The 2016 referendum was the Brexiteers’ very last chance to take the UK out of the EU. AC GRAYLING believes that they will fail.
Prediction is an uncertain business; in the first years of heavier-than-air flight people thought that biplanes flew better than monoplanes, and predicted that aircraft of the future would have twelve wings. Despite the warning this represents, I make the following prediction with an assurance so complete that the future will regard it either as superbly perceptive or so irrationally wrong as to be incomprehensible. The prediction is that the future of all parts of the UK lies in full membership of the EU. The reason for thinking this is as follows.
First, a bit of background. Brexit is the last convulsion of a phase in the history of the countries of the British Isles which, since England began its colonisations of Wales, Ireland and Scotland, was for centuries an imperially expanding one – until the two decades after the Second World War, when empire came to an end. The UK was rescued from the greater part of the confusions and struggles of that painful denouement by joining the EEC – the EU to be – in the early 1970s. But a hard lump of denizens of both the further right and further left of the British political spectrum were deeply reluctant to accept this, and they – mostly on the right of the Tory party, with the connivance of the right wing press – have kept up a guerrilla war of attrition against the new direction of British history. By dint of some spectacular lies, electoral crimes and constitutional sleight of hand, they succeeded in 2016 in getting a ‘Leave’ result in the referendum. But it has not delivered, and will never deliver, what they want, which is – in effect – a reversal of history. Instead it has exposed to view two remarkable facts: that millions and millions of people in the UK want to be part of the EU, and that the economy of the UK is so intimately entangled with the EU that there is no way it can ever be detached from it short of a scorched-earth act of national suicide.
These two facts are what underlie my prediction. The 2016 referendum was the Brexiteers very last chance of trying to steal the UK out of the EU; demographics and the evolution of economic affairs are mightily against them. They will fail: either they will fail now – Brexit could and might be stopped, by a second referendum or revocation of Article 50 – or they will fail in the near future, even if some sort of Brexit happens temporarily. I say temporarily because the pointlessness and futility of being outside the EU will rapidly prove itself beyond doubt, for we will have to trade with the EU and to do so we will have to be aligned with EU standards, regulations and requirements; tracking these with no say, no input, no veto, is as unwise as it would be intolerable. Therefore we will rejoin after a damaging and futile period, under the leadership of the EU-enthusiasts whom Brexit has brought into existence and who, with the support and encouragement of the Remain spirit that the Brexit attempt has so abundantly created, will take us back into the EU.
If some form of Brexit temporarily happens, the UK will break up during that period, for Scotland will gain independence from England and will become an EU state. The very difficult position that Brexit has plunged Ireland and Northern Ireland into will have to be resolved by a connection between them that solves the problem of the dangerous border. England and Wales on their own outside the EU will feel the cold of isolation and the discomfiture of voiceless dependency even more. When England and Wales rejoin the EU, the unity of the countries of the British Isles – as fellow-members of the EU – will be restored; and we will once again be able to visit Scotland without needing a passport.
If we stop Brexit now we do so with the highly tailored deal of exceptions and opt-outs we have. If we leave only to return in the future, it will be on more integrative terms. A number of our fellow EU countries have always appreciated the UK approach to Europe, which has slowed and steadied the pace of political, while supporting economic, integration. In a century or more Europe will be more closely knit than now; a good thing; but evolution is preferable to revolution in that development, as being more organic and natural. That is one of many reasons why our friends and partners in Europe wish us to remain.
The true meaning of Brexit therefore is that it seals the future of the countries of the British Isles as EU members, either NOW or SOON. How much more sensible if everyone recognised the futility of not making it NOW!