The Remain campaign claimed during the referendum run-up that the Leave campaign didn’t know what it wants – the Norwegian option; the Swiss option; the Turkish option; a bespoke option; some other option. Remain was right.
On paper, the point had a lot of force: if you can’t agree on what you want, why should people trust you? In practice, it turned out to have rather less – since, after all, Remain lost the referendum. Perhaps part of the reason Leave won was that voters grasped that it didn’t really matter. If the house that you and your family live in is collapsing, you will all agree to move out as soon as possible, since it is dangerous to stay. That there’s no consensus about which house to settle in afterwards (you may have to move into temporary lodgings for a time, just as Britain may have left the EU before agreeing a final settlement) is beside the point.
Remainers will doubtless disagree with this riposte, but they ought to glance in a mirror before doing so. This is because they are now in exactly the same position as the Leavers they criticise.
Some want the courts to stop the Prime Minister from moving Article 50 as she intends (which the judges have no authority to do) – though many of the petitioners want to stay anonymous in doing so. It’s almost as if they are ashamed at seeking to strike down the decision of the people. Others want the referendum to be re-run, which is rather like demanding a re-run of the F.A Cup Final if your team happens to have lost it. This seems to be the position of Tony Blair – who, in all fairness to him, cannot be accused of seeking anonymity. Others still, such as David Lammy, want MPs to vote against the result of the referendum that they themselves authorised.
Others are more realistic. Anna Soubry, bless her, wants to stay in the single market and keep free movement – in effect, the EEA option, though perhaps without Norway’s emergency brake on immigration. Others are less. One old pro-Remain friend persistently complains to me that this site should still be asking readers if they want Brexit or not. Perhaps he has somehow missed the referendum result, or didn’t know that the vote was happening. Others still appear to have taken the option of the last resort – namely, to convince themselves that Britain hasn’t decided to leave at all. Perhaps this will be his next move.
Worse still for Remainers is that they have no-one to hold to account. I don’t mean by this that they have no-one to blame. Indeed, they have rather a long list: Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Ian Botham, the Daily Mail, Jeremy Corbyn, neo-nazis, Rupert Murdoch, Enoch Powell, the f**king Tories – even though the Remain campaign was led by a Conservative Prime Minister – and, not least, themselves (for running a losing campaign). But they have no-one much who can be punished for what they see as the wrong decision. Vote Leave is not the Government, and so can’t be turned out of office. The new Prime Minister is a Remainer, Theresa May. Most of her Cabinet took the same view.
I may seem to scoff at the poor old Remainers, and there is certainly something comic about them. For example, Chuka Umanna has set up Vote Leave Watch to, as he puts it, “hold Leave campaigners to account…and to call them out when they fail to deliver”. It follows that the only means of satisfying him is for policies to be implemented with which he fundamentally disagrees. But Leavers should be less a mouth to jeer than a shoulder to cry on. After all, we have been there, some for the best part of 40 years. We know what it’s like. We understand how it feels to be on the outside of power – mocked, marginalised, laughed at as losers, bewildered and divided about what to do next.
This is the nub of the matter. Lord Mandelson, Goldman Sachs, George Osborne, the Foreign Office, Baroness Wheatcroft, Tony Blair, Lord Heseltine, J.P.Morgan (which predicted that the FTSE-1000 would fall after a Brexit vote, and now declares that British shares are the safest in Europe): all of these are, if not precisely the Establishment (whatever that means) certainly the Ascendancy, or have been until now – the people whose attitudes, instincts and worldview have collectively shaped British politics over the past 25 years or so and, if the issue of Britain’s EU membership is considered, since the late 1950s, over half a century ago.
The best guide to their current condition may be an old story in St Luke’s gospel. A rich man has a happy life on earth, and goes to hell. A poor man called Lazarus has an unhappy life on earth, and goes to heaven.
The former appeals to Abraham, saying: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” To which Abraham replies: “Tough” – or, in the more elevated language of the Authorised Version: “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented”. That’s how it goes. Some you win, some you lose. That’s how life is. But Remainers have an advantage over the rich man. They are not in hell, even though they may believe otherwise. Their fate is not eternal. They can campaign to have another go.
The previous Europe-related referendum took place in 1975. On the basis of that experience, Remainers can thus look forward to another referendum in 41 years time – in 2057 or thereabouts. Until then, or at least for the time being, they must grin and bear it, or at least bear it if they find grinning impossible.