For me, the consequences of the Brexit vote were a study in absurdity. The uber-Remainers who walked out of the Supreme Court smiling in 2019, convinced that a historic exercise in collective choice could be overturned by legalistic trickery, dispelled any doubts I might have had about respecting the referendum. Those who tried to thwart Britain’s departure from the EU programmed themselves to help bring it about under what were for them the worst possible conditions. There could only be one outcome: a hard Brexit of the kind I was advocating.
Like most people, I took it for granted that our future relationship with Europe was an issue on which there could be reasonable disagreement. Leading Remainers had a different view. The very idea of leaving the EU was an affront to reason. The fact that it had been mentioned provoked in them a state of bewilderment, fury and hysteria.
Novelist Ian McEwan expressed this mindset with innocent pathos in a speech in May 2017. He totally rejected “this almost mystical, emotionally charged decision…I don’t, I can’t accept it.” Two years later, following a book tour that left him “a little off balance”, he said: “Let’s stop pretending there are two sides to the Brexit argument.”
If you think there is no possible argument from the side of the 17 million people who voted Leave, you can’t help but treat them with contempt. You can pepper your disdain with conspiracy fantasies and claim Cambridge Analytica or the Russians engineered the result. But you still have nothing to say to the Leavers except that they voted irrationally.
There is an unintended drollery among feverish uber-Remainers who decry support for Brexit as mystical in nature. If they admit failures of the EU, it is always to insist that the remedy is “more Europe”. The EU is an ideal object, which must be revered as embodying the most sacred hopes of humanity.
Mystical thought of this kind is most sublime among the Rejoins. They admit it may take a generation before Britain regains its rightful place in the EU. It does not occur to them to wonder if the EU will still be here by then, or if so, what kind of institution it has become.
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There is a real possibility that Marine Le Pen will win the French presidential election next May. Emmanuel Macron chose to overflow it by deploying a rhetoric of war of civilization with regard to the Muslims of the country. French politician and former EU negotiator Michel Barnier, another potential presidential candidate, has urged the suspension of the Schengen agreement and the closure of France’s borders to encourage immigration. With center parties competing over the same territory, Le Pen joined the political mainstream. The liberal Maginot Line that blocked the far right from power in the past has been abandoned.
Whoever wins, there is every chance that a right-wing France will join Hungary and Poland in shaping the future of the EU. For uber-Remainers, the reality that fundamental flaws in the European project have produced this sinister farce is unthinkable. So I look forward to another chapter of nonsense, in which they blame an anti-liberal EU on Brexit, or the machinations of a satanic lizard cabal.
John Gray is a contributing writer from NS.
This article is from our ‘How Brexit Changed Us’ series, marking five years since the referendum.