Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster.
“Lies! Lies! It was all based on lies!” If you’re reading this article, you evidently have access to the Internet. So you must be aware that, to put this as neutrally as I can, not every Remain supporter has accepted the referendum result with equanimity. Thousands have marched on Parliament to tell MPs to ignore the electorate. Millions have signed a petition demanding a rerun. The law firm Mischon de Reya has been hired to try to prevent a future Prime Minister from initiating the disengagement. Tony Blair says he wants to drag things out until people change their minds.
Reading the furious screeds on Twitter, I keep thinking of Bertolt Brecht’s eerie poem Die Lösung:
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
On what basis do Remainers deny the legitimacy of the ballot? I’m sorry to put this so bluntly, but it boils down to snobbery. A bunch of dimwits and bigots, we’re invited to believe, were whipped up by unscrupulous demagogues.
It is precisely this patronising attitude that pushed many people into voting Leave in the first place. They were fed up with the de-haut-en-bas tone of a political class whose members often benefited personally from the EU. Every time they saw another letter from hoary-headed grandees demanding a Remain vote, they bridled.
If brow-beating didn’t work before 23rd June, it isn’t going to work now. In the one poll I’ve seen – and, now more than ever, we should treat polls cautiously – three per cent of Leave voters had indeed succumbed to buyer’s remorse and switched sides. But four per cent of Remain voters had switched the other way, presumably because the terrors of the earth have failed to materialise.
Before the vote, George Osborne told us that Brexit would lead to emergency tax rises; now, he talks of slashing corporation tax. Before the vote, Barack Obama told us we’d be at the back of the queue; now, he says our special relationship is as strong as ever, and Congress’s Speaker, Paul Ryan, correctly points out that that a US-UK free trade deal “would be easier to do” than a US-EU one.
Before the vote, the French government suggested that it might send our immigration officers back across the Channel; now, it has confirmed that the current deal will remain in force. Before the vote, we were told that the stock exchange would collapse; now, we see that the only real collapse has been in Italy – the FTSE 100 has strengthened. Before the vote, Wolfgang Schäuble menacingly told us that “out is out”, and that we’d be treated like any third country; now, he says that George Osborne told him to say that, and German officials talk of the need for some kind of special status for Britain.
Of all the predictions made by Remain campaigners, only one has come true: the pound has fallen. And, frankly, not before time. The continuing weakness of the euro had made sterling a haven currency, artificially boosting its value. As in 1992 and 2008, a sharp devaluation is much needed.
People are entitled to have tantrums, obviously. But I’d much rather that the many decent, patriotic voters who backed Remain now helped forge a new consensus behind a looser deal with the EU. I wrote on this site on the day of the referendum that a close vote either way would oblige the winning side to take on board the concerns of the losers. We must now do precisely that.
The top concern for Leavers was very clearly sovereignty. We promised to take back control of our money, our borders, our democracy. Those promises must be at the heart of our renegotiation. As far as I could tell – and correct me if I’m wrong – the top concerns of Remainers were, first, the maintenance of our economic and commercial ties to the EU; and, second, the maintenance of various joint programmes in education and research. It surely isn’t beyond the wit of man to form a negotiating position that incorporates the main concerns of the two sides.
Will the rest of the EU play ball? The early signs are good. Donald Tusk told MEPs on Tuesday that the renegotiation would be carried out by the national governments, not by the Brussels institutions. Angela Merkel plainly wants to maintain a close relationship with the UK, knowing that an ill-tempered or sudden rupture would have deleterious economic consequences on both sides of the Channel.
There are several ways to square the circle. For example, having taken back parliamentary sovereignty, the UK could agree to continue with some of its existing programmes and obligations through bilateral treaties, either open-endedly or for a guaranteed period of time.
But this is not the time to start setting out our negotiating position in full. I simply want to urge all sides to be prepared to compromise. In a perfect world, I’d disapply the vast majority of the EU’s directives and regulations, and seek an alternative future as a buccaneering, offshore, low-tax nation. But it may well be that, in order to accommodate the 48.1 per cent, and in order to secure the integrity of the United Kingdom, we end up keeping more of our current arrangements in place than I’d ideally like.
That conversation can’t begin, though, until Remain voters accept the verdict of the urns. Britain is leaving the EU. The question now is how to leave on terms that are cordial and advantageous to both sides. Come, Remainers: work with us on this.