Over the past few weeks I’ve been rooting for Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘Common Market Mk 2’ solution to the present impasse – that is, Britain in the single market, a bit like Norway; but only because of my natural penchant for compromise, and my anxiety about the reaction in the country if the ‘people’s will’ (so-called) is seen to be thwarted.
Of course I don’t accept May’s reading of the ‘people’s will’, either as it was in June 2016, when it was distorted by other factors (see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/, plus all the revelations that have appeared since then about the gross cheating that was perpetrated on the Brexit side); or in March 2019, when demographic shifts suggest that the vote then isn’t likely to have reflected opinion now. (That is, with old Brexiters dying and being replaced by young pro-Europeans.) I’m also as much repelled by the characters and backgrounds of the current batch of leading Leavers – rich, public school-bred, shady financiers and Tory journalists – as anyone who has closely studied the likes of Farage, Boris, Govey and Moggy is bound to be. Of course this doesn’t mean that these people are necessarily wrong, and as a rational person I realise the dangers of judging an argument by the clothes of the person who is delivering it. Nonetheless, this consideration doesn’t detract from my view that this whole Brexit business is a huge ‘con’, potentially disastrous to almost every aspect of British life – not only our wealth but also our morality and dignity in the eyes of the rest of the world – and really ought to be somehow stopped in its tracks, even this far along the road, with the UK returning, tail between its legs, to the more favourable relations with Europe it has now within the EU.
I’m hoping, deep down, that this might be the outcome of the stupendously popular anti-Brexit ‘People’s Vote’ demonstration that took place yesterday in London – a million strong, they say; backed by more than five million signatories to a petition demanding the same. (Farage’s rival ‘epic march’ down from Sunderland gathered only about 70.) But the problem, still, is the effect of any such reversal on pro-Brexit opinion in the country, and the risk that it might even – as some have predicted – provoke something in the nature of a ‘civil war’. Hence my backing for Jeremy’s clever strategy.
Since yesterday’s demonstration, however, and various other events over the past week or two, I’ve changed my mind. The demo stiffened my backbone. So did the dreadful threats that have been coming from the Brexit side: to prominent Remainers who are threatened with death, torture or rape if they continue, including the woman who started the 5 million-plus petition, who is now afraid to live in her home; and to most MPs since Theresa May identified them, in that quite appalling ‘address to the nation’ the other night, as the ‘enemies of the people’ – as, of course, the gutter press has been doing all along. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2019/03/20/theresa-the-populist/.) After it, MPs were urged to take black cabs home from Parliament to avoid being way-laid. If that speech wasn’t a provocation to violence, I don’t know what is. And of course we’ve already had one young Labour MP, Jo Cox, murdered in the streets by a ‘Britain First’ enthusiast. For pity’s sake: what kind of person believes Brexit is worth killing for?
So, as a result of all this, I’m now no longer deterred by the threat from the Brexit side. They don’t deserve pandering to. As do none of the other ‘populist’ movements in Europe and the Americas to which Brexit is clearly allied. It’s not an exaggeration to call them proto-fascist. And as our national experience between the wars should have taught us, it’s dangerous to try to appease even proto-fascism.
It’s the violence that has finally put me off the idea of compromise, or a ‘soft Brexit’; together with the Brexiteers’ lack of humour. People are fond of lazily excusing ‘excess’ on one side of an argument by claiming that it’s a characteristic of ‘both extremes’ – Trump did it notoriously after that riot in Charlottesville in August 2017; but it emphatically isn’t so in this case. So far as I know no-one on the Remain side has threatened to murder or rape any Brexiter. Violence appears – in this context – to be an exclusively right-wing characteristic. (Why is this, I wonder?) The ‘people’s vote’ demonstration yesterday, huge as it was, seems to have been entirely peaceful. It was also good spirited and humorous. Just look at the placards, of which there’s a great selection here: https://inews.co.uk/news/brexit/brexit-march-30-funniest-placards-put-it-to-the-people-demo-london/. (As a Swedophile I’m slightly offended by the IKEA one, but I thought it was funny all the same.) You don’t find that sort of thing on the Brexit side. It seems remarkably humourless. (Unless the laughable eccentricities of its clownish leaders are supposed to compensate for this.)
This is another example, I realise, of judging an argument by its clothes, or the clothes perhaps of only a minority. And of course there are other better reasons for my backing Remain. But other things being equal – which they aren’t in this case – I hope I’d always plump for humour over violence. That’s one of the contests going on here.