If you’re a Leaver of the Leninist type, a la Rees-Mogg, the parameters are clear. Everything comes down to next Tuesday: if the “meaningful vote” amendment passes, things look hairy. We’re in for a soft Brexit, almost certainly. At least, for now – they can always point to the fact that another prime minister can pull us farther away from Europe later. That’s a worst case scenario though. If the “meaningful vote” amendment is shot down, they are very close to a victory. It takes the ability to soften Brexit out of parliament’s hands completely. That means that when May presents her soft Brexit to parliament, the ERG bunch can vote against it with the knowledge that if most of Labour do the same thing, it will be hard Brexit here we come. Or a total re-alignment of the entire political system akin to a revolution in a few weeks, but you pay your money and you place your bets.
What I didn’t get, until I thought about it a little, is where the more, shall we say, centrist, practical Leaver is now coming from. What do they expect Brexit to be like? I know the Boris leak has been done to death, but it’s worth quoting this bit here for context:
“You’ve got to face the fact there may now be a meltdown. OK? I don’t want anybody to panic during the meltdown. No panic. Pro bono publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.”
What Johnson is talking about is the immediate fall out from a hard Brexit. The “meltdown” is any combination of flights grounded, ports backed up, empty supermarket shelves, possible civil unrest. This isn’t Project Fear any longer, this is what the government itself – what the Foreign Secretary himself – expects to happen in the event of no deal.
Now, I wasn’t thinking, “why don’t Leavers become Remainers?”, but I guess what I was querying was why the anger from Leavers isn’t more acute at the moment. Maybe it’s because not many people are really paying attention at the moment, but it still struck me as a little strange. Why aren’t people more upset about the 350 million a week for the NHS? I accept that it wasn’t the main reason almost anyone voted to Leave, but I still thought it didn’t add up. Until I considered why this group probably voted for Brexit in the first place and then it started to make sense.
It wasn’t about immigration – I mean, it was a little, but it wasn’t really the reason. It wasn’t about sovereignty, and it certain wasn’t about being able to strike trade deals independently. No, it was mostly just a huge middle finger to the establishment on behalf of the large portion of England (and it really was England) that felt it wasn’t being listened or taken seriously. This is why Remainers are finding it so hard to shift people around to seeing Brexit as a mistake, even though it is unfolding as a disaster in front of our eyes: they voted to Leave because they felt they were being treated like idiots, and so telling them they were idiots for voting to Leave is doing nothing to make them regret their choice. In fact, it is hardening it. If Remainers really do want to avoid hard Brexit, they should think about this a little more.