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It’s down to Remainers to now put the country back on a better path

A pro-European campaigns outside Downing Street - Credit: PA

IAN DUNT offers a rallying cry for pro-Europeans.

We’re out of the EU. No more Article 50. No more transition. For all intents and purposes, January 1, 2021, is the first true day of Brexit.

It’s remarkable that after nearly half a decade it’s still possible to burn with shame and indignation at what is happening to this country. But let’s face it, if those feelings haven’t gone yet, they’re never going to. We must use them to repair the damage. This is a moment of profound loss. But it can also be the start of the liberal resurgence.

For that we need something profound: an open, plural vision of Britain. A story about the kind of country we want to be.

We were told during the referendum that diversity had been pushed too far. Too many people in too many areas had grown uncomfortable with the changing face of their community. An out-of-touch metropolitan elite, who did not really love or understand their country, now faced a backlash from ‘the people’.

It was a successful electoral strategy which managed to weaponise free movement to deliver the Leave vote. But it contained a false dichotomy. In truth, the diversity which characterises this country is not a challenge to patriotism. It is a product of it.

It is not a coincidence that these islands, based on a union of nations, which have diversity baked into their identity, should be a natural home to so many different kinds of people. Of course, the Home Office was always composed of intrusive bullies. The right-wing tabloid press helped foster intolerance. But underneath all that, there was a sense that Britain would treat people fairly. And those who were treated fairly would want to contribute – economically, socially and culturally.

Diversity was not a subtraction of Britishness, but an addition to it. It was a demonstration of Britain’s confidence – a big-hearted, open-minded view of who we were.

That vision of the country was discarded as soon as the Brexit referendum campaign started. Something snarling and ugly emerged from underneath the rocks. A hatred of immigration. A desire to recoil from the world, to reject international cooperation and retreat into infantile dreams of absolute sovereignty. A yearning for easy answers. And, most of all, an appeal to nostalgia – a mad scramble away from the present.

Suddenly the very worst people in politics were in control: the most cynical, the most prejudiced, the most foolish. Nigel Farage. The ERG. Theresa May. Boris Johnson. The list goes on and on.

The leaders who came before Brexit were failures in all sorts of respects, but the ones who came after were many times worse. Our dreams of the past sabotaged our future.

Mercifully, there is now a forum in which we can start to repair the damage. With enjoyable irony, it had been provided by Boris Johnson himself. His deal with the EU is extremely poor. But it accomplishes one central thing: it creates a framework for cooperation, through a Joint Partnership Council composed of various technical committees.

Number 10 insists that it allows divergence with Europe. That’s true. They’ll try to push it as far as they can in the next couple of years. But the long-term headwinds blow in the opposite direction, for structural, economic and political reasons.

Attempts to diverge on environmental, labour or state aid provisions results in tariffs, or even the loss of the entire agreement. Businesses will lobby hard for UK regulations to match Europe’s so that export costs are kept down. The terms of the deal are so harsh that successive governments will naturally try to improve them by integrating further. It’s a long, slow road. But the ground is secured for an eventual return to Europe, if we have the stamina for it.

Our opponents, for all their faults, taught us a valuable lesson in that respect. They taught us the principle of staying power. A tiny group of misfits and bores kept the torch of euroscepticism alive for decades. Now they run the place.

We should take a page from their book. That means ignoring the siren voices – the Brexiters who tell us we’ve lost and will never be pertinent again, the chin-stroking political commentators who twist with the wind and act like we’re irrelevant.

We have to keep in our minds that better vision of what Britain is: open, fair, diverse, moderate and engaged with the world. We have to fight for it. There’s no point getting downcast or self-pitying. We have to defend our convictions, no matter how bad things look.

We are now the barbarians at the gate. We are the challenge to the status quo. If we fight long and hard and smart, this country will eventually return to a better path. It’ll be a diverse, open place we can be proud of again.