Brexit and Beyond

Opponents of Brexit are very peaceful. Long may that continue

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Opponents of Brexit are very peaceful. Long may that continue

ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

I will be marching on Saturday in London as it is the only way I can link with the 63 percent of all registered voters in Britain people who did not vote for Brexit.

It is 50 years almost to the day when I left Oxford to march in London against a foolish war in Vietnam.  I did not march in 2003 against a foolish war in Iraq, but I wish in hindsight I had had the political courage or foresight to have done so.

Like me and most members of her government who were in the Commons in 2003, Theresa May voted to sanction Saddam Hussain over his wilful refusal to obey UN resolutions and other crimes against humanity.

In Labour, at least, we were seized by the doctrine of the “right to intervene” after the deep shame of the John Major government which sat on its hands while 8,000 Europeans were taken out and killed one by one in Srebrenica.

But we were wrong, and David Cameron and William Hague were even more wrong when they repeated the same mistakes in Libya and Syria – two follies endorsed by Theresa May as a senior cabinet member in 2011.

I wrote a book published in January 2015 called “Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe”. I never doubted that if a populist plebiscite largely turning on immigration was held, it would be a field day for Nigel Farage, UKIP, the BNP and that part of the elite establishment (notably the off-shore owned press) that had been denigrating the EU for 20 years.

I disapprove of cutting our links with Europe not so much for economic reasons, but for the sake of  all the young people of Britain who will now be deprived of rights I have enjoyed. Winston Churchill in 1948 said:

“We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and that without   losing any of their love and loyalty of their birthplace… they will  truly feel ‘Here I am at home. I am a citizen of this country too’

That is the Europe we will lose, and I think that loss is worth marching against. The organisers of Saturday’s march tell me that there are far more trains and buses organised than for the one in October when 700,000 marched against being isolated from Europe.

Yesterday, I signed a Parliamentary petition to revoke Article 50. There were 200,000 signatures. This morning there were 800,000 and the site had crashed twice. Can they be ignored? Can Saturday’s march?

It would be nice to think Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn would take notice of the march. I doubt if the Prime Minister has ever taken part in a demonstration. Corbyn has taken part in many more than I have, but he banned his shadow cabinet from marching against Brexit last October. And since he now refuses to be in the same room as Chukka Umunna, I assume the Labour leadership will not be with the people on Saturday if any TIGers are there.

But the march will be peaceful, good-humoured, middle-Britain. Unlike the Yellow Vests in France there will be no violence. That protest has forced President Macron to do a U-turn on economic and social policy, pump more than 1 billion Euros into public spending, increase the minimum wage, and cancel fuel duty charges and other unpopular levies. France now has stronger growth than Germany, and unemployment is falling as the Yellow Vests forced Macron to read a little Keynes and ignore, for a while, the siren calls of Enrichessez-vous austerity liberalism. Perhaps if we opponents of amputating Britain from Europe were crosser and threw that odd brick through a window someone might listen.

The Prime Minister has donned the mantle of Kings Charles I as she rants at MPs and attacks Parliament for daring to disobey her. She is right that the nation is bored with Brexit, but she does not understand that the nation is bored with her refusal to compromise on any aspect of Brexit. She insists it is the May Way or no way. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn cannot believe his luck that he is facing such a stubborn, inflexible Tory leader.

Yet ugliness has arisen over Brexit. Something snapped in 2016 and England lost overnight one of its proudest attributes – that of civility of discourse, of playing the political ball, not the political man or woman.  The hate language against Jews in Labour, or the rise of white supremacist remarks targeting Muslims that Sayeeda Warsi is exposing in the Tory Party should worry us all.

However, the threats that there can be no questioning of Brexit as it would lead to riots in the streets should be discounted. To threaten violence because you cannot win your political ends is to close down democracy. Yes, there are some nasty people at the Tommy Robinson, EDL end of politics and others in the anarchist, black-hooded anti-capitalist extremists who will shout abuse and lunge at pro-Europeans. At the extreme end of white nationalism there is the killer of Jo Cox, but the universal recoil at that murder was salutary.

Certainly, if there’s a full No Deal crash out there will be anger as food, medicine or toilet paper shortages mount up. The poor Eurostar passengers whose trains home to London have been cancelled thanks to a go slow by Customs agents at the Gare du Nord in Paris protesting they have not enough resources to deal with future Brexit checks on passengers are an indication of what may lie ahead. But while there is misery at the Gare du Nord, we British do what we always do. We form a queue. We do not riot.

Mrs May’s stubborn refusal to compromise to win a majority for a revised deal is also unBritish. But she can still move. The march of maybe a million on Saturday will be peaceful. So will the next stage of Brexit. Passion about Europe has been an obsession of anti-European politicians on the left between 1950 and 1985, and on the right since 1995. The rest of the country has a view but can live with being partnered to Europe or being isolated from Europe.

The political dogs of both side bark. The British people’s caravan moves on.

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  • Agree with arguments: 55%

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