MITCH BENN: Our movement is out, proud and in full voice

PUBLISHED: 11:00 05 April 2019

Pro-European protesters at a rally organised by the pro-European People's Vote campaign for a second EU referendum in Parliament Square. Picture: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

Pro-European protesters at a rally organised by the pro-European People's Vote campaign for a second EU referendum in Parliament Square. Picture: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

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Mitch Benn says the Remain movement is still in full voice as Brexiteers call for the government to get on with it.

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It’s exhausting, this Brexit thing, isn’t it? Even if you’re not tasked with following and commenting on the whole slowly unravelling fustercluck on a semi-professional basis, just trying to keep up with each increasingly bizarre, unexpected or just plain stupid development is enough to sap your will to live. So spare a thought for how those of us who are tasked with following and commenting on the whole slowly unravelling fustercluck on a semi-professional basis are feeling.

It’s hard not to sympathise with, and perhaps on occasion even echo, the plaintive and oft-heard cry of the Lesser Spotted Brexiter, “Why can’t they just get on with it?” Alas, unlike the Brexiters (I’m assuming we’re all Remainers here; I guess it’s possible that some Brexiters are reading this paper on a Know Your Enemy basis in which case hi guys, feel free to stick around and read on; you might even learn something) we know that this question can only be answered with two more questions, namely: “Get on with it how?” and “What do you mean by ‘it’?”

The sad truth of the matter is that even if a satisfactory definition of it could be found, and even if this it were something which could be easily “got on with”, that would not bring an end to this sorry saga. There can be no end, at least not in the short term.

Should we find a way to exit the EU which somehow satisfies everyone whose opinion has been deemed to matter (that’s not us, folks) that won’t be ‘the end’; rather it’ll be the beginning of years of upheaval, either carefully-managed adjustment or utter turmoil, depending on whom you believe (spoiler alert: it’ll be the turmoil).

And if, by some miracle, sanity prevails (remember sanity? It was big in the 1990s) and we do not exit the EU, then we’ll be back to the old routine of europhobic grinding and gnashing of teeth.

There is, as far as I can see, one hope for, if not a solution exactly, then an ongoing and gradual rationalisation of the Eternal European Problem.

As I’ve said before, the one good thing to emerge from Brexitgeddon has been the rise of an out and proud, energised and unapologetic pro-European movement in the UK. For decades the prevailing wisdom has been that europhobia wins votes and sells newspapers, while overt europhilia is electoral and commercial suicide. As such, while the anti-Europe lobby has been full-throated and dynamic, the pro-Europe argument has been tentative and subdued.

We saw this in the referendum; two vigorous and well-funded anti-EU campaigns all but drowned out the timid, apologetic Remain camp. The Brexiters loudly and cheerfully lambasted the EU as the source of all Britain’s woes while the union’s defenders portrayed our membership as a necessary inconvenience rather than the positive boon it’s always been. It’s really no wonder Remain lost.

That has changed. Whatever happens with Brexit in the short term, the UK pro-European movement is well and truly out of the armoire. The europhobes will no doubt continue to portray the EU as the Great Satan, even if we do leave (because let’s face it, the Brexiters will blame any hardships which afflict our country post-Brexit on the EU rather than accept any responsibility themselves) but their points will be challenged and refuted far more vehemently (and factually) than previously. The arguments about Europe will continue, but they won’t be so one-sided any more.

This is why there won’t be a ‘quick solution’; if Brexit happens, even with a deal, that won’t be the end of the controversy. The campaign that’s sprung up in opposition will not go away. It’s too big, too focussed, too motivated. The last day of the campaign to avert Brexit will be the first day of the campaign to undo it.

But should we succeed in preventing Brexit (or, at the very least, steering the country to some sort of Brexit In Name Only compromise), the discussions around Europe will be very different to what we’ve had up to this point. Pro-Europeanism is A Thing now and there are many of us standing ready and eager to confront europhobia and expose the misconceptions – and outright lies – that it’s based on.

So there’s a way out; a long-term solution to the European Question, if you want one: continued participation in Europe and, at last, a more honest debate about the pros and cons of membership, with the fallacies of anti-Europeanism laid bare.

Europhobia won’t die out overnight; it will probably never die out entirely – there are far too many people making far too much money out of perpetuating it – but, if successfully and loudly refuted, it might diminish to the point at which it’s not tearing the country apart anymore.

Meanwhile, huge thanks to those of you who made it to the march and if you haven’t signed that petition, SIGN IT. Resist.

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