Nicholas Mazzei is a former Army Officer who now works for BT.
On Sunday 25th March, Paul Goodman wrote that “Diehard Remainers” must get over Brexit: they lost. I openly admit I am a Diehard Remainer. I’m not quite a “Remoaner-in-Chief”, but I mostly agree with those Conservatives who are labelled as such by Brexiteers.
While Paul raises important points, it’s unfair simply to tell Remainers to “get over it”, when it comes to an electoral loss. While he’s right that the vote wasn’t just a political verdict (I felt, and still feel, the wounding to my sense of self, too), it was still a political vote, meaning it can be overturned by another vote. After all, those who campaigned in the 1975 referendum to leave the European Community didn’t (in the words of Gavin Williamson) “shut up and go away”. They continued campaigning to leave, many even going so far as to form a political party dedicated to taking the UK out of Europe, and forming wings of the Conservative Party to work on the inside to bring about their desire. Campaigning for another vote is not just legitimate, it is how democracy works.
Now let me deal first with those areas of Paul’s column I do agree with. He’s right that it is a cause of the Ascendency: the opportunity to live and work across Europe is one desire of those with the money and education to do so. Usually, these are “citizens of the world” types, who are so despised by Brexiteers. Also, the agenda of those who are making claims of unfair or illegal practice is usually aimed at overturning the result. I agree with Hugo Rifkind that there is likely no further revelation that will be enough simply to overturn the result. But Brexiteers must deal with the many issues of the campaign. These include the improper use of social media data, the claims of Shahmir Sammi (whose position on this is given extra weight in that he is very pro-Brexit and would vote Leave again), and accusations of industrial-level interference by Russian state actors on the Brexit side.
The first reaction to these claims should not be shouts of “conspiracy!!”, “enemy of the people”, or “stop undermining Brexit!!!”, as many Brexiteers yell when presented with issues from the campaign. It is the duty of everyone, Brexiteer and Remoaner alike, to ensure that political decisions and campaigns are conducted fairly and to the letter and spirit of the law. I am strongly in favour of accusations against the Remain campaign — of improper activity and spending — being investigated fully by journalists and the Electoral Commission. Leave campaigners should be equally horrified at the accusations that British democracy has been subverted by Russian interference on social media, or the breaking of spending limits by Vote Leave and BeLeave.
Alexander Nix, the former chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, has now been accused of deliberately misleading parliament by Conservative MP Damian Collins, since Christopher Wylie, a former research director at the firm, released information showing the company had misused personal data from Facebook. On 27th March, the DCMS committee spent four hours questioning Wylie — believed by the chair to be the longest single panel session, and testament to how serious the issue is and the weight of evidence presented. Wylie believes it is perfectly credible to say that, without cheating, there would have been a different result. This is no longer a wild conspiracy theory, but one being investigated by a parliamentary committee.
Paul is right that the Remain campaign outspent Leave. But that doesn’t justify the claims of funds being funnelled from Vote Leave to Aggregate IQ via BeLeave. Paul also neglects to mention that Remain was the official policy of the government of the time, which is why it released leaflets explaining the government’s position and the extra funds spent on Remain. That might not be popular with Brexiteers, and it happened before the spending limits came into play, but it was the right of government to do so. He’s also right that Remainers need to stop assuming Leavers are thick, but many people have been misguided by the Leave campaign. Both Cornwall and Grimsby have asked to be exceptions to any future deal to ensure their industries can be protected by the impact of Brexit — an impact that Theresa May herself recently said would probably leave the UK poorer.
Brexit is now only a year away, and many Remainers will do what they can to keep the UK in the EU, or at least to minimise the damage to the relationship. Paul argues that many if not most have simply accepted the referendum results, but a poll by Survation in March showed that 42.7 per cent of Conservatives who supported Theresa May to be party leader wanted a referendum on the deal, compared to 34.6 per cent who didn’t. The same poll suggests most Conservative Londoners want a second vote, too. Brexiteers shouldn’t be dismissing these people; they should include them, and deliver a Brexit that recognises that nearly half the country voted to Remain. They should look at the very serious accusations of unfair practice, and address them as they would allegations against the Remain campaign.