Brexiteers should be magnanimous toward defeated Remainers? No, sorry. Remainers have behaved like deceitful, duplicitous, spoiled children both before and after the EU referendum, and have done nothing to deserve anyone’s goodwill
Peter Hitchens is both right and wrong in his latest Mail on Sunday column, in which he urges Brexiteers to show magnanimity toward defeated Remainers by swinging their support behind an interim Norway/EEA option for leaving the EU.
Do you really think anyone in this deeply divided country has a mandate to go hell-for-leather for full immediate exit from the EU, regardless of costs and consequences?
I don’t. I think we might be very wise to settle for a Norway-style arrangement, and leave the rest for some other time.
A mandate is a mandate, but only because of the strange, rather illogical magic which says that a majority of one vote decides the issue. So it does.
But it doesn’t sweep away any duty to consider the defeated minority, our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, our neighbours, friends, colleagues, even relatives.
It may be that if the other side had won, they might have behaved badly towards us.
I have been in enough minorities in my time to have experienced that. But they would have been wrong to do so. And precisely because our cause is so good, we can afford to be generous in victory.
I get tired of the overblown shouting on both sides here. Anyone, even I, could see that a referendum was only the first step, and that lawyers, judges, civil servants, diplomats and the BBC would seek to frustrate a vote to leave.
That’s why I always wanted to take another, longer route out. I wasn’t surprised by the High Court decision that Parliament must be consulted, and I will be even less shocked if the so-called ‘Supreme Court’ takes the same view.
Hitchens is absolutely correct to endorse a Brexit model in which Britain retains our current level of access to the single market by continuing to participate in the EEA after our initial departure. One may not realise from listening to overzealous, hard Brexiteers, but this is nothing more than an acknowledgement of basic truth – that Brexit is inevitably going to be a process rather than an event, and that for this to work we need to find effective ways of tying the hundreds of loose ends created by severing ourselves from the EU in a way which minimises economic and diplomatic disruption while fulfilling the primary objective of leaving the political union.
But Hitchens is wrong to suggest that there should be any additional magnanimity toward Remainers, besides that which is absolutely essential for the interests of our cause. Lest everybody forget, Remainers have had their way exclusively for 40 years straight, with Britain participating as a paid-up member of the EU against the wishes of eurosceptics. During all this time there has been absolutely no magnanimity shown or generosity extended to those with doubts about the euro-federalist project, or concerns about the EU’s impact on democracy.
Brexiteers have been called “fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” by none other than the former prime minister David Cameron, then leader of the party which by all rights should be most sympathetic to the eurosceptic cause. And Cameron was being positively polite in comparison to others. Furious Remainers, angry that their incompetent and small-minded campaign somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory despite having the overwhelming support of the government, civil service and establishment, have been openly complaining that Brexiteers are the racist beneficiaries of a “post-factual” world where dark propaganda overshadows the EU’s inherent goodness (I debunked that lazy theory here and here).
And worse, Remainers have acted as though a nation state seeking to escape from a failing and spectacularly unloved supranational political union and reassert control over its democracy is not the result of genuine and valid political conviction but rather somehow the first step toward fascist tyranny.
I genuinely don’t know whether I have been more insulted by Remainers before the referendum or since it took place. During the campaign we had wall-to-wall Remainer scaremongering and the deliberate encouragement of public ignorance (with the false insistence that the EU is just about “friendly trade ‘n cooperation” and nothing more, that sure it has problems but the Magical EU Reform Unicorn will easily take care of them, and that anyone who disagrees is an Evil Uneducated Xenophobe).
And since the surprise victory for Leave, we have seen a parade of Remainer catastophising and hysterical garment-rending the likes of which have not been seen in my lifetime. Some of it has been dispiriting, coming from people whose opinions I used to respect. Some of it has been whimsical and borderline hilarious. But all of it has been wrong, and all of it has been offensive to Brexiteers, who have nonetheless fought the good fight despite the insults.
Hitchens goes on to sling some further insults at David Cameron, which this blog always enjoys:
People are already beginning to forget Mr Cameron. They shouldn’t. First, because so many who should have known better – Tory activists and then voters – fell for his marketing.
Second, because he is mainly responsible for the mess in which we now find ourselves. Try not to be fooled by this kind of person again.
And in the meantime, realise that, in these difficult times, we risk the sort of unforgiving, dangerous and destabilising divisions which are even now ripping through the USA. In such conditions, you may well get what you want, but only at a hard and bitter cost. Is that worth it?
Halfway out of the EU, which we can achieve now, may turn out to be a whole lot better than being halfway in.
But Hitchens mis-sells the EEA option, which is much better than being “halfway out” of the EU, as he describes it. Freedom from the EU’s political union, the “ever-closer union” ratchet, the ECJ and any future common taxation or military policies alone would be worth the effort. But as an EEA member (by rejoining EFTA and trading with the single market under that organisation’s EEA agreement) we would be subject to only around one third of current EU laws, many of which we would need to accept anyway in one form or another, in order to conform with global standards which the EU merely receives and rubber stamps. This is a lot more than some dismal halfway house, as Pete North eloquently explains.
This is political independence and breathing room for us to then consider how best to work with other like-minded countries and organisations to bring about the kind of non-parochial, global single market which could benefit Britain so greatly. By contrast, pushing for so-called “hard” Brexit not only glosses over innumerable complications, the ignorance of which could do profound economic and political harm to Britain were we to leave the EU without resolving them, it also makes Brexit less likely by alarming sufficient numbers of people that those who seek to stop Brexit altogether receive additional support.
Agitating for the hardest of hard Brexits is spectacularly unwise, inasmuch as that it would be an unnecessary act of deliberate economic self-harm – unnecessary because secession from the EU is eminently achievable without trying to undo 40 years of stealthy political integration in a fevered two-year bonfire of laws. And if recognising this basic reality seems like extending magnanimity toward Remainers, then let it be the only magnanimity they ever receive.
By now agitating for “soft Brexit” and Britain’s continued participation in the EU, Remainers are essentially exposing the fact that they lied continually throughout the referendum campaign. As this blog previously noted, during the referendum we were always told that leaving the EU would trigger all of these negative economic consequences. But now that Britain’s secession from the EU seems inevitable, Remainers have fallen back on the argument that it is leaving the single market which will cause us doom. This is actually much closer to the truth, but every day that they make this case shines a spotlight on the steaming lies and deceptions they told the British public during the referendum.
Therefore, if giving Remainers what they now want (continued single market access) still gets us out of the European Union in the most optimal way and exposes them as the shameless liars that they are, then I am more than happy to make that concession. But that is the only magnanimity that they will get from me.
Remainers have had things their way for forty years, never caring about the millions of Britons who dissented from the pro-EU political consensus, and often being actively hostile to us. Now that something has not gone their way for the first time in many of their pampered lives, I fail to understand why I am expected to sit beside their sick beds, holding their hands and reassuring them that I am not secretly part of a plot to bring fascism or splendid isolation back to the UK.
If that is what some Remainers seriously believe, then let them continue to think it. I hope that the gnawing concern gives them ulcers. I am done trying to reason with them. I am done placating them. I am done responding with reason when I am accused of ushering in the apocalypse, either through ignorance or malevolence. I am done extending the hand of friendship. No Brexiteer should feel compelled to defer to the delicate emotions of these selfish adult babies.
They had their way for forty years. Now we get to do things our way for a change.
Life is tough like that. Suck it up, Remainers. Enjoy the political wilderness – we knew it well ourselves, once.
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