Remainers and now Rejoiners often talk about Leavers wanting their sunlit uplands filled with rainbow coloured Brexit unicorns. Often this colourful narrative appears to have its roots in the lack of knowledge demonstrated by Leavers when they discuss the EU and how it works which rarely bears any resemblance to reality.
On other occasions, this narrative stems from a failure by Leavers to appreciate the realities of a world where Britain is no longer a superpower that can get its own way with the use of gunboat diplomacy. For example, in a world where the EU has arguably the largest economy in the world, the EU does not ‘need us more than we need them’ and we do not ‘hold all the cards’ in any particular set of trade negotiations, especially those with the EU.
Whilst Remainers/Rejoiners have a much more realistic concept of the UK’s position in the world post Brexit and indeed are often far more knowledgeable about the EU, this does not necessarily mean that there are no Remain or Rejoin unicorns running around in our version of those same sunlit uplands.
Possibly the best example of this to date has been the idea floating around for most of last year that Starmer was just biding his time and had some sort of cunning Baldrick style plan up his sleeve to get us back into the EU. I lost count of the number of times I heard people say give Starmer a chance, or he has to win round his own people or once he has won the election he will take us back in to the EU.
With hindsight most of the Remain/Rejoin community now recognise just how wrong those hopes were with the reality of the situation really hitting home when he instructed his MP’s to vote in favour of Johnson’s deal over Christmas.
But for many months this was our very own unicorn running happily around our own version of those same sunlit uplands. Consequently, the issue of Labours position on EU membership is only now becoming apparent and for many months we as a movement did nothing to advance our cause within the Labour party. Worse, during that time we also allowed our opponents free reign within the party and we are now faced with the very difficult task of bringing the Labour Party back over to our way of thinking on the issue of EU membership.
Given the difficulty we will face with that task as our opponents now appear to be very well entrenched in positions of power within the Labour party, it is important that we do not make similar mistakes in the future. Sadly, however there are one or two other Remain/Rejoin unicorns running around.
Perhaps the foremost of these is the notion that somehow an alliance of progressive parties will be formed to sweep away all opposition before us, including the current Tory Government. For our movement, this notion is concerning in two ways.
Firstly, it ignores the important issue of the cross-party nature of our movement. 35% of Remain voters in 2016 voted Tory the previous year, and although that figure had fallen dramatically by December 2019, nearly one in five Remainers voted Tory in the December 2019 General Election. Put bluntly, a significant proportion of our own support base does not want to see a progressive alliance.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this notion assumes that Starmer will wish to become involved in a progressive alliance of some sort. Why would he? For Starmer and his advisors to be interested in such a proposition they would need to be of the opinion that the only way they could win an election was as part of such an alliance. Why would they think that?
The Labour party is a major political force in this country with considerable resources, a developed infrastructure and an entrenched political support base. They will think they can win on their own right up until the moment the result of the next General Election is announced.
Similarly, another Remain/Rejoin unicorn is that all we need to do is persuade the Labour Party to embrace PR and change the electoral system and all will be well, as in the General Election after next, pro-European parties will sweep into power.
Again, I would ask the same question. Why would Starmer and the Labour Party change an electoral system that gives them an advantage? Yes, PR may be a fairer way of electing a Government, but there are valid arguments against PR and very strong reasons why both our main parties would wish to keep the current system unchanged.
It may well prove possible to persuade the Labour party that they should commit to changing our electoral system however we need to be realistic. There will be significant opposition. Furthermore, given the cross-party nature of the Remain/Rejoin movement, many of our own supporters will be opposed to any such change meaning we would risk alienating large sections of our own support base by supporting such a change.
Another example of a Remain/Rejoin unicorn is the popular idea within our movement that Leave voters will all of a sudden see sense because of the tremendous damage that Brexit is inflicting upon us.
That Brexit will inflict such damage is beyond doubt, indeed considerable damage has already been done. The issue however is linking that damage to Brexit in the minds of Leavers, particularly against the background of the pandemic. The pandemic will mask much of that damage and make its cause difficult to ascribe. After nearly three months elapsing since the end of the transition period there is no sign of a major shock to the economy that is directly and clearly attributable to Brexit.
Frankly I do not think we will see such a shock, rather, what we will witness is slow inexorable economic decline. That doesn’t mean to say that a shock will not happen, or that it has to be economic. The break-up of the Union via Scottish Independence could cause such a shock and we may shortly find out how likely that is with approaching Sottish elections.
But even if we see Scottish independence, I am far from convinced that will provide the required shock. Rather disparagingly we often refer to Leavers as ‘Little Englanders’. Whilst we should not be so disparaging there is possibly some truth in such remarks. Looking over data from the last census I noticed that the only areas in the UK where a majority of people declared themselves to be British were certain areas of Northern Ireland with the majority of people in England describing themselves as English.
That makes me wonder just how many Leavers really would be concerned about Scottish Independence to the extent that it changed their views on Brexit.
The upshot of all of this is that we must be realistic.
We cannot count on the Labour Party suddenly coming over to our way of thinking on Europe, or riding to our rescue as part of a progressive alliance or by supporting PR. If we want the Labour Party to support EU membership, we must work to change their views inside the party and outside.
Similarly, we cannot count on Leavers changing their views and coming round to our way of thinking because of any adverse effects of Brexit. If we want Leavers to change their views and support EU membership, we must work to change their views by promoting the benefits of EU Membership.
There are no sunlit uplands in our journey back to EU membership, just hard work. Unicorns, rainbow coloured or not, have no place in the Rejoin movement.