MITCH BENN: The Remain pledge we should all commit to

PUBLISHED: 15:00 01 November 2019

Mitch Benn says Brexit has become more a faith movement than a political movement. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.

Mitch Benn says Brexit has become more a faith movement than a political movement. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.

The welfare of the country should not be forgotten amid Brexit, writes MITCH BENN.

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Before I became active in the Remain campaign I was active for many years in the sceptical (and indeed Skeptical) community, which is a rather self-congratulatory way of saying that before I started wasting precious hours out of every day getting into pointless Twitter arguments with Europhobes I used to waste precious hours out of every day getting into pointless Twitter arguments with religious fundamentalists.

It's actually turned out to be quite useful training; as I've pointed out before, Brexit has become more of a faith position than a political movement. As every rational justification it might ever have had has disintegrated, its adherents have stopped trying to justify it and retreated instead into simple repeated assertions of belief.

There is of course a big difference: Religions, or at least the ones which survive through the ages, cannily restrict themselves to promising great rewards in the next life, the undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller comes looking for his money back. Protestations of faith can suffice to justify a belief as long as that belief never has to bump into reality. Brexit has been bumping into reality for more than three years now, and has the bruises to prove it.

There's another difference; during the aforementioned arguments with religious fundamentalists I noticed that they would nearly always end up retreating to one of four distinct fallback positions.

First, there was "You just have to have faith..." (ie. if you stop arguing and just accept what I'm saying is true, you'll see that what I'm saying is true); next came "You wouldn't understand" (ie. I can't explain what I mean so I'll just pretend it's pointless to try), then as things got testy we'd get to "How dare you!" (I'm going to feign outrage and log off in an affected huff, thus terminating the discussion while simultaneously laying claim to the moral high ground), then when all else failed we'd arrive at "you'll be sorry when you're dead" (self-explanatory).

Seriously, every time, we'd end up at one of those four outcomes.

Brexiteers, by contrast, have just the one standard fallback position, and all Remainer versus Brexiteer arguments lead inexorably towards it: "You're just sore because you lost."

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I've been pondering this meme lately and trying to put my finger on what it is about it that irks me so. I mean on the one hand, obviously we're sore that we lost and had we won, they'd be the sore ones now, although hopefully we'd have been less hatefully smug about it than they've been.

It was just a few days ago that I figured it out: Yes, we're sore that we lost, but we're not sore because we lost.

It's not the losing that's depressing and annoying us, it's what's likely to happen as a result of us losing. I think I can speak for a comfortable majority of Remainers when I say that for us, it's not about winning or losing, it's about what becomes of the country.

I don't give a rat's knacker about "losing". I'd happily wear a T-shirts saying "Loser" and tape a DayGlo cardboard L to my forehead for the rest of my days if it meant my kids could keep their freedom of movement and we didn't have to sell the NHS to Walmart.

And that, I think, is the difference. For many, if not most, Brexiteers, it is about winning and losing and it always has been. The referendum wasn't so much about determining the course of the country's future as it was a chance to "own the libs" and thumb their collective nose at the political establishment and the smug intellectuals.

And I can't say I blame them; the majority of people in this country have been ignored and forgotten for years, calculatedly so, and there is much in the UK that needs addressing and fixing. The trouble is that leaving the EU addresses and fixes precisely none of it; in fact it makes it all worse.

If Brexit had ever been about the welfare of the country, it patently isn't any more. It's just about "honouring the result" and "respecting the 17.4 million", even if this hobbles the nation for decades to come. It's about preserving the victory.

That's why there's such panic in the Brexiteer community as the last wheels on the Brexit bandwagon loosen; it's not about the future of Britain, as nobody is even pretending any more that averting Brexit wouldn't bring massive benefits. It's just the horror of the prospect of having that victory taken away from them, of watching the smug liberal intellectuals win again.

If we do; if we pull this off, if we turn this around, if we manage to stop this lunatic Brexit train before it derails, we must all pinky-swear something now: that we will devote all that freed-up 
spare energy to fixing the problems that fuelled the Leave vote in the first place, and that we will never - ever - say to disappointed Brexiteers: "We won, you lost, get over it."

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