Remainers should rebrand and make an honest case for being absorbed into the emerging EU state

Remainers should rebrand and make an honest case for being absorbed into the emerging EU state

The Remain team in the great EU tug-of-war has an increasingly toxic image problem. Astute judges such as the political academic, Matthew Goodwin, have been arguing in recent days that their demeanour and conduct has done nothing to widen the audience for their views, despite all the establishment firepower at their disposal.

On the contrary, they seem now to rely on a small number of unappealing tactics which are already widely discounted by the voting public. The first is to wheel on an economic body or captain of industry to predict doom and gloom. The fact that these predictions have thus far always proven to be wrong has pretty much run that one into the sand.

The second, even less appealing tactic, is to wheel on has-been former political leaders to call for Brexit – the great democratic decision of the British people – to be overturned either via a second referendum or various manoeuvres in Parliament. Last week the dinosaur parade featured Tony Blair, John Major, Peter Mandelson and Michael Heseltine. Other fixtures are Nick Clegg and Ken Clarke, supplemented by more junior figures such as Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan.

As time marches on (we are after all fast approaching the final 12 months of scheduled EU membership) and negotiations between ministers and the Commission continue over the terms of our departure, this tactic looks both increasingly far-fetched and increasingly high-handed. The central proposition of Team Remain continues to be that those establishment promises to the people that it would implement what they decided and that this was a “once in a generation” vote should simply be ripped up on their say so because they know best.

So I would like to offer them a little well-intentioned advice for the good of democracy and civilised political discourse. It is time to rebrand. Forget the “Remainer” tag which is illegitimate and insufferably arrogant and switch to being “Returners” or “Rejoiners”. For there would be nothing at all dishonourable in campaigning for a future referendum on taking the UK back into the EU once the Government has fulfilled the 2016 promise to the people that “we will implement what you decide”.

The overwhelming likelihood for you if you continue on your current track is not merely that you will fail to block Brexit, but also that you will damn yourselves and your political project in the eyes of most non-fanatical voters permanently. If things turn out the way you predict and in a decade or so it looks to the average pragmatist on the top deck of the omnibus as if being inside the EU might after all have something to be said for it, then you will have a far better chance of making progress if you have shown yourselves willing to abide by a democratic decision.

(On the Brexit side we of course know that the EU will be such a basket case by then – and Britain such a success – that there will be no prospect whatever of the British public wanting to go back, but you can discount our views as you generally do).

Rather than attempt to trample on democracy, you should take up the great democratic challenge that was shirked when Edward Heath simply took Britain into the EEC all those years back without bothering to ask for public permission and while pretending that there were no major implications for national sovereignty. You should be honest that the idea of this organisation being principally about trade was untrue and openly make the case for the UK to be absorbed into the emerging European state.

There is no denying that the aftermath of the referendum has produced a growing constituency for this cause. It is not yet anything like a majority of the voting public, but it has certainly taken hold in some segments – among young graduates and students and many middle-aged metropolitan professionals in particular. The impending loss of EU membership has unleashed in these niches a genuine pro-EU patriotism, which can be seen, for example, in the proliferation of Circle of Stars flags hanging out of windows in chi-chi parts of London and being waved in the audience of Last Night of the Proms.

So I say to continuing advocates of EU membership, if you truly believe you have economic determinism and the idealism that yearns for a continent-wide group hug on your side, then go out and make a youthful, optimistic, fearless and above-all democratic case for this version of the future. And for goodness sake do it with new, youthful advocates too rather than wizened old Wizard of Oz characters drawn from the depths of 20th Century establishment machine politics.

Accept that you have lost for now. Accept that there is an unanswerable democratic mandate to leave the EU. Stop obstructing it. Instead set about trying to change public opinion through honest argument over the long haul. By all means make it your prime motivating cause for the next generation of politics. It may seem unlikely that you could ever triumph by beginning your journey from where the electorate has directed you: back at square one. But they used to say that about us.