A betrayal of the Brexit vote by the establishment could leave the country ungovernable

A betrayal of the Brexit vote by the establishment could leave the country ungovernable

“We need to be mob-handed out on Angel Hill.”

This startling phrase has lingered in my mind since my most recent public meeting on the battle to save Brexit. It was uttered by a gentleman who, I would estimate, had certainly passed the age of sixty though seemed in fine physical health. And it was greeted with enthusiastic applause by many people in the room.

It was in the splendid surroundings of the Athenaeum meeting rooms in the middle of the genteel Suffolk market town of Bury St Edmunds, that my latest Brexit SOS meeting took place last Tuesday. Angel Hill, I should add, is the town’s most famous thoroughfare.

I replied to the gentleman that although I was as outraged as anyone by the apparent betrayal of Brexit by the British political establishment and would certainly consider innovative ways to protest – up to and including peaceful civil disobedience – if he was looking for someone to lead a mob then he had come to the wrong man.

In truth, I had arrived in Bury – my favourite town in the East of England – with a slight sense of trepidation. Suffolk had not, over the years, been the county that produced the biggest turnouts for the many pro-Leave events I have hosted. I was expecting an audience of maybe 40 people to show up – mostly UKIP diehards. I even felt a bit awkward in advance that my guest speaker, Suzanne Evans, might think it had been a long way to travel for a modest turnout.

But still, my research had earlier in the day confirmed my recollection that this was a county in which every MP had campaigned for Remain and yet every parliamentary constituency had voted Leave. So we had something to work with.

And as the clock approached 7pm, the meeting’s scheduled start time, the people just kept streaming in. Twice extra chairs had to be located and laid out. There were well over a hundred in the hall by the time we got going.

And considering this was Suffolk – the most laid-back part of my MEP patch – the most notable feature of the audience was how angry it was about the slow-motion spectacle of Westminster selling out on the referendum result.

There is a moment in the new film Peterloo, about the massacre of people protesting for democratic reform two centuries ago, where a character laments: “What is the use of a Parliament if it does not listen to the people?”

During my meeting this theme was reprised time and again. The most thunderous applause was reserved for those who argued that the spectacle of Brexit betrayal showed that the whole political system was rotten and in dire need of sweeping change to make it properly accountable to the people.

The biggest spontaneous applause I received was when I pondered whether many people might decide they were no longer willing to pay £150 a year on a TV licence in order to fund an organisation which has played a key role in disseminating a media narrative designed to help the elite avoid implementing what had been decided in June 2016.

So far, the level of anger among the 17.4 million who voted to Leave the EU has been the dog that has not barked in the protracted Brexit process. We have seen several hundred thousand anti-Brexit diehards marching through central London in their EU berets, noisily calling for Brexit to be abandoned.

But the pro-Brexit forces – bar an enterprising picket of a recent Cabinet meeting organised by the excellent Leavers of London group – have in general just got on with their lives and maintained a watching brief. Their quietness has even led some Tory MPs to consider the possibility that a wholesale sell-out of Brexit – keeping us locked in a customs union we cannot get out of, for example – will result merely in a containable bout of grumbling which will have played itself out well before the next general election.

I am convinced that is a major miscalculation. The quiet, watching brief of those oh-so-patient Brexit voters seems to me to be coming to an end. Many of them are indeed of mature years and do not correspond to anyone’s stereotype of a street protester. I am not going to make any blood-curdling predictions of how nasty things will get if the spirit of Brexit and restoring national independence is seen to be betrayed. That would not be responsible.

Indeed I still find it hard to visualise the folk of Middle England running amok on Angel Hill and equivalent streets in market towns across our country. But all those legislators who will soon determine the Brexit course – whether it is to be Theresa May’s impending sell-out, a full-on WTO ‘no deal’ Brexit, or even a pulling of the emergency brake and no Brexit at all – should not for a moment think that a corporate political failure to implement the referendum result will allow them to steer Britain back to the way things worked before (i.e. very nicely for them and less so for the populace).

And all those multinational CEOs who seem to have succeeded in turning Brexit into quasi-Remain via their noisy and well-funded lobbying about the non-negotiable status of frictionless supply chains will need to wake up to the difficulties of doing business in a country that has suddenly become ungovernable. The demons will indeed have been unleashed.

Had any been at my meeting and stared into the eyes of our would-be Angel Hill mobster, I think they would have found themselves asking the Dirty Harry question: Do I feel lucky? Sometimes in life it is better not to push it.