Remainers are patriots who will be as pained as anyone by the damage that Brexit is about to cause their country, says IAN DUNT.
The trap is right there waiting for us. Next month, Brexit goes from a theoretical issue to a practical reality. It will play out in declining GDP growth, investment, productivity and trade. But the most immediate impact will be on the border, where the full armoury of bureaucratic checks will be imposed on British exports. At best, it’ll be a shambles. At worst, a catastrophe.
We know how Boris Johnson will respond. He will play on people’s patriotic sentiment. We’ll be told that this is a plucky country, a daring and proud little island, with the gumption to tear off the shackles of its continental overlords.
And that’s when the trap will come yawning up in front of us. The trap is simple and yet devastating. It’s that Remainers wallow in the damage to the UK, that those who believe in Europe look like they are celebrating a moment of crisis for Britain.
There is a small but stubborn minority of Remainers who are genuinely guilty of this. You sometimes see them online actively wishing for people to lose their jobs, especially in manufacturing in areas that voted Leave, as a kind of karmic revenge for the Brexit vote. It goes without saying that this is a foolhardy and counter-productive strategy.
But even those of us who avoid this error often have a problem in the way we come across. We can become so obsessed with pointing out the downsides of Brexit that it looks as if we’re not just predicting damage to the country, but hoping for it.
And if we’re honest, it is a weird situation to be in. We have predicted economic pain from leaving the EU. If that did not transpire – if Britain performed better out on its own – we would be proved wrong. So we’ve been placed in a position where the thing which would confirm our worldview is the thing we least want to see. It’s so easy to go from this point to being triangulated into wanting to see damage to your own country.
Ultimately, it is a question of priorities. What matters more? Being right? Or the fate of Britain? And there’s only one respectable answer to that. Whenever there is a contest between ideology and people’s lives, people’s lives are more important. In short, it would be good to be wrong. Now more than ever.
Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. We’re condemned to be right. Countries far apart from each other trade less than ones close together. Putting up obstacles to trade reduces flow. These are empirical observations which have been verified over and over again. If they are wrong, then nothing is certain.
But there’s still something to be said for hoping we’re wrong. It highlights what’s most important to us. It stops us coming across like we’re hoping Britain will fail. Instead, we’re hoping it succeeds, with the grim awareness that the government is preventing that from happening. It frames the pro-EU movement as a patriotic force. It evades the trap.
Next year will be crucial. Support for Brexit is falling through the floor. Public approval of the government’s handling of Brexit is miniscule. We have a chance now to seize the narrative, to start to build the movement for rejoining. But we can’t do that if we play the part they want us to play: of an out-of-touch elite smirking as working class people lose their jobs.
Avoiding that outcome does not require any great change from Remainers. It requires a continuation of all the proudest attributes this movement possesses.
At its heart, Remain was always a patriotic argument. It was an idea of what was best for Britain. One of the chief distinctions of our patriotism is that it welcomes diversity and cooperation with other countries. It is a love of country which emerges not from jingoism, but from the fact that this is our home and we want the best for it. It comes not from competition with others, but from a vision of how we can all advance together. It is the patriotism of bridges, not walls.
This kind of patriotism does not mean we should shut up when the government damages the country. It simply means that we direct our anger at the government and not the country. It is about attacking those who lied to Leave voters, not Leave voters themselves. It is about mourning what they have done to Britain and committing to repairing it. It is about denying Brexit’s political leaders the monopoly on patriotism they so clearly hanker for.
The only way we will take back control is by basing our arguments on a love of country and a desire for something better for it. If we don’t, Johnson’s government will have us exactly where it wants us.