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A weaker, more hostile, craven, intolerant country… did anyone vote for that?

PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Is this really the country any one of us, Remain or Leave, voted for on June 23?


We want our country back, they said, and they voted accordingly.

But take a step back and reflect for a moment on the last seven months: Is this really the country any one of us, Remain or Leave, voted for on June 23?

It’s frighteningly easy to normalise the extraordinary change in our national demeanour that has taken place since the referendum.

We’ve gone from being a strong, self-confident and secure country to one that displays all the signs of acute low self-esteem and, shared by many, a genuine sense of fear at the state of politics across our continent not felt since the Cold War.

You don’t have to be an EU-flag-waving, New European-toting europhile to look at our country today and wonder where did it all go wrong? What road are we now travelling on? As the real debate around Britain’s exit from the European Union begins, we believe it’s time politicians on all sides took stock and reconsidered their roles in this most important moment in our nation’s history.

When our Prime Minister rushes to swear allegiance to the most unknowable and dubious President of all time, what does that say about this country?

When she offers Donald Trump, sight unseen, a full-blown State Visit in his first week of office – an historically unprecedented honour so early in a presidency – what does that say about us?

And for what gain? The nuge-nudge-wink-wink promise that Trump will somehow look after us with a trade deal when the one thing we know about him is that he is a protectionist with the stated aim to put America First. Do us a favour.

The noises coming from Theresa May’s mouth might sound sure-footed and bold, but her actions betray an anxiety, if not actual panic, that reflects accurately what has come to pass in our country in the course of the past six months.

Maybe she really does believe the world is looking on in admiration, even awe, at our prestigious special relationships. If so, she is deluded.

The world is largely bemused. We are rushing to trade a seat at the head of the table of the world’s biggest free-trade bloc in exchange for a supplicant’s stool at the court of an ego-mad narcissist.

The fact that the ego-mad narcissist himself thinks it’s all a great idea shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

And now, lamentably, the Government has to apologise for the divisive and damaging actions of their new friend in the White House against immigrants to the US.

Too late for apologies. May has already handed Trump a ride in a bloody golden coach alongside Her Majesty The Queen. Such indignity. How pathetic. How shameful.

Is that the Britain anyone voted for?

When we hear the Prime Minister and her three Brexiteers, not least the national embarrassment and self-serving opportunist that is our Foreign Secretary, talk about an opportunity for a new Global Britain – a powerhouse of trade and new relationships that will transform our economy – they are selling us a wilful delusion they picked up directly from Trump.

Make Britain Great Again? Great Britain is the sixth largest economy on the planet. We already enjoy unhindered access to the world’s biggest free-trading bloc. No other country has benefitted so much as we from our membership of the single market, which we ourselves fought so hard to create. We today enjoy a relative prosperity in this country that previous generations could only imagine.

To talk of making Britain economically great again is a lie. Despite all our domestic problems, a poor economy is not one of them.

Yet any objective dissent to this now treated as a betrayal, as anti-democratic.

Is that what we voted for?

When the Government conspires to invoke ancient laws to dispense with the inconvenience of parliament’s involvement in our exit from the EU, is that what we voted for?

And when judges rule against them and are condemned as enemies of the people by the newspaper that has come to represent Middle England, is that what we voted for?

And did we vote to have the world explained to us in meaningless slogans? Brexit means Brexit, The People Have Spoken, A Global Britain.

Condescension, dissembling, Orwellian-sloganeering and dogmatic bluster. Do they think we’re really that thick? Is that what we voted for?

No doubt there are some (many even) who will punch the air and shout yes – that’s exactly what we voted for. But we think most reasonable people, Remain or Leave, will be appalled by this descent into arrogance, nastiness and duplicity.

It’s possible this country will leave the EU and somehow emerge richer, safer and happier. This newspaper believes it is highly unlikely, but anyone except an idiot in a hurry would have to concede it is at least arguable.

Yet, in this climate, to argue, is now considered intolerable, unpatriotic, treacherous and anti-democratic. Not just by the usual wallies who rave at the fringes of any society, but by the people who occupy the front benches of Government in the Houses of Parliament.

This week’s Daily Mail used a picture of Winston Churchill to illustrate their joy at the passing of the Brexit Bill. Alongside it, ran the headline ‘114 MPs betray will of the people’.

The idea that Churchill, one of our greatest pro-Europeans and perhaps our greatest ever Parliamentarian would endorse a sentiment that MPs acting in good conscience are guilty of betrayal, is stomach-churning.

Democracy is not a point of singularity, something that came and went on June 23, never to be revisited. Democracy is on-going and endless. We used to pride ourselves on how vigorous our particular brand of representative democracy was. The Mother of all Parliaments. Now look at it; aggressively dogmatic on one hand; confused and spineless on the other.

When did the House of Commons become the House of Hypocrisy; so scared of its own shadow that it is tossing away its duty to represent the best interests of its constituents in exchange for the complacent shrug that is ‘the people have spoken’.

This is a betrayal of another vote – the vote that gave MPs their seats as representatives, not delegates.

Is that what we voted for?

As Ken Clarke said in his brilliant speech this week, paraphrasing Edmund Burke’s address to his constituents in Bristol in 1774; if he didn’t vote according to his conscience and his conviction, then he would be not be representing the people, but betraying them.

So how can we trust them now, these dissemblers? How will we know what they truly believe and what they are doing through self-interest and party political expediency? Will they wear a badge or develop hand signals to let us know when they are not being disingenuous?

So anxious is the Government to swing behind the populist momentum of a referendum they instigated for party political expediency, and to screw down the lid on the political coffin the Labour Party have crawled into since electing the wholly unfit Jeremy Corbyn, that they will readily spout anything, believe any doublethink, betray any sense of personal conviction, ignore any objective reality.

Corbyn has enjoyed tremendous support among hundreds of thousands of ordinary Labour party members, yet he has presided over the most humiliating and fractious period of the Labour Party’s history – rendering that once great institution ineffective and politically pointless.

Some question Corbyn’s real desire for power and suggest perhaps his real interest is just in swinging the party back to a socialist ideal he holds sacred. Whatever. The question is academic. The idea that Labour, in its current state, could challenge for power is laughable.

Is that what those Labour Party members voted for?

We have got our problems, God knows. But feeling like a small, craven and intolerant nation was not, until now, one of them. In the space of seven months that’s what we’ve become.

And the biggest shame is that none of this helps us solve the very real problems so many very real people, far beyond the Westminster bubble, suffer. A restored NHS, improved infrastructure, regeneration of the north, better social care for our poorest – none of these things, and many more factors that gave rise to the great angry rejection of politics-as-usual, improve one iota while we are consumed with the issue of Brexit.

Is this what anyone voted for?

The British values most of us, Remain or Leave, hold dear; tolerance, consideration, debate, self-confidence and international prowess – all these things have all been objectively debased by the tawdry behaviour of our politicians today.

So wrapped up are they in their Westminster game-playing that they are disconnected – more so than ever – from the reality of feeling in large parts of the country. Feelings of uncertainty and nausea, from people who voted both Remain and Leave.

We urgently need change. We need a powerful Opposition. We need the Government to start behaving like the real leaders they pretend to be and act to unite this country.

In a Britain split as profoundly as we are, that means a spirit of compromise, patience and pragmatism.

None of these characteristics are on display today. Yet until very recently these were the hallmarks of the democracy the world looked on at in admiration.

The mantra cuts both ways: We want our country back.

Matt Kelly, editor

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