Exactly two years ago, Britain went to the polls for what turned out to be one of the most depressing days, politically, in my entire life, as a small majority (51.89%) of the 72.21% of the population who could be bothered to vote expressed their desire to leave the EU.
The referendum was merely advisory; in other words, it was not legally binding, but the government never acknowledged this. In fact, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority, but the Tories ignored that as well.
David Cameron, who had called the referendum to placate UKIP and the far right of his own party, and had mistakenly thought it would be an easy win, walked off unscathed into the sunset, and after a short bloodbath the hapless Theresa May — who had spent six years as a horribly racist Home Secretary — was apparently the only senior minister left standing who could take over.
And because “the will of the people” apparently had to be respected, May has, ever since, been at the head of a cabinet that, essentially, represents the success of the kind of isolationist lunatics that even Margaret Thatcher recognized as needing to be kept firmly locked in a box throughout her premiership.
Out of his depth, David Davis heads the government’s Brexiteers, along with the vile Liam Fox, and the totally unprincipled Boris Johnson, whose cheerleading for leaving the EU played a major part in the Leave campaign’s success, even though Boris didn’t mean it, and was only going along with it as he jockeyed for position.
Weirdo Michael Gove is back too, and bizarrely even medieval throwbacks like arch-Leaver Jacob Rees-Mogg are getting serious media coverage the days — as part of the mainstream media’s extraordinary failure to question the Brexit narrative properly. Back in 2015-16, they behaved as though Nigel Farage was the King of England, or the Prime Minister, when he was the head of a party with, at most, one MP, and now the media fawn over the ridiculous figure of Rees-Mogg.
After the result, like so many liberal Remainers, I was actually quite depressed, as my articles from the time show; from the day after, UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, and, from June 26, 2016, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends.
I then followed the twists and turns as Parliament, generally in a depressingly feeble manner, made noises about needing the right to meaningfully participate in the Brexit process — which Brexiteers hated, even though the whole point of Brexit was to wrest back the illusory control that the EU had to restore British sovereignty, which, in the UK, resides with Parliament, and not with whichever clown is installed in 10 Downing Street.
But this is all just part of the Brexit madness that has existed for the last two years. When a legal challenge was mounted, the pro-Brexit tabloids — in particular, the Daily Mail under the execrable Paul Dacre, and the Sun under non-Brit Rupert Murdoch — accused High Court and Supreme Court judges of being traitors, and they continue to do the same every time MPs or the House of Lords do anything to rock their ludicrous fantasies about Brexit.
Leaving the EU, contrary to the Brexiteers’ blunt obsession with pretending that it’s as simple as shutting a door, is to undo 45 years of laws and treaties that have created an incredibly complex system tying us to our European neighbours — facilitating the seamless trade with the EU that constitutes 60% of our business, a fact that ought to provide a compelling reason for not allowing Brexit to proceed.
My analogy is that Brexit is like chopping a body in half, but then having only a few minutes for the surgery required to prevent the body from dying — an impossible task, but in our new fantasy Britain, the Brexiteers will be denying that we’re bleeding to death until they draw their final breath.
Brexiteers, meanwhile, have no answers to Remainers’ thoroughly valid sense of alarm, relying on simple-minded platitudes that fail to bear up under even the most minimal scrutiny. To be honest, I have found the whole topic so depressing that I have largely given up on it over the last year, although I always keep an eye out for the crucial analysis of Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, whose book Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? is required reading — and also includes some serious analysis of the elephant in the room that the Tories simply don’t want to properly acknowledge: that there is an intractable Irish border problem that can’t be wished away, and that may either cause a resurgence of war in Ireland (generally referred to quaintly as ‘the Troubles’) or the break-up of the Union (which is supposed to be absolutely central to the Tories’ political philosophy), with, no doubt, Scotland following if Brexit goes ahead. Such is the Brexit madness, however, that last week, when polled on this, a majority of die-hard Brexiteers said they’d be happy to lose Northern Ireland to preserve their Brexit fantasy.
Another baleful effect of the Brexit vote, which I must note, before I reflect on where we are now and what the future might bring, is that racism is noticeably on the rise in Brexit Britain. Whenever I have met an EU national in the last two years, I have apologised for the change in their treatment over the last two years, asking about, and always receiving confirmation that, since the referendum, they have been subjected to abuse, and being told to “go home”, that simply didn’t happen before. The cat is out of the bag, and what vicious, mangy creature it is.
So where are we now? Today, I’m glad to note, an estimated 100,000 people marched in central London to demand a second referendum. I wasn’t able to make it, as I had an important housing campaign meeting in Lewisham, but I also couldn’t quite face yet another incredibly polite pro-EU march, as I’ve been on many in the last two years, and I don’t think politeness is really working. I was, however, pleased to note that the Observer reported the following:
With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”.
A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.
Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp.
The Observer added:
Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving.
More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.
The only real way for that to happen, of course, is for Brexit to be scrapped, but despite today’s protest, it remains unclear how that can happen. Personally, I’m not sure I trust the electorate to deliver a second referendum result different from the first, given that the country is still, on balance, or for less balanced between Leave and Remain, with, still, millions of people who refuse to make any kind of commitment one way or another.
I actually think MPs should derail it, but I don’t hold out much hope for that either, as they have generally been so craven when it comes to rocking the Brexit boat. Resistance by the Lords has been more robust, but they lack the power to genuinely stop the government in an meaningful manner.
Do we really have to crash out of the EU, and destroy our economy, before we wake up, kick out the Tories, and ask the EU to forgive our episode of madness and let us back in?
I fear that the answer is yes, as I remember why it is that I’ve been so studiously avoiding engaging with Brexit for most of the last year. It’s simply too depressing …
Note: Anyone who’s seen my band The Four Fathers recently will know that we perform a storming song I wrote about Brexit, ‘I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, which we’ll be recording in about three weeks’ time, and then intend to release. Do get in touch if you want to be informed about its release.