Is Brexit now inevitable? Not yet by a long chalk
In a recent post on Open Democracy UK, the formidable Sunder Katwala has advised us emotional Europeans to get through the mourning phases of grief and anger and at last embrace ‘acceptance’. Being strongly disinclined to take his defeatist advice, I have commented as follows:
I could hardly disagree more, I’m afraid, Sunder, much as I admire a lot of what you write. Your ‘surprise’ at the emotional distress and anger felt by many of us pro-Europeans over the referendum result is itself surprising, and a little shocking in its lack of perception. Millions of us feel emotionally committed to Europe as strongly as we feel committed to our own country. To be wrenched away by a stupid, myopic, unnecessary referendum, being forced to leave by just a handful of percentage points — it’s mindless.
Such a huge decision, changing Britain’s place in the world for the worse and for a generation or more, perhaps forever, should have required a minimum of two-thirds for Leaving, and the decision should obviously have been made only when at least an outline of the terms of our departure from the EU and of our future relationship with it had become clear — what HMG would be asking for, and what the rEU was likely to be prepared to give us. A decision to Leave without the slightest idea of what Leaving would actually entail was largely meaningless, especially after sober forecasts of likely consequences were recklessly rubbished by the mendacious self-serving cheer-leaders of the Leave campaign.
Elementary democracy demands that once the terms are roughly known, the people of Britain (and N Ireland) must be allowed to say — not necessarily in another referendum — whether the likely terms of our departure and our future relationships are acceptable to them, or not: in other words, if they, or rather we, would have voted the same way on 23 June if we had known then what we shall soon know; whether the price we shall be forced to pay to leave, including especially the likely disintegration of the United Kingdom, especially the re-creation of an armed border across Ireland, especially further plundering of the standard of living of the poorest in our society by yet more reductions in their spending power, especially the diminution of our place in the world to an irrelevant island off the coast of continental Europe, of little or no interest to the Americans or anyone else — whether all these harsh penalties are really worth paying in return for the largely imaginary benefits of cutting ourselves off from our natural friends and partners in Europe. Maybe a sizeable majority will say they want to pay this appalling price. If so, I suppose further resistance will be futile. But maybe they won’t, and reality will triumph at last.
Meanwhile the criminal blunder of the referendum itself looks likely to be followed, if we are not careful, by the even bigger and more scandalous blunder of expelling ourselves from the EU on the single flimsy flawed basis of a vote founded extensively in ignorance, prejudice, lies and irrelevant anger. If our new leaders, many of them the very people who have got us into this terrible mess in order to advance their own political careers, insist on going ahead with our collective suicides on such a ridiculously unsound basis, history and Europe will not forgive them.
Meanwhile, it’s late, but not necessarily too late, to stop this madness. The fanatical Europhobes will squeal if the people are invited to judge whether the terms of leaving and future relations are acceptable, but no-one could claim that this would be undemocratic. Two opportunities to choose are manifestly better than one, especially when the one was so obviously premature and flawed.
You recommend that after we Europeans have passed through our phases of grief and anger, we must embrace acceptance. Why on earth should we? Until Article 50 is triggered, the die is by no means cast and it may not be cast even then. It’s utter irresponsible folly to start mourning when the loved one is not even dead. Brexit will, would, be a catastrophe for Britain on numerous levels. All sensible people should do absolutely everything possible to stop it. “Acceptance”? Defeatism, rather. A lutta continua!