Slowly but surely, the political establishment is adjusting to accept the Brexit vote

Slowly but surely, the political establishment is adjusting to accept the Brexit vote

Britain’s vote to leave the EU was a very big deal. And let’s be honest, while we leavers sincerely believe we had the best arguments on our side there was also a large dollop of emotion in the debate.

Put simply, we believe in Britain as a self-governing democracy. The nation state is the collective political unit that stirs our hearts and commands our affinity.

So let us acknowledge then that there was also a large dollop of emotion on the other side: people who idealistically believed in the dream of European unity whether as an antidote to what they consider parochial “little Englandism” or because of the blood-soaked history of the continent in the first half of the 20th Century or for any other reason.

Therefore, it follows that post-referendum “remainer rage” was a natural human reaction for that relatively small element among the 16 million remain voters who were truly, madly, deeply inspired by the EU vision rather than just worried about the implications of leaving.

So the Brexit denial phase undergone by much of the political class this summer was only to be expected. The poor dears had a very nasty shock, after all.

Now, here is the heartening thing: notwithstanding a symbolic and somewhat half-hearted party conference motion leaving the door open for a second plebiscite, the smarter Blairite remainers are starting to realise that there is no turning back. The likes of Chuka Umunna, Caroline Flint and Rachel Reeves are setting themselves against any notion of a second referendum and even acknowledging that when push comes to shove ending automatic free movement is a goal worth leaving the single market for.

They are not undertaking this radical political repositioning because they want to, but because they understand that they have to. Polling, both internal and external, is telling them that huge swathes of 2015 Labour voters are ready to support the Conservatives or UKIP next time round because their party is perceived to want to overturn the referendum verdict.

Oddly enough, Jeremy Corbyn has been ahead of them on this one – perhaps because he was such an unenthusiastic remain voter in the first place. Labour MPs that I talk to will privately admit that Owen Smith’s posturing on the EU – his flagrant demands to disrespect the referendum result and calls for Britain to join the euro and Schengen – went down very badly indeed in working class communities during the leadership contest.

So the full remoaner manifesto – second referendum, stay in the single market, eschew immigration controls, kick everything into the longest of long grass – is now seen as a niche position rather than a position commanding mass support.

That is why Labour has had to take the decision to leave unbridled remoaner-ism to the Liberal Democrats. Sitting on around eight per cent in the polls, Tim Farron’s party can hope for a little bounce by becoming the party for outright Brexit deniers. The strategy also works for them in terms of their target seats like Cambridge, which tended to come out heavily for remain in the referendum.

Of course, we must not become complacent when it comes to the transmission mechanism between a vote to leave the EU and actually leaving the EU – there is many a slip betwixt cup and lip and all that.

But the signs are now very promising that the British political establishment – that most elastic and durable of entities – is having to adjust to the paradigm shift that has taken place. It knows that further indulgence of Brexit denial will see it swept away.

So first the governing party – the brilliantly adaptive Conservative Party – and now the official opposition – the slower learners of Labour – have, to use a horrible Americanism “got with the programme”.

There are still plenty of grand old men of Europhilia who will rave away from the unelected burgundy benches of the House of Lords – and may yet be able to throw the odd spanner in the works. But the House of Commons has to answer to the people and the people have spoken.