Shropshire Star

The EU debate Remains a national obsession

Ashen-faced in Aldridge, worried in Walsall, and doubtful in Dawley.

Has the UK changed its view on Europe?

Three years on from Brexit and it’s been a calamity, a catastrophe, a disaster, just like they said.

Leave voters are wandering around in a daze of despair having finally realised the Remainers were right all along, and wishing they could have their time again.

“If only I knew what I had been voting for,” the Brexit regretters wail. “We didn’t understand the issues.”

They said it would lead to war in Europe. And guess what? They were right. According to Guy Verhofstadt, who was the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was because the Russian dictator was emboldened by Brexit.

Then there’s the financial cost. Billions upon billions a year, we are told.

Now I don’t get out much so I can’t say from any personal observation what the current feeling is about Brexit out there on the streets, but I’ve seen a headline or two in the Manchester Guardian (as my granny used to call it) and the above is a characterisation of the Remainer reality on the third anniversary of our leaving the EU.

You can choose whether or not to believe it’s turned out like that, but there does seem to be a new mood about, at least in some sections of politics and the media. Remain, or Rejoin as it has to be now, has got its second wind. The worse things are, the better things are for the gathering campaign to rejoin the EU.

This is the Brexit sequel. It’s Remain – The Resurrection.

The “how’s Brexit going so far?” pieces this week have had something in common in basically saying Britain is doing rubbish economically compared with other similar economies. There again, if the EU capitalist cartel didn’t have anything going for it as a trading bloc, you’d have to ask what the point of it is in the first place.

And in any event, to misquote whoever it was, it isn’t about the economy, stupid. Framing the debate in economic terms frames it on the ground of Remain’s choosing. The Leave slogan was Take Back Control, focussing on self-determination, democracy, sovereignty etc.

So let’s run against the grain for a moment and start ticking off some Brexit successes. The first and biggest is that it happened at all, although it was a near run thing.

After the 2016 vote many MPs and other opinion-formers declared that they “respected the result of the referendum”. But it turned out that they were not being wholly truthful. What they really meant was that they acknowledged a referendum had taken place and there had been a result. In practice they spent the next few years trying to kill it off, not at birth, but before birth.

“Name one positive benefit of Brexit,” is something you often hear. One positive benefit is that a democratic vote was upheld in the face of indomitable institutional and intellectual opposition, avoiding civil unrest (yes, they warned of that too).

Brexit also taught us things as a nation. The first is that to take mainstream opinion in London and extrapolate it to represent mainstream opinion of Britons is a mistake, as there is a disconnect. National media organisations and media people are mostly based in, and live in, the London area, so are bubblewrapped.

Another is that when British politicians describe EU nations as “our friends and partners” it is not a view that is reciprocated. From some of the things that have been said over the water, and the humiliations dealt to David Cameron and Theresa May – and this while we were in the EU – you’d almost think they hate us.

For Remainers, there is light at the end of a dark tunnel. Only two more years or so to go. When Labour gets into power it has vowed to “make Brexit work”.

A speech by David Lammy, who has in the past compared Brexit to the rise of Fascism in Hitler’s Germany, gave a clue of how Labour will achieve this. It will be by rejoining EU institutions. No new referenda required, they’ll just do it.

So for Remainers and Leavers alike, I bring a message of hope. For Remainers, the sunlit uplands may return. For Leavers, enjoy it as best you can while it lasts.