There is nothing like a room full of smug, left-of-centre Guardian-reading remainers to make you wish Theresa May gets her awful deal through parliament next week so that we can all move on at last.
Since I too am a smug, left-of-centre, Guardian-reading remainer, I had bought a ticket for an event put on by The Guardian last night, featuring a panel of the newspaper’s most knowledgeable and opinionated journalists who were there to discuss Brexit: what happens next? The event was sold out and The Guardian’s grand auditorium was bursting with aggrieved remainers still holding out hope that Brexit can be stopped.
If you’ve read my blog before you know how devastated I was when Britain voted to leave the European Union. A Swedish citizen, I’ve lived in London for almost twenty years, and my husband and children are British. The more than two years that have passed since the referendum delivered a narrow win for Brexit have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me, and despite the fact that I’ve set down roots in Britain, pay my taxes and generally do my best to behave like a respectable human being, I now must apply for permission to continue living here.
So, you’d think I’d be one of those still hoping that Brexit never comes to pass. Yet last night, as I listened to one panellist after another calling out the self-deception amongst unicorn-chasing Brexiteers, I was struck by just how much self-deception there is amongst remainers as well. Listening to them discussing ways in which Brexit might be stopped, I couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for the millions of British citizens who voted to leave the EU. Did their vote count for nothing?
Apparently not, because, remainers argue, they were duped by the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, aided by the unscrupulous and possibly criminal Arron Banks and Cambridge Analytica. A second referendum would surely compel a sufficient amount of those who voted leave to now cast their vote to remain in the EU, thus overturning the first referendum result.
As an EU citizen, I have no say in what happens next, since I don’t have voting rights in the UK (except for in local elections), but I seriously doubt that a second referendum would produce such a wishful result as the remainers dream of. Instead, I fear a second referendum would only deepen the divisions in Britain and whatever the outcome of the referendum, it would still not put Brexit to bed.
Even though I always thought (and still do) that Britain’s interests were better served by staying in the European Union and deplore the government’s insistence on ending freedom of movement, I have come to believe that of all the bad options facing Britain now, the least bad one is for parliament to pass the prime minister’s deal next week, and for Britain to exit the European Union in a semi-orderly fashion come 29 March.
Why? Because it is time for remainers and leavers alike to finally face up to a reality that is of their own making (and not the fault of immigrants or the European Union) and to deal with the consequences. It ought to be obvious by now that there is no optimal way forward; the damage is done and can’t be undone, not even by a second referendum.
Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yet poverty and homelessness is on the rise, thanks to years of austerity measures imposed by a government made up of mostly well-to-do people; affordable housing is in short supply; state-sponsored discrimination against people with disabilities is depriving thousands of vulnerable people of a dignified way of life; and in some areas, London included, pollution is so bad it’s putting people’s health at risk. Yet as long as the Brexit debacle remains unresolved, none of these hugely important issues will be properly addressed. It’s time for the government and parliament to refocus their priorities to begin to mend that which is broken in British society.
There is still some hope that the next government will be willing and able not only to build a fairer and more just Britain but also to forge a close, friendly and cooperative relationship with the European Union. That, I’m afraid, is the only way forward, because there is no cake to be had.