Friday, 31 January 2020

The final call.

Today's the day! We are leaving. And you know what? For all my pessimism about the process ahead and the scale of the challenges we face, today I am delighted that we are leaving the EU. For all that there is much wrong with the current administration, and I face the future with much foreboding, everything I have written about the EU is still the case. It is still a remote, corrupt, unresponsive regulatory behemoth with no democratic legitimacy poking its nose into areas of our lives where it has no business doing so.

For those who say Brexit was motivated by xenophobia it has been telling that Brexiteers have paid little attention to the citizens rights aspects of the withdrawal agreement. Nobody I know of bears any ill will toward those who have made our country their home. There are no calls for deportations of law abiding people. It really was just about ending our membership of an entity we felt had too much power and not enough accountability.

For all that we've had the left wing press retailing the notion that we are blue passport obsessed little Englanders pining for empire, such churlish dogma points to the real reason they lost the referendum. As Sam Hooper notes "It’s easier to write smarmy opinion piece after smarmy opinion piece caricaturing Leave voters as Mafeking stereotypes pining for empire and blue passports than it is to engage their superior, enlightened brains and grapple with the real reasons that people dislike the EU".

And if Brexiteers today are in full on gloat mode, lacking in magnanimity it's because they made us fight not just to win a referendum but also to ensure our vote was upheld. A referendum they would have denied us if they could. We were never meant to get a say. 

Unlike the Brexit blob, I have been cautious about promises of "sunlit uplands". Brexit most certainly comes at a price and the consequences of this decision are not yet fully understood. But much of the damage to come cannot compare with the damage we would do had the vote not been implemented, and for all that remainer MPs may wail, the opportunity shape Brexit outcomes was in their hands were they not so busy trying to disrupt and sabotage our exit. A soft Brexit was there for the taking but couldn't get their act together. Even the dimmest of Lib Dems now realise this. Johnson is PM because they put him there. The Commons had Theresa May cornered then failed to make a decision.

But since we are talking about damage to the country, our membership of the EU has unleashed sweeping changes to the social fabric of the nation and changed the culture of government (national and local) to mirror that of the EU - a technocracy where public participation is not only inconvenient, but also discouraged. This kind of damage does not show up in any GDP graph, their sole measure of their performance.

For all that ordinary leavers may not be experts in trade and the finer points of regulation, they are all united in the belief that the laws they must live by should reflect their values and that those laws can be influenced, corrected and repealed through the use of our own institutions, and that if our nation is to be a home rather than a managed grazing strip then we must have the final say on who can come and go.

The European project is one founded on a fundamental suspicion of democracy, believing that national democracy is a vulnerability rather than what informs our social contract. They believe that patriotism begets nationalism, which begets war, and so they deprive us of the means to self-govern. At its core, the EU is based on a fearful paranoia. To blazes with it. 

In these three years remainers have spoken of Brexit in the same breath as Trump. But there is no Trumpian refrain of "Make Britain great again". Just a quiet confidence that we can muddle through and manage our own affairs - and if that makes us poorer, so be it. We were warned of the risks and accepted them. Our votes do not need the supervision of our self-appointed betters.

But we have rehearsed all these arguments before. I take some pride in having kept this blog running through the entire process, from well before the referendum, where I can see how the debate has evolved and how my own understanding has matured. It's been a real journey. Back in 2015 I knew little about the mechanics of trade and I'm sure there are some startling errors peppered all the way through that will come back to haunt. I knew a lot less than I thought I did. But I have never intended to mislead. I intended only to lay out my hopes and fears to the best of my understanding at the time.

Like everyone else, I weighed up the risks, consulted my peers, tested my arguments, but in the end voted on instinct. It is that instinct I trust and I trust the instinct of my fellow citizens. When they ejected the sleazy Tories in 97 they were right to do so. When they slung out the smarmy, arrogant Blair/Brown regime they were right to do so. When they failed to give Cameron a working majority in 2010 they were right then. When they gave Theresa May a bloody nose in 2017 they were right then too. And when they decided to reject Corbyn's Labour by a massive margin they were bang on the money. So when they voted to leave, who is anybody to cast doubt on their verdict? If we abandon our faith in our collective instincts then we have no basis for a democracy.

Democracy often has its frustrations and its weaknesses. Our own model is flawed and in need of modernisation, and perhaps the coming years will see us address these questions. But when remainers cast suspicion on what was the fairest possible vote, they do us a disservice. Their attempt to delegitimise and usurp did more damage than the referendum by a country mile. It is that which hardened resolve and that which has ultimately seen progressivism swept to the margins. They were authors of their own much deserved demise. 

But now it's done. The hardcore remainers will become rejoiners, and nobody denies them their right to do so. They may even succeed in a few decades if there is a still an EU to rejoin. But for now most of the country is just getting on with it. In five years or so we will get to pass our own judgement on the Tories and their execution of Brexit. By then there may even be a coherent opposition to speak of.

In that estimation leavers and remainers will recall what they have in common - be it a distaste for Tory arrogance and vulgarity, or a feeling that the Union is something worth fighting for. Time will tell. But we owe it to ourselves to make the best of our collective decision in the common good. Today though, just for today, let there be no coming together. Let the flags and the insults fly, and let the piss taking commence. For tomorrow there is work to be done.  

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