In the debate over the unfolding Brexit disaster, I’ve remained a remoaner. How could I not? More parts foreign than English although, at least, I was born here. In some ways, I wish I wasn’t and could get, say, Dutch nationality. Proud to be English, proud to be European. Always. Today, I sent a pointless email to the Dutch embassy. Was there any chance of dual citizenship?
I remain a remoaner but my heart is not set on a second referendum. I know most of my pro-European friends are and believe that this time the head will rule the heart. They could be right and we all know that Nigel Farage said before the first referendum that if leave lost it would be “unfinished business”. What’s good enough for him and all that. I’m not sure about the wisdom of holding another referendum for two reasons. First, I oppose the use of referenda in a parliamentary democracy and two, things could get very nasty indeed.
In my view, we have one system or another. We either elect MPs periodically to run the country or we don’t. The EU referendum had nothing to do with allowing the people a say on whether we should leave the EU: it was a means by which to settle the Conservative Party civil war over Europe. That went well. So, if I was a lifelong opponent of referenda, why should I change today?
I would change in the hope I got the result I wanted, which would see us stay in the EU, to retain free movement, to stay in both the single market and the customs union. I’d probably feel much better about my country and its future. But imagine what a campaign would look like.
If the red tops were full of hate first time round, imagine what they’d be like now. If Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage and every racist in the land lied through their teeth in 2016, does anyone seriously think they’d start being honest now? In reality, another campaign would be far worse, with calls of betrayal against those who enabled another vote and, I believe, civil disorder.
Many of those who voted leave last time still feel betrayed by a system that has left them behind. The myth, unchallenged for decades, that everything was the fault of foreigners stealing British jobs has not gone away. The current government, and indeed opposition, has continued to blame foreign workers for all our ills. And no one has talked up the major net benefits of being a member of the EU.
Not everyone who voted leave was a racist but every racist voted leave. The grand coalition to pull up the drawbridge on the rest of Europe was diverse, although mainly old. The remain campaign before the referendum, which was essentially David Cameron and George Osborne, lived almost exclusively on Planet Fear. They were largely disbelieved which was a shame since much of what they said was true. We will be worse off, our children will be denied the opportunities my generation enjoyed. People either didn’t believe that or didn’t care. So, what do I want now? If not a referendum, then what?
Right now, I’d settle for a Norway deal. Stay in the single market, stay in the customs union, maintain free movement. It would not be as good as remaining, but it would be the least worst option. A bad deal would still be better than no deal because if there is no deal on anything, planes will stop flying, medicines will run out in a few days, we will be into food rationing, Dover will become a car park. That’s not me landing on Planet Fear: that’s the reality. I believe there will be deals on some of these things but the truth is that we are begging the EU for a deal, not the other way around.
I’ll be happy if we never have another referendum. I will always believe that political parties, and individual candidates, should run on a manifesto and we, the voters, should decide which manifesto we like best.
Of course, no second referendum means leaving big decisions with political inadequates like Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, the two worst leaders of their parties ever, making the biggest and most important decisions since World War Two.
The problem with Brexit is that the question was so much bigger than leave or remain. Nowhere on the ballot paper did it mention the single market, the customs union, free movement or anything else. That’s why the arguments are so much more complicated. Many of us remoaners could live – just – with a Brexit that made us like Norway in terms of dealing with the EU.
Ultimately, we will have to settle for a very damaging Brexit or a catastrophic Brexit. Nothing else is on offer and given that the politicians created this awful mess, they should be the ones to sort it out. There’s nothing much at stake: just the entire future of the country.