Wednesday 29 March 2017

Brexiters are now responsible for whatever happens

The triggering of Article 50 marked, for Brexiters, a moment for rejoicing. It also marked something else: the moment from which Brexiters are entirely responsible for what happens to this country. There can be no equivocation about this. Brexiters can no longer play the victim card. Brexiters campaigned for years to leave the EU, they won the referendum and they now control the process of leaving. Often, they campaigned as if they were underdogs in opposition to the elite and the establishment. But by winning they became the elite and the establishment: it is Brexiters who now run things. The key Brexit posts in the government are filled by committed Brexiters: Johnson, Fox and Davis. So whether they are Alte Kameraden like Farage or March violets like May they are now accountable for whatever happens.

That is something they don’t like, which explains the calls from May for national unity and the more diffuse insistence from Brexiters that ‘we should all get behind Brexit’. They want us all to share responsibility. Well, tough; there is no reason why those of us who voted to remain should do so. Perhaps we might have done. If the Brexit government had pursued a consensual policy of soft Brexit (i.e. remaining in the single market) then there could have been some national unity. Leavers would have got exit from the EU, the ECJ, the CAP, the CFP and from any kind of EU military and foreign policy. Remainers would have got the single market and free movement. Some would have been completely happy, few would have been completely unhappy.

That consensual – perhaps characteristically British – compromise did not happen. So, now, Brexiters are on their own. They are now responsible for every single thing that happens. Every job loss, every company re-location, every price rise is down to Brexiters. And that extends, I’m afraid, to areas that voted to leave. So when, for example, Cornwall or Wales lose their EU funding or when the English regions see unemployment rising it will be no good looking for help. The areas, like London, and the educated group who voted remain won’t be there for you as they once might have been. You stuck two fingers up at them as the ‘liberal metropolitan elite’, remember? They’re not willingly going to bail you out for the decision you took, despite every warning about what it meant.

Perhaps that sounds harsh. But when Brexit goes pear-shaped it won’t just be remainers who abandon leave voters to their fate. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (Eton and Oxford) won’t be joining the dole queue. Nor Michael Gove, with his £150,000 a year from the Times. And man of the people Nigel Farage has said that if Brexit is a disaster he will go to live abroad. That won’t be an option for the working-class leave voters he led, especially if they want to move to the EU.

But Brexiters won’t be able to walk away from their responsibilities just yet. With Article 50 triggered they are now in the spotlight. As Jay Elwes, writing in Prospect, put it:

The guesswork, the flim-flam, the nonsense, the evasion, the jingoism—all that ends today. With the handing over of a piece of paper triggering Article 50, the campaign is finally over. No longer are we drifting in a hypothetical space of promises and assertions about the nation’s future, about its bargaining power and ability to “take back control.” All of that is now gone. It’s done. There can be no more tub-thumping statements about what Britain’s future looks like. It’s too late for that now. Reality has returned—and no matter how well-financed your campaign operation, no matter how well-honed your lines of attack or persuasive your arguments, there can be no escape from its unforgiving glare.

We’ll never know now what would have happened if we had stayed in the EU. All we can know is what happens as a result of leaving. And all that will be the responsibility of the Brexiters. In the few hours since the Article 50 letter was delivered one of its key demands – that the exit negotiations run in parallel rather than precede negotiations on the future deal – has been rejected by Angela Merkel. That is not surprising – it was said throughout the referendum campaign that it would be so, but Brexiters dismissed it as part of ‘project Fear’. Now, it is a reality.

That is only the first reality check for Brexiters. In the years to come there will be many more. As they increase, it’s inevitable that Brexiters will try to depict the situation as being a national crisis, in the face of which all must unite. And they are right that it will be a national crisis, but it will be one that was self-inflicted on our country by Brexiters. The rest of us will have no responsibility for it, and no reason to unite. We are the victims, not you.

There will be many remainers today who are distraught, and many leavers who are overjoyed. But perhaps it should be the other way around. From today onwards every leaver is responsible for everything that now happens, and every remainer is entitled to hold them responsible. It has become a familiar trope that remainers must ‘move on’ and accept the result. But by the same token leavers must now move on, and accept the consequences of their victory. Every single leave voter is responsible for every single one of those consequences. Every single remain voter is absolved from responsibility and is entitled to criticise every single consequence of leaving.


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