I’ll know we’ve turned a corner at long last in this confusing political era we are unfortunately experiencing when political pundits of all stripes stop buying into the magic Brexit myth. By this I mean the idea that all it will take is one move, whatever that might be, and then Brexit will be “resolved” as an issue and the country will handily move on.
The most widespread example of this thinking at the moment centres on Boris Johnson. Either Johnson will push ahead with a no deal Brexit and this will mean that at least we’ve left. Nigel Farage will be put back in his box and Remainers will just have to accept the results as it’s all done and dusted. Except, if we left with no deal, neither of those two things would happen. Farage and the Brexit Party would be emboldened by a no deal Brexit, not vanquished. Someone would have to be on hand to explain why the reason no deal has been terrible is not because Brexit itself is a bad idea (heaven forfend), but that the Tories, specifically May and Johnson, screwed it up terribly. Remainers would also be strengthened, having had a lot of their predictions finally come true now that we’ve not only left the EU, but done so in the worst imaginable manner. The Remain-Leave split in our politics would widen, not narrow.
Or Johnson manages to get some version of May’s deal through parliament, as one Tory MP described it to me, “Mrs May’s deal on different coloured paper”. I don’t think this would happen, but even if it did it isn’t the end of Brexit but the mere beginning. If parliament votes for a deal somewhat like May’s, we enter a transition that is definitely two years long but will probably be a lot longer, one in which everything stays exactly as it would if Britain was still a member except that the country gets no say in anything whatsoever. During this time, the whole of what actually happens when the UK leaves for real still has to be worked out from square one. Do Leavers really think that Remainers would just collectively say, “Well, we gave it our best shot but now that we’ve left the EU, in theory at least given the EU has said we can just rejoin on the same terms as long as the transition period is still active meaning it’s all still to fight for, we might as well find some other political passion project”?
Likewise the idea that we can have a referendum, Remain wins, and then the Eurosceptics realise the game is up and retreat is equally fanciful. Guys, this is the political war for the next decade at least. I wish it wasn’t so as much as the rest of you, but if you think this is going away any time soon for any reason, you just aren’t paying enough attention. Johnson is probably the only person who could end it all by coming out for Remain and dragging as many Brexiteers in love with him over in one go. Might not work, but it is the only thing that has any chance. Otherwise, expect to be seeing Nigel Farage on television talking bollocks for a very long time yet. I don’t think this ends until political realignment on an epic scale settles the matter.