Status anxiety

Magical thinking isn’t a political position

13 May 2017

9:00 AM

13 May 2017

9:00 AM

I’m due to debate the philosopher A.C. Grayling on Saturday about whether there should be a second EU referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal. It is part of a two-day event being held at Central Hall, Westminster, on ‘Brexit and the political crash’. It is billed as a ‘convention’, an opportunity for all sides in this debate to discuss Britain’s future, but the reference to the ‘political crash’ is a giveaway. Brexit isn’t a revolt against out-of-touch elites or even a new departure that may or may not be good for the country. No, it is a ‘crash’, as in ‘car crash’ or ‘economic crash’. In reality, the ‘convention’ will be a viper’s nest of die-hard Remainiacs. The roster of speakers includes Alastair Campbell, Gina Miller, Nick Clegg, Alan Rusbridger and Ian McEwan.

I will set out the arguments against a second referendum as best as I can, but my heart won’t really be in it. By that, I don’t mean it’s something I’m on the fence about. Rather, it’s so preposterous that it’s beneath contempt. Does A.C. Grayling really think there will be enough time for Britain to agree a draft deal with the rest of the EU, organise a second referendum and, if the deal’s rejected, negotiate another deal before the two-year, Article 50 clock runs out? Or is the idea that if the deal is rejected, the clock will stop ticking and Britain will simply remain in the EU on exactly the same terms as before, with the results of the first referendum being completely disregarded? That’s not a serious political position. That’s magical thinking.

In reality, the only effect a rejection of the deal by the electorate would have is that we’d crash out of the EU with no deal. It would mean the hardest of hard Brexits — and perhaps the advocates of a second referendum would prefer that. Witnessing the ecstatic reaction of Clegg and co to Jean-Claude Juncker’s efforts to torpedo the negotiations last week, I concluded that they are, essentially, wreckers. They are trying to outflank the Eurosceptics on the right. Their position isn’t that no deal is better than a bad deal. It’s that no deal is better than any deal. They want everything to go completely pear-shaped so that they can say ‘I told you so.’

The second referendum suggestion is symptomatic of a general failure on the part of the losing side in the referendum to provide any effective opposition to Brexit. Given the almost limitless resources they possess and the depth of their political experience, it’s really quite astonishing that they’ve been so feeble. First, they questioned the legitimacy of the result because of the ‘lies’ told by the Leavers. Or because the winning side was supported by less than 50 per cent of the electorate. Or because a majority of university graduates voted to stay in and their votes should count for more because they’re more intelligent. Then they questioned the legality of the referendum, apparently unaware that if they forced a parliamentary vote on the matter, an overwhelming majority of MPs would obviously be in favour of triggering Article 50 and the whole process would then be much harder to challenge. Then they said that they ‘accepted’ the verdict of the British people, but wanted to stay in the customs union, remain part of the single market and keep freedom of movement. Then it was out of the customs union, but keep the other two. Or was it the other way round?

‘Coalition of chaos’ doesn’t begin to do them justice. They are an
out-and-out rabble, a leaderless mob. Like the Corbyn-led Labour party, their political ineptitude was at first amusing, then grew tiresome and is now a little bit worrying. I don’t want them to win, obviously, or frustrate the process in any way. But it would be healthy for our democracy if they were able to provide some effective opposition to the Prime Minister.

And that’s the speech I’d really like to give when I’m in the lion’s den on Saturday. I want to say: ‘Come on, Remainers. I expected to win this battle, but I didn’t expect my side’s victory to be so complete. We have swept all before us since 23 June and we’re about to inflict another crushing defeat. This is getting boring, like playing tennis with a five-year-old. Raise your bloody game.’

But I daren’t, obviously. The crazy, bug-eyed losers would probably tear me limb from limb.

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