Remain now feels like a movement not just an opinion or even a belief and it is there in every pub, workplace, student bar and almost every dinner table.
Addressing student rallies at Nottingham and UCL in London this week, I did my standard routine. ‘Ignore hard Brexit or soft Brexit, Norway, Switzerland, Canada++ or Canada+++ with a new Irish backstop. If you could simply hold a People’s Vote to stop Brexit entirely, how many would support it?’ Almost every hand went up.
The same happens in every meeting of students and young people these days, and they turn up in large numbers. Best of all was Warwick. Only one hand went up against, and I fixed the guy with a stare. ‘What do I have to do to persuade you?’ I asked. ‘Oh don’t worry about me,’ came the cheery reply. ‘I’m the UKIP plant.’
All the popular youth campaigns on Brexit are passionately pro-European. Our Future Our Choice, led by the charismatic Femi Oluwole, a former Euro stagière, and Will Dry, who has taken leave from Oxford University, sprang from nowhere six months ago and is now nationwide. The latest venture is a cross-community youth campaign in Northern Ireland which is promoting a rally in Belfast on October 20 to coincide with the London march – to which student unions are bussing people from across Britain.
Oluwole likes to point out that, just taking deaths of old voters and the arrival of younger voters on the electoral roll, Remain will be larger than Leave next January without a single person who voted 28 months ago changing their mind. The grim reaper is Remain.
A Remain movement has sprung up, much of which immediately identifies as Remain when gathering for whatever reason. At a lecture I gave last week at a big conference on infrastructure – my job before Brexit – lots of attendees came up afterwards, all of whom began by saying they were Remainers and just wanted to talk about Brexit. By comparison, HS2 and Heathrow seemed trivial even to the people who had come to discuss them.
It is well known that in 2016 a majority of women were against Brexit while men were for it, and that the younger and better educated you were, the more likely to oppose Brexit. To my mind the most glaring fact was that the more inaccurately you judged Britain’s contribution to the EU budget, from less than 1% (the truth), to between 20-30%, the more likely you were to vote Leave. Brexit is Project Ignorance and Prejudice. But more significant than the extent and persistence of Remain is that it is becoming steadily stronger and deeper
In its heartlands, it now feels like a movement not just an opinion or even a belief. The movement will be literally on the march on October 20 – but it turns out now in every pub, every workplace, every student bar and lecture hall, indeed almost every dinner table.
When politicians and the media glibly say the country is ‘bored’ of Brexit, I can only say I have never seen boredom and passion go hand-in-hand more closely.
In truth, most people have made up their mind and don’t want to discuss changing it. We are observing the boredom of certainty not of indifference. This is especially true in London, Scotland and Ireland, the citadels of Remain. I say Ireland, not just Northern Ireland, because from my travels there, I am struck by how deeply people feel about the prospect of new borders and barriers in what one senior business leader described to me as ‘an island off an island’.
This too is deeply significant. London, the capital city and social and economic dynamo of England, considers Brexit an existential threat to its prosperity and way of life. So too do the two largest and historically strongest nations besides England in the British Isles. This is the worst and weakest basis on which to launch a political revolution affecting the British Isles as a whole.
I thought long and hard about whether to say one final thing. But since it is a fact, I simply report it. In the last month one of Britain’s most distinguished historians, who has been out of the country for a year and just returned, and a leading ambassador in London, made the same extraordinary comment to me. They both said that the state and depth of division over Brexit across society, and different parts of the country, had something in common with the run-up to a civil war. I don’t, of course, think they were serious. In both cases I immediately changed the subject to the weather.