Six arguments against the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign
While I am broadly sympathetic to the motivations of some of those who seek a so-called People’s Vote, I do not support one, for a number of reasons, set out in rough ascending order of importance.
1) I find it difficult to associate myself with a group whose leaders have willfully constructed a plague on both your houses” story about who wants a Hard Brexit, in a way desiigned to (re)legitimize themselves as heroes of the movement but with no reflexivity about their own role in facilitating the conditions for Brexit.
2) Similarly I find it hard to associate with a group whose followers seem so resolutely closed to the idea that (ex)-Remainers like myself might have something to add to the debate on how we all best cope with the realities of Brexit through strategic/tactical actions to soften it as much as possible, and either simply disengage (example) from any such dialogue or regard it as further evidence of perfidy, seeking only instead the ready confidence biases supplied by their leaders’ over-simplified moralizing.
3) Irrespective of the lies told before the referendum, and over the subsequent two years of increasing Brexiteer fantasy, the harsh reality is that a second popular vote, however premised, will be seen as a major insult by many who voted to leave the EU in 2016.
We cannot simply ignore the potential for physical violence on the streets, whipped up by people in the alt-right who know increasingly well how to do that whipping, and while there is likely to be a need for physical resistance confrontation with far right forces over the next few years,. in the context of the wider surge of the far right, the integrity of that resistance when it comes would be degraded if it were first exercised over an issue where there is no very clear moral dividing line between right and wrong.
4) A second vote would in any event come too late to deliver a clear decision, accepted and ratified by the EU27, to remain in the EU.
I did once support local and regional actions to deliver plebiscites which might show a very clear shift in national opinion, legitimately enough for that shift to be addressed openly in parliament and by Labour. There was little interest, perhaps because it involved a level of technical and legal detail with which those who now support a ‘People’s Vote’ did not wish to engage, or — more likely — because the subtle gatekeeping of the leadership meant such possible tactics never came to wider attention.
But the voting ship has sailed. It is too late to make a vote anything more than an false cry of anguish (see 6).
5) So rather than chasing a dream — whether under the elusion that Brexit can be stopped or because it continues to be a handy virtue signal about how strongly they feel about the EU (or a confidence bias-fuelled combination of the two — I think those focused now on a People’s Vote should refocus on what is deliverable: so-called Brexit in Name Only (BRINO) and as, of April 1st 2019, a campaign for re-entry into the EU.
I have already set out what I think is the best route to BRINO, and how Labour actually — for all the talk of Corbyn as Brexiteer — gets this. Suffice here to say, it is something that can be delivered by Labour if it comes to power soon enough, but it is something that may possibly be delivered by the current government, by default and with the kind of continued opposition strategy that Labour is providing.
6) Lastly, while it is important to soften Brexit as much as we can because doing so will reduce the economic hardships and heightened inequalities that it will bring, a period of exclusion from the EU might actually do the country good in the longer term.
Brexit is at least in part a product of post-colonial melancholia — an urge, however inchoate for England to be something that it cannot should not be, a regret for lost glories.
Frankly, we need to learn a bit of humility, and admit our guilt at having become an unpleasant, rancorous, racist neighbour in Europe.
There needs to be a period of reflection, and then a reintegration with Europe on more humble terms — without the rebate, within Schengen as will be required — but a much better partner to the 27, or whatever number there will be as and when we get back in.
It will be a tough lesson. As a nation, we need it. In the end, a People’s Vote is just one more virtue signalling way for some of the population avoiding the need for a process of collective guilt, of avoiding the reality that we are all part of a generation that failed, and that our children and grandchildren will feel entitled to hold that against us, more so if we don’t acknowledge our failure, even as they develop and embed a newly enlightened conviviality.
And I don’t think it’s too Godwin’s Law to suggest that Bernard Schlink’s short book should be on the reading list of Remainers and Brexiteers alike.