If the leavers or the alt-right had lost the vote, they would be howling. The remain camp and the Democrats must learn a tactical lesson sheer ruthlessness
Join me in a little thought experiment. Imagine, if you would, that the Brexit referendum had gone the other way, 48% voting to leave and 52% to remain. What do you think Nigel Farage would have said? Would he have nodded ruefully and declared: The British people have spoken and this issue is now settled. Our side lost and we have to get over it. Its time to move on.
Or would he have said: Weve given the establishment the fright of their lives! Despite everything they threw at us, they could only win by the skin of their teeth. Its clear now that British support for the European project is dead: nearly half the people of this country want rid of it. Our fight goes on.
I know which Id bet on. Next, imagine what would have happened if, as a result of that narrow win for remain, a gaping hole in the public finances had opened up as the economy reeled, and even leading remainers admitted the machinery of state could barely cope. Farage and the rest would have denounced the chaos, boasting that this proved they had been right all along, that the voters had been misled and therefore must be given another say.
As we all know, reality did not workout this way. Next week the chancellor will deliver an autumn statement anchored in the admission that, as the Financial Times put it, the UK faces a 100bn bill for Brexit within five years. Thanks to the 23 June vote, the forecast is for slower growth and lower-than-expected investment.
Meanwhile, the government will reportedly have to hire an extra 30,000 civil servants to implement Brexit thats 6,000 more than the total staff employed by the European Union. In other words, in order to escape a vast, hulking bureaucracy were going to have to build a vast, hulking bureaucracy. (But these bureaucrats will speak English and have blue, hard-cover passports, so itll be OK.) Even the leavers dont deny the scale of the undertaking they have dumped in our collective lap. Dominic Cummings, the zealot who masterminded the Vote Leave campaign, this week tweeted a description of Brexit as hardest job since beating Nazis. Sadly, there was no room for that pithy phrase on Vote Leave posters back in the spring.
And yet you do not hear remainers howling as the leavers would if the roles were reversed that this is an outrage so appalling it surely voids thereferendum result. We never votedfor this, theyd be bellowing, through the megaphone provided to them by most of the national papers, as they read that Brussels is likely to demand Britain cough up 60bn (51bn) in alimony following our divorce.
Instead, the 48% exchange ironic, world-weary tweets, the electronic equivalent of a sigh, each time they readof some new hypocrisy or deception by the forces of leave. Thesingle market is a perfect example. As afew, admirable voices have been noting, during the campaign the loudest Brexiteers were at pains to stressthat leaving the EU did not mean leaving the single market. Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market, said Daniel Hannan. Only a madman wouldactually leave the market, saidOwen Patterson. In the spring, Farage constantly urged us to be like Norway which in fact pays through the nose andaccepts free movement of people in order to remain in the single market. Yet now we are told that the vote to leave the EU was a clear mandateto leave the single market, andweve gottoget on with it.
The correct response to this should be fury, along with a stubborn commitment to use every democratic tool at our disposal to stop it happening. We know thats what the other side would do, if the boot were on the other foot. But just look at the state of the official opposition. Labours Keir Starmer is struggling valiantly to opposethe government on Brexit without appearing to defy the will of the people. Hes arguing for a bespoke arrangement, one that would give Britain full, tariff-free access to the single market, as well as highlighting therisks of leaving the customs union and, above all making the case that saving the economy matters more than reducing immigration. (Theresa May clearly thinks its the other way around.)