ANDREW ADONIS: Why Remainers must not become Brexit miserabilists
PUBLISHED: 09:59 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:00 09 January 2020
It was a mistake of Remain MPs to back Article 50 because the majority did. ANDREW ADONIS says Remainers can’t repeat the same mistake now Brexit is a certainty.
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Grief and bereavement take a while to overcome. Sometimes they are never overcome. The best advice one can give to the Remain movement is: 'No sudden moves. Boris Johnson now owns Brexit and has a parliamentary majority. See what he does and then react accordingly.'
We certainly should not endorse Brexit simply because he won the election. That would be to repeat the mistake on Article 50, which a lot of Remain MPs endorsed in the wake of the 2016 referendum. They feared being on the wrong side of majority opinion; instead they put themselves on the wrong side of history and looked unprincipled.
Wrong doesn't become right simply because it has a majority in the House of Commons, least of all when the parties supporting a second referendum outpolled the parties against one last month. And that was even with Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party. But we are where we are. 'We was robbed' is the political equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework'. Brexit will now take place. Although it is vital we don't make the mistake of endorsing such a catastrophic policy, the initiative now lies with the Brexiters.
It is vital we Remainers don't become Brexit miserabilists. It is because we love our country and are optimistic about its prospects that we don't want it to be weak, divided, insular and xenophobic. Brexit makes it harder to overcome these evils so we must be bolder in embracing our positive duty and destiny.
This means, until the moment comes to re-engage with Johnson's actual long-term plan for our relations with the EU, talking about issues other than Brexit itself in the same way we would have done if Brexit had not happened. Only more so.
It is more not less urgent that there is now a plan to replace austerity with a new wave of investment in our public services and infrastructure. The Keynesians among us never had a problem with sensible deficit financing of essential public infrastructure, particularly constructing it in an economic downturn when interest rates are low and the productive capacity of the economy needs boosting.
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So it should be full steam ahead for HS2, 5G, rail infrastructure linking towns and cities across the north, new schools and GP surgeries in areas poorly served at present, and a green industrial revolution building a new generation of low carbon energy infrastructure.
Constitutional changes to boost devolution and local government, the weakness of which was a major cause of Brexit in the English regions, need massive impetus. Johnson may be sympathetic, given his new group of Tory MPs from the north and the Midlands. This should include greater powers for regional city mayors and major new powers for local authorities to tackle the housing crisis with new social homebuilding.
On immigration, if EU freedom of movement is to be replaced by a skills and 'needs-based' system, then the case for openness needs to be demonstrated robustly so that we don't turn our back on the huge benefits that migrants bring after Brexit. More immigration already comes from outside the EU than from inside. We need to campaign hard to stop Brexit becoming a recipe for insularity and xenophobia.
It is equally vital that we boost the skills of our own young people. The lack of a decent apprenticeship system and skill training for teenagers not going to university were major cause of discontent and alienation in communities that voted for Brexit, particularly those remote from London's powerhouse economy. An apprenticeship revolution needs to follow the higher education revolution of the last generation. It must start now.
Student and youth exchanges should be a top priority so that the end of Britain's membership of the Erasmus programme and EU freedom of movement does not mean that young people, in particular, stop moving between Britain and the continent.
Our commitment to European defence and security must also be promoted with new vigour now there is a real danger of turning in on ourselves. Nato should be an umbrella for partnerships which extend beyond narrow military co-ordination. Why not turn the Nato parliamentary assembly into a much broader assembly to promote European defence, security and values, including youth and local government assemblies as part of it?
All those British towns and cities twinned with continental towns and cities should breathe new life into their partnerships, particularly for young people.
In time, I think Brexit will be reversed. But only if the optimists beat the miserabilists. It was the miserabilists who gave us Brexit: if we join them, that is the spiritual defeat from which we will never recover. Let optimism reign!
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