Any attempt to block Brexit now would shatter public faith in politics and make the country close to ungovernable

Any attempt to block Brexit now would shatter public faith in politics and make the country close to ungovernable

There is no point denying that the General Election created an upheaval that breathed new life into attempts by grief stricken ultra-Remainers to block Brexit.

It is frankly extraordinary that, well over a year after the historic decision by a record number of British people to opt for a bold new path at the end of a referendum in which all arguments from both sides were exhaustively scrutinised, there are many influential people still behaving as if they can overturn it altogether.

From former Prime Minister Tony Blair, to his media guru Alastair Campbell, to the supposedly eminent philosopher AC Grayling, to the leader of the Liberal Democrats to the chief political commentator of the Daily Mirror – outright Brexit denial shows no signs of abating.

The latest fashion among these traumatised EU-philes is to claim that it is becoming clearer as every day passes that Brexit is going to be a disaster and therefore that more and more sensible people are coming to the view that it cannot happen. This, of course, is deluded nonsense fed by a pro-Remain broadcast media that takes every position taken and pronouncement from the EU as if it is carved on tablets of stone and every countervailing position and pronouncement from a UK minister as a risible pipe dream with no chance of being realised.

Inside the ultra-Remainer sect the view is being reinforced day by day that an unstoppable tidal wave of remorse on behalf of Brexit voters is underway. The polling evidence shows that in spite of the extended, morale-sapping negativity from the broadcasters, no such change of public opinion is in evidence.

But let us imagine, for a moment, that the Brexit blockers nonetheless got their way – perhaps because of low Labour tactics in the Commons or an emboldened Remainer tendency in the House of Lords or a Tory leadership contest that somehow lands a closet Remainer such as Philip Hammond or Amber Rudd in 10 Downing Street.

One only needs to think through the consequences of Brexit actually being blocked to realise that it would be the most catastrophic imaginable course for our country.

For a start, the political class would have behaved with zero democratic legitimacy in overturning a decision it had expressly placed in the hands of the people. And remember that even at the General Election, more than 80 per cent of voters backed parties that were signed up to Brexit, while the anti-Brexit parties (the Lib Dems, SNP and the Greens) all lost voteshare.

The Commons and Lords passed an EU Referendum Bill in 2015 that handed the decision on our EU future to the British people. The government spent £9million sending to every home a pamphlet full of pro-EU propaganda that nonetheless included the solemn promise that it would implement what the people decided.

The referendum that took place followed many years of the political class dodging democratic accountability for European policy, whether by opting out of innovations that would have required referendums (such as the euro), ratting on promises to hold them (European Constitution/Lisbon Treaty), planning for national sovereignty to be eroded in “salami slices” rather than big chunks, or burying EU matters in general elections where other issues predominated.

As the process of EU political integration continued, we reached a point where – after 40 years since the previous referendum – the incumbent Prime Minister was forced to recognise that democratic permission for British involvement was worn out and needed to be renewed. The matter was put to the test and no such permission was forthcoming.

So imagine how a large proportion of the 17.4 million Brexit voters would react to having their verdict overturned on the basis of decisions by MPs who would in turn be ratting on promises made in their own manifestos just months before.

I do not know that there would be riots in the streets – some special British tendency towards self-restraint would hopefully prevent that, one cannot be sure – but public faith in politics would be shattered altogether. Clearly there would be significant civil disobedience, and a very large number of British people would be left stone-cold certain that they did not live in a democracy.

As a result, all kinds of important cultural and political norms would be broken – from accepting the outcome of elections even if one does not like them, to paying taxation, to sustaining a civilising public realm. Britain would surely be close to ungovernable.

If any Remainers think that such a state would be conducive to a growing economy and rising prosperity, then their delusions truly know no bounds.

And let me remind the Brexit deniers that the Article 50 process will either end in an agreement on the terms of Britain’s departure or Britain departing with no agreement on terms – the Government has already lodged notice of departure. So any “second referendum” could only conceivably be on whether to accept the terms reached by ministers or to leave without a deal. A third path – to not leave at all at the end of the two-year process – only exists in the fevered imaginations of Remain ultras.

But again, let us override that simple issue of fact, and envisage the consequences for Britain in the EU if there was a total capitulation on Brexit and we called it off. As far as important EU figures from Mr Juncker to Mr Verhofstadt would be concerned, British resistance to their dream of full political integration would have been broken once and for all.

New integrating measures such as a European defence identity or mandatory quotas for the migrants invited in by Angela Merkel would be applied to the UK mercilessly and without exception. There would be renewed and sustained pressure for Britain to give up its independent currency and join the euro.  And yet the British Government, in a bid to assuage the outrage from the domestic majority who had voted to leave altogether, would surely feel it had to be seen to resist every single process of integration in the most aggressive manner. In other words, the UK would become a nightmare member of the community and a constant focus of dissent and disruption.

Even if we agree with the IMF’s latest prediction that Brexit will be a “mild negative” for the UK economy (and in the long-term there is every reason to suppose it will not be), it is obvious that breaking public consensus around the rules of stable democracy that are so essential to economic progress would be far, far worse for the nation’s financial prospects.

So, I say to ardent Remainers that, yes, I know you must be deeply disappointed – not to say shocked – by the outcome of the referendum. I understand that it must be traumatising to replay the referendum in your heads every night as you to go sleep and discover when you wake each morning that the outcome is still the same. I appreciate the temptation to argue for some kind of ‘best of three’ arrangement or a ‘we weren’t ready’ re-run. I also know that the real motivating factor behind this issue is not economics but collective emotional attachment and that yours is to the idea of European citizenry, while for the rest of us – the majority – it is to our nation state.

But I implore you to come to terms with the fact that EU membership simply did not suit the British people. There were four decades in which the many alleged benefits could have taken hold and transformed public attitudes. But it did not happen. The EU was like a shrub placed in the wrong soil – no amount of fertiliser or watering could make it flower in the eyes of most British people.

The very best thing you Remain ultras could do now would be to respect the result, even if you will never agree with it. You could even help the Government make good on its ambition of building a close and special friendship with the EU. All other roads lead to social and political dislocation of a much higher order than even your fevered imaginings of what Brexit badly done could result in.

Far better to follow the example of open-minded former Remain campaigners such as Caroline Flint – who is seeking the best way ahead for her views within the new paradigm – than go along with the utterly inflexible Brexit denial of Messrs Blair and Campbell.

As Dick Tuck, the defeated candidate in a 1966 race for the Californian State Senate, famously put it: “The people have spoken, the bastards.” You do not get to overturn their verdict before it is even implemented.

Photocredit: sgoldswo