Politics

John Bird: This summer it's time to understand the reasons for Brexit

A summer of Trump, a summer of confusion over leaving the EU and a summer of (seemingly ugly) positioning by politicians who then jump ship after reaching agreement

Brexit bus

Boris Johnson with Gisela Stuart in front of one of Vote Leave's battle buses

Are summers cursed? I’ve always hated summers. I don’t like the heat, Wimbledon or commemorating the start of great world wars. Or my mum dying, or going on the bus to the orphanage, or on the train to Oxford with the policeman dressed in plain clothes to a detention centre for a ‘short, sharp, shock’.

But then again, there was the summer of love in ’67, and the summer of revolution in ’68. And I’m sure many other summers. But Hitler did invade Russia in ’41 in the summer and thought it would be a piece of piss. Until when, of course, he ran into the resolute heroism of the Russian people; that’s when the wheels came off of his particularly ambitious plan.

This latest summer seems the most confusing and hurtful in many ways. A summer of Trump, a summer of confusion over Brexit, a summer of (seemingly ugly) positioning by politicians who then jump ship after reaching agreement.

Talking of trains in another way, what about the Great Unravelling that David Cameron set in train with the referendum of two summers ago? And the strange feeling I’ve developed as grown-up, highly educated people claim that we can dissolve the result of June 23 2016. That we can put the genie back in the bottle and say to 17,410,742 people, “We’re going to ignore the result.”

But why not? Perhaps at the same time, we should be writing to Fifa’s Gianni Infantino and saying “Can we disallow the Croatian result of last Wednesday?”

Stick to the facts. Stick to the distortions, if any, that were allowed to influence the outcome; but don’t be foolish enough to ridicule a vast part of the UK who didn’t want to remain in the EU

We can no more deny that the referendum happened, with millions hanging on in there for completion of their wishes to leave the EU, than we can that England didn’t make it to the 2018 World Cup final.

We may not like the result. We may hate the result. We may even think of emigrating, or going into internal exile. But we cannot simply, as I have heard and read men and women with fine educations behind them suggest it’s possible to, simply ignore the result.

All elections or decisions taken by the electorate can be wrong according to your beliefs. Or they can be hated, or loathed. But they cannot be brushed aside.

If the supposedly intelligent people who loathe what they see as this Brexit impasse are despairing of the outcome, then they’re going to have to find fresh tools to express it. To put the result down to a big con or a lie, or illegal or criminal activity does a disservice to the democratic process; which is never as clean or as blameless as many think.

Stick to the facts. Stick to the distortions, if any, that were allowed to influence the outcome; but don’t be foolish enough to ridicule a vast part of the UK who didn’t want to remain in the EU. It was a decision passed to them to decide on by a (at times) flawed political system called parliamentary democracy. And it therefore has a veracity of its own. Trump came to Europe this month and actually (kind of) tells the truth to Europe. That Europe has allowed the US to spend a vast part of its GDP on protecting them through Nato, and that the European experiment we participated in was protected under an umbrella of American security.

How different would that European experiment have been if, some time in the 1970s – and after Vietnam – the US drew in their tentacles and promised no more support for Europe’s defence? Thank you, America. Thank you for allowing us the peace of mind to get on with our European test without having to spend too much on battleships and bombs.

As a Remain voter, I don’t enjoy the ridiculing of leavers as some kind of misled bunch of fools. It devalues the whole European experiment for me. And it shows that some grown-up, well-educated women and men are happy to throw all of their supposed astuteness out of the window as soon as they meet something they don’t agree with.

I shouldn’t be shocked. Education, and diligence in rising in society, is no guarantee in doing or thinking sensibly. Remember: perfectly clever people have created many of the faux pas that pass for good public policy. It was (presumably) clever people who designed Grenfell Tower and got all of those bricks and mortar to stand up there for decades. So why can’t perfectly clever people sitting in Parliament, and at the desks of newspapers, write, talk and think rubbish; and then pretend that – by their opposition – we can turn the clock back?

Perhaps Harry Potter, with his incredibly timed ability to get himself and others out of life-threatening scrapes, has seeped into the thinking of those who talk of Brexit? As if the outcome can be made to disappear; in one big puff of Potterian smoke. “Evanesco, Brexiteerium!”

That the Brexit debate hides behind it poverty, displacement and anger – and all manner of things we can’t simply put down to Russian influence, bent movements of dirty money and surreptitious social media algorithms – has to be understood.

No one wants dirty money, or dirty tricks, to corrupt the British political system. But this is not the time for irrational denials of reality. This is the time for the most careful thinking possible; otherwise, we’ll witness the destruction of more than whether we’re in, or out, of a particular neighbouring continent.

Image: Reuters

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