This is not a conversion column. It is not ‘My journey to Brexit’ or ‘A Remainer repenteth’. What follows is a resignation to reality.
I voted to stay in the European Union for economic reasons and, yes, because I wanted to give a righteous two fingers to Nigel Farage and his odious hate-mongering.
I still remember the spasm of dread that gripped my stomach on results night as the Leave votes piled up, and how it snapped in hot hatred at four o’clock the next morning when Farage appeared on television to boast that Britain’s ‘independence’ had been won ‘without a single bullet being fired’.
It was a crass reference. Far from this sweaty triumphalism, Brendan Cox was cradling two babies whose mother had been snatched away in a hail of bullets eight days earlier.
Two years later, my contempt for the bounders, chancers and self-promoting wide boys who pushed Brexit has not subsided. It has been joined, however, by a growing unease with those I once considered ‘my side’.
This gnawing niggle began life as the occasional frustrated sigh whenever a prominent Remainer would caricature Leave voters as ignorant, insular and even racist.
There was and remains a sour snobbery at work here. Remainers were sophisticated and educated, unlike those rubes who read the tabloids and were voting to chuck out foreigners and re-bend their bananas. Remainers weren’t taken in by promises on the side of a bus; they weren’t the sort of people who travelled by bus.
Caroline Flint made this point on Sophy Ridge’s Sky News programme yesterday morning. The Labour MP campaigned for Remain but her Don Valley constituents voted Leave overwhelmingly and she rebuked fellow MPs for the ‘patronising’ and ‘offensive’ way they speak about 52 per cent of the electorate.
What is troubling is how quickly disdain for demographics has turned into disregard for democracy. Referenda are almost always a bad idea; by their very nature they are divisive. We are not the United States, where sovereignty resides in ‘We the people’ and plebiscites are common from state to state. In the United Kingdom, the Crown in Parliament is sovereign and we elect parliamentarians to take decisions on our behalf.
But when MPs make an exception and take a question to the country, they are saying in effect: ‘This decision is too big for us. It is for you, the electors, to make the choice’. Doing so then balking when the voters make the wrong choice is more than sore loserdom; it is an anti-democratic hissy fit.
The People’s Vote is an organised tantrum, screeching and flailing its arms with the demonic rage of a three-year-old denied a Happy Meal. At first, the campaign claimed to be for a plebiscite on the terms of Brexit but its most visible champions have long since abandoned that pretence.
They are out to overturn the result of the referendum and, as the EU itself has shown in the past, they are prepared to make the people vote as often as necessary until they come back with the correct answer. The People’s Vote is the political wing of Continuity Remain.
Is that such a bad thing? Look at what’s coming out of Downing Street and Brussels. We don’t have a government so much as a nervous breakdown with its own fleet of ministerial cars. Number 10 seems incapable of striking a deal that will satisfy its backbenchers, the DUP or the voters. They’ve even appointed a food supplies minister. Surely now is the time to back out of an almighty mess.
If Brexit was the work of Parliament, it could perhaps be stopped by MPs and Theresa May might, after a power of grovelling, get Brussels to accept a withdrawal of her Article 50 letter. But Brexit was a decree from the British people. They instructed the Government – albeit narrowly – to take us out of the EU. That instruction must be honoured if the democratic will is to carry any force in this country.
Those who seek to overturn Brexit cannot get past this point. The people got it wrong and must be protected from an act of wanton self-harm. Thus does paternalism attempt to bolt the gate after the populist horse has made it clean across the field.
The governing class cannot pick and choose which election outcomes are enforced. Undermine the legitimacy of the ballot box once and you undermine it for good. The consequences, especially given the strength of feeling, could be severe. Brexiteers who point this out are condemned as scaremongering and raising the spectre of street violence. Such talk is irresponsible, we are told. Except when Remainers warn of a resumption of terrorism in Ulster. Then it’s OK.
The Brits are a nation of uptight law-abiders who feel compelled to confess to four bank robberies and the Acid Bath Murders every time a passing constable says ‘hello’. They would not riot over a Brexit denied, I do not think, but they would become angrier and perhaps seek more radical political outlets for that anger. Frustrating Brexit to stave off dire consequences would be like trying to douse a kitchen fire with a canister of kerosene.
As a matter of policy, I favour the softest Brexit possible, one where the UK is a member of the single market and the customs union. However much hard Brexiteers want to slash and burn all our ties to Europe, the ballot paper asked only about our membership of the EU, an arrangement that can be annulled without hacking away at the economic and trade institutions vital to job creation and prosperity in the UK.
Freedom of movement, the obvious sticking point, is a holy writ of the European project but a savvier government could have – perhaps could still – carved out a compromise. We look to be heading for a much harder Brexit but I live in hope and in the real world, where politicians will be held accountable at the ballot box if they make us significantly poorer.
The public made a decision on June 23, 2016. That was the People’s Vote. It is up to Parliament to deliver the least worst rendering of their choice, not to rue bitterly that the wrong sort of people voted the wrong way.
Ann Henderson is not an obvious hate criminal. The Edinburgh University rector’s overnight transition from Left-wing feminist to foam-flecked reactionary came after she retweeted details of a meeting on the Gender Recognition Act. Proposed reforms would scrap the medical diagnosis currently required to change one’s legal gender.
Moving to ‘self-identification’ conforms with transgender ideology but some feminists fear it sidelines biological women, threatens women-only facilities and tells children who don’t fit in that they are ‘trans’.
Henderson’s students are denouncing her and even demanding her resignation. I for one identify as sick and tired of this pernicious dogma and the woke crybullies who enforce it, of their efforts to intimidate opponents and cast different opinions as incitements to violence and suicide.
People diagnosed with gender dysphoria deserve respect. Those who want to live as the opposite gender should be allowed to live and let live. But that is exactly what belligerent trans activists will not do. Tolerance is not enough; they demand submission.
When I heard Holyrood had agreed to host BBC Question Time, I wasn’t sure the programme would reflect the tenor of the Scottish Parliament. Then, on the night, an audience member festooned in tartan gurned: ‘I want to be independent. I want away from England… I think we would thrive being away from them.’ My mistake.
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Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.