Lionel Shriver

Dear Remainer parliament: you won. Now revoke Article 50 – if you dare

13 April 2019

9:00 AM

13 April 2019

9:00 AM

Dear Remainer parliament. Although we’re the voters who spurned the petition for this very course of action, we the undersigned formally request that you please revoke Article 50 at your earliest convenience.

For Philip, Oliver, Dominic, Amber, Greg, et al (forgive the familiar first names, but over the last few months we’ve come to feel we know you so terribly well), this appeal from your nemeses may come as a surprise. After all, it was to appease us knuckle-draggers that you invoked the Article in the first place. Apologies for seeming so fickle. But in what Charles Moore has aptly dubbed Europe’s contemporary ‘empire’, all roads lead not to Rome but to Brussels. In the interest of geographical expedience, we would eschew driving a byzantine spaghetti of motorways and roundabouts and still ending up in Belgium. We’d just as soon take the shortcut.

As for the long way round, we Leavers have quit anguishing over whether Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement is worth supporting in order to achieve some fingernail clipping’s worth of our agenda. As oft observed, this agreement would put the UK in a hopelessly disadvantageous negotiating position. In subsequent trade talks, the EU would have all to play for. A helpless supplicant once more, Mrs May or her successor would be obliged to give away the store.

For thanks to your help, we’ve been blinded by a veritably Biblical vision of what any resultant trade agreement is bound to entail. Sacrifice of our fishing grounds. Acceptance of freedom of movement. Membership of the single market, or at least full regulatory alignment, which would amount to the same thing. Subjection to the rulings of the ECJ. Restored, if perhaps farcically reduced, annual contributions to the EU budget. And of course, the UK would fall into a customs union by default, if we hadn’t already joined that too. We are hard pressed to distinguish this basket of inevitable concessions from full EU membership, save for the fact that we’d have no vote. Even for us hardcore ‘extremists’, it’s difficult to see how strangling in EU apron strings would improve on the status quo.

We realise you don’t believe this, but we’re not stupid. Aside from the no-deal exit that you continue (rather hysterically) to rule out, every political route under discussion in the chamber that you have hijacked leads to exactly the same place. Every so-called soft Brexit is a not-Brexit. These limp gestures towards departure all neatly strip out any advantage of leaving the bloc — whose favours you prize so highly that you’re willing to demolish your own political infrastructure and forfeit your own integrity to stay attached to it. We do hope your Continental friends are flattered.

We are a frugal people, thrifty with not only our money, but our time, attention, and passion. So we implore you to cut to the chase. We would prefer to avoid a long, agonising extension, during which this pantomime of ‘honouring the referendum result’ will be further dragged out in the service of reneging on it. (In fact, we’ve noticed that the more frequently an MP trots out this expression on camera, the more reliably said MP intends to dishonour the referendum.) We don’t want to be subjected to a disingenuous ‘confirmatory vote’, which would be 100 per cent certain to take the option of genuinely leaving the EU off the ballot altogether. Given the inexorably abasing outcome of trade talks, the ‘withdrawal agreement’ pitted against ‘Remain’ would effectively offer the British people a choice between ‘Remain’ and ‘Remain’, which insults our intelligence. Such empty theatre would pin a fig leaf of democracy over the embarrassing vulgarity of your autocracy. We’d rather skip it.

You fiercely disagree with us over what’s best for our country, whose most historically admirable aspects you crusaders seem disconcertingly bent on destroying in the very process of coming to the nation’s rescue. As this difference of opinion has played out, too, it’s hard to resist the impression that you mostly just want to have your way. And fair play! You seem to be getting your way. Yet what most frustrates us is your dissembling. That’s not to impugn the Lib Dems, Greens, and SNP, who’ve been upfront about plotting to overturn the referendum from the start. We respect their forthrightness. One knows where one is with such people. So we’d far prefer your brutal candour, even if that means your giving overt expression to condescension and tyranny. We don’t want Alastair Campbell to bamboozle us once again about how Brexit is ‘undeliverable’, when the truth is far cruder: you refuse to deliver it.

More elections or referenda would haemorrhage treasure and civic goodwill. Further years of pretend negotiations with Brussels, with all those costly plane trips, hotel suites, and receptions, promise still more numbing tedium on the news, only to land us in a damaged version of where we are now. Since our country is already an international laughing stock, let’s get the big global chuckle over with: ha-ha, the British made such ballyhoo about leaving, and now they’re not. Besides, we’ve glimpsed the future beyond BRINO, just as you have. (You never give us credit for knowing perfectly well what you say behind closed doors.) After a year or two of humiliation as a colony with no voting rights, the UK will quietly, pragmatically come to its senses and rejoin the EU. That’s the plan, right? Come on, admit it. That’s the plan.

That old homily about how it’s best to accept short-term pain and whip a sticking plaster off all at once is germane. It’s true that we’re disappointed. Naively, we believed all that improbable guff we were fed as schoolchildren about parliament deriving its power from you-know-whom. But we’d rather embrace our cynicism in a stroke than keep losing our optimism by debilitating degrees. Have some guts for once in your lives. Be honest, and be efficient. Revoke Article 50. Then face the political consequences.


Over Half the British Electorate.

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