Reasons to Remain cheerful

PUBLISHED: 00:02 28 March 2018

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You might, as a Remainer, be wondering if there is any hope, writes MATT KELLY. Don't despair - there is

William Goldman, the screenwriter whose credits include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men, was once asked what the secret to Hollywood was.

“Nobody knows anything,” he replied. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

It’s a good metaphor for Brexit Britain. Anyone paying proper attention to the political landscape of the past two years could only reach the following conclusions; nothing will go to plan, the unexpected will intervene, all predictions are exercises in futility*. How the next 12 months will pan out, nobody knows. But that doesn’t stop people describing Brexit as a done deal. It is the destiny of Remainers to watch and read things that will make the European blood boil.

BBC interviewers will continue to preface questions with the statement of fact: “When we leave the European Union…”

If, like me, you too are drawn, fly-like, to the social defecation that is Twitter, you will continue to be taunted by the Dan Hannans and the Douglas Carswells with their scorn and their arrogance.

Grassroots marches and events will continue to be ignored by mainstream press, and – shamefully – by our state broadcaster.

And you will continue to be a traitor to the Daily Mail.

Theresa May’s magically-united cabinet will continue insisting they are negotiating a Brexit that works for everyone.

And, perhaps most frustratingly of all, the opposition will continue to publicly commit to doing Brexit, but just to do it better than the Tories.

There will be times in the next few months, Dear Reader, when you think to yourself: Oh boy… is there any hope?

Don’t. There is. Much.

Tony Blair (yes, I know, I know. But whatever you think of the messenger, the message is a good one) this week drew the most complete map of today’s political landscape I have heard since the referendum.

His map included a clear, though challenging, route out of a harmful Brexit. But it also came with a stark warning: there is a government plot afoot to smuggle Brexit over the line.

There is, he pointed out, an inescapable dilemma to Brexit which at some point must be resolved by making a choice.

“Northern Ireland is a metaphor for the entire negotiation,” Blair said. Either have a frictionless border by agreeing alignment with Europe (in which case, what’s the point of Brexit at all?) or diverge. Take back full control of laws and pay the price; economic suffering. What is true for the island of Ireland is also true of the entire United Kingdom.

We are erecting a border where today there is none. Either that or we are calling something Brexit that is, in fact, just an effort to replicate the benefits of European membership without actually being part of the club. And that is even dafter than the first idea.

This inescapable dilemma must be faced. The question is, when?

Answering the dilemma after March 2019, when we have officially left the EU, leaves us with no bargaining power – a deal on Europe’s terms, or no deal at all.

Facing up to it before March 2019, in a parliamentary vote on the deal, exposes the lie at the heart of Theresa May’s cakeism, existentially threatens the stability of the government, and opens the door to a Corbyn government. Guess which route the government is pursuing.

So all efforts must be drawn towards making the vote on the negotiation, not just meaningful, but decisive. Parliament must be bold enough to say, “not good enough” and send the matter back to where it started – with the people.

The risk is that Mrs May’s policy of fudging the issue may work. That MPs, under the whip of both Tory and Labour leaders, will acquiesce and take the path of less resistance, and lose our one opportunity to stop a damaging Brexit.

That would, on both sides, be putting party before country. A betrayal of our national interest.

Is it likely? Perhaps not. Is it possible? Certainly. Both main parties are basket cases right now. So many conflicting agendas, so many bitter arguments, so much unhappiness – they are pustules waiting to burst.

But it’s not just Remain versus Leaver. What we call the Brexiteer camp is not a coherent philosophy, but two diametrically-opposed groups lumped together for expedience’s sake; the free-trading globalists and the hard-right nativists.

And the idea that nativists like Jacob Rees-Mogg and the 60-odd other members of the Tory European Research Group are anything other than a regressive elite representing nothing but their own warped agenda is absurd. That many ordinary people think Rees-Mogg speaks for them is an indication of just how monumentally screwed-up our national discourse has become.

The immediate task at hand is identifying the fudge and making it personal to people. To move on from the abstract and make Brexit and its consequences concrete.

If Parliament is going to refuse to sanction the deal Mrs May brings back before March 2019, then MPs – especially the ones who believe in Remain but occupy Leave-voting constituencies – will need to be able to look their voters in the eye and honestly say: “Look. I know you voted for Brexit. But I’ve seen the deal, and believe me, this is not what you voted for. You should have another say.”

That position should not be so difficult for them to imagine since it will be the truth. Isn’t that what they came into politics for?

So in the months ahead, no matter how much it seems we are travelling inextricably towards a Brexit that please nobody, and when it takes more, even, than your weekly fix of The New European to lift your spirits, remember those sage words of William Goldman:

Nobody knows anything.

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