevation of the ‘Führerprinzip’ into British politics.) He’s a genuine democrat, following his Party Conference’s line. He is also lukewarm on the issue of Europe itself, as are many of us pro-Europeans (me included); and in any case – as I’ve pointed out before – doesn’t regard Britain’s relationship with Europe as the country’s most pressing problem today. That’s why he favours a general election before a referendum. That’s been presented as a selfish, ‘party first’ demand; but the reason why Corbyn wants a Labour government is to be able to radically overhaul British society and the economy for what he perceives to be their benefit. There’s no chance of a Tory government doing that. And it would eliminate many of the domestic grievances that underlay the Brexit vote in the first place. In addition to this, Corbyn is not wedded to the ‘red lines’ that stymied – or have done so far – Theresa May’s efforts to reach a deal with the EU: exit from the common trading area, for a start. His bargaining position would be significantly different; and, consequently, as many EU leaders have suggested, rather more likely to succeed.
The upshot would not be what any of us Remainers would ideally prefer, but might be far better than anything the Conservatives could achieve. It would also dampen down the civil unrest kindling that is piling up alarmingly now. Those who are impatient with Corbyn’s failure to lead the Remain charge may be losing sight of this. Of course I would much prefer Brexit to be dumped in Britain too; and for Corbyn to come out as my unambiguously European champion. But things may have gone too far for that. Corbyn’s plan, therefore, if I understand it right – and it has been pretty clear from his statements and speeches right from the beginning: it’s not at all true, as his enemies claim, that he hasn’t got one – is worth sticking with. For the time being, at least.