Friday 24 March 2017

Why tomorrow's march matters

Tomorrow along with tens of thousands of other people I will be marching in London to show opposition to Brexit. In itself it will change little but it will serve as a symbol and a reminder that very many people are not reconciled to Brexit. That reflects the fact that the country continues to be very divided, but it is more than that: it shows that EU membership has become an issue in a way that it never was before.

Had the referendum gone the other way, there is no way that there would now be a march on this scale of ardent Brexiters. The truth is that, a small number of fanatics aside, leaving the EU has never been high on most people’s list of priorities. It is also true to say that before the referendum you’d have been hard-pressed to get more than a few hundred people to attend a pro-EU rally, either. It is only now that membership of the EU is probably coming to an end that very large numbers of people have begun to understand – and to feel – what it means. I would include myself in that number in that whilst I have long been generally pro-EU, albeit with several criticisms of it, it was only when the referendum was lost that I felt a gut-wrenching traumatic shock that was like a personal grief.

That grief is not simply an emotional reaction. What is becoming clearer every day is how disastrous the practical consequences of Brexit are going to be. In my next post, when Article 50 is triggered, I will catalogue those consequences in detail. In brief, they are cultural, economic, strategic and political. Brexit will be, quite simply and without qualification, a national catastrophe.

Moreover, it is a catastrophe that is quite unnecessary. It has been inflicted on us solely because of the attempt by David Cameron to appease the minority Eurosceptic wing of his party and to address the perceived electoral threat of UKIP. And it has been exacerbated, since the referendum, by Theresa May’s pursuit of a hard Brexit to appease that same minority and to address that same threat.

The horrible irony of this is that, again and again, that minority have proved unappeasable. At first, they just wanted to ‘be in the single market like Norway’ (and many promised the electorate that this would be the result of a vote to leave); then, it had to be a hard Brexit, leaving the single market and having a free trade deal with the EU; now, for some of them, that is not enough and there must be an exit on WTO terms; in the wings are others who want unilateral abolition by the UK of all tariffs and the creation of a low tax, low regulation ‘European Singapore’.

That recalcitrance is, in a new irony, likely to bite back and it is this which gives me hope that all is not lost. The hardcore Brexiters are cloaking themselves in the mantle of ‘the will of the people’ to pursue something that is certainly not what the majority want, and not even what the majority of what those who voted leave want. As one indicator of that, consider the latest absurdity. One of UKIP’s leading figures, Mark Reckless, now a member of the Welsh Assembly, is insisting that access to the single market is “crucial” and asking for “assurances over migrant labour” on which Welsh agriculture is dependent. Now, ‘access’ is an imprecise word but at the very least it implies that a ‘no deal’ WTO scenario is excluded. So even UKIP – belatedly and ridiculously – are recognizing that Brexit has the potential to cause horrible damage as it is pulled in an ever more extreme direction.

So there is a real possibility that public opinion will shift decisively against Brexit and if it does there is a route back into EU membership, as explained by one of the leading lights of the campaign against Brexit (who will address the demonstration tomorrow) Jolyon Maugham. I don’t think it likely barring a few remote scenarios that the UK will simply stay in the EU, not least as things have probably gone too far for that to be acceptable to the EU. But as the costs and complexities of Brexit mount there must be at least some possibility of a less reckless, damaging Brexit than is currently in prospect.

The march tomorrow will be one, highly visible, reminder to the government that many people in Britain hope so. It will be unusual in one respect. Demonstrations are usually the only resort of people who have no other voice and are largely powerless. But Brexit is understood to be catastrophic not just by millions of ‘ordinary people’ but by almost everybody whether in business, academia or civil society who actually knows anything about the practical issues involved. They, of course, are dismissed as ‘the elite’ by the media plutocrats who truly deserve that name. The massed ranks of the marchers tomorrow will give the lie to that.

1 comment:

    The above link demonstrates that the same propaganda is being used once again. "Nobody wants it" , "Now is not the time". These are now several years old and being recycled.
    The people of Scotland cannot influence the right wing "Empire2" politicians at Westminster. They engineered and manipulated Brexit votes.
    I wish the people of England good fortune but I do not wish to join them in isolation.
    We are Eurpeans, We will remain Europeans and I welcome everyone from Europe who wishes to study and work in Scotland.