Two beliefs obsess the Remain cause. First, that voters were lied to during the referendum campaign. (Questionable). Second, that the negotiations are being botched. (Indisputable). But while Remainers believe that their opponents are fibbers, they can’t see that they too are being misled. At the People’s Vote rally last Saturday, I found general acceptance of these four myths.
1. Brexit is a ‘far-right’ policy.
2. Europe will be closed to Britons after we leave.
3. The EU is run by saints who negotiate in good faith.
4. A second vote will heal the divisions caused by Brexit.
The rally was vast and good-tempered. Many demonstrators had come to be photographed rather than to protest. An Elvis-impersonator rode a yellow tricycle with a registration plate, ‘EUELVIS.’ A bald gent of about 50 who looked like a maths professor held up a home-made sign. ‘Terrible decision. Appallingly executed. I demand a final say.’ I could hear his querulous headmasterly tone as he inked the words onto his placard.
I asked several protestors what question should be posed in the second referendum. Many said they didn’t know. Some had difficulty understanding what I was asking. One chap proposed a three-part question. ‘No deal. May’s deal. Or Remain.’ A deaf old boy with a sign that read ‘RIP Brexit’ gave me the pithiest answer. ‘Now you’ve had time to think about it – Leave or Remain?’ No one I met was bothered about democratic legitimacy. A re-run would mean ‘more democracy’, I was told. The Remain side is a magnet for all kinds of fretful types with unspecified fears. A pensioner held up a placard foretelling war after Brexit. ‘War against whom?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ she shrugged. ‘They’re always having wars.’
Many of these fears arise from ignorance. A female protestor paraded an EU passport with the words ‘citizen of nowhere’ scrawled across it, as if to suggest that Brexit will render everyone in Europe stateless. I asked her to develop her argument. ‘Fucking stupid Cameron didn’t get the zeitgeist,’ she said, ‘shot himself in the foot with a boobytrap of his own making.’ Admiring her mixed metaphors I asked her what she did for a living. ‘Criminal defence barrister.’
Most believe, or claim to believe, that all cross-channel travel will end in March 2019, and that Britain will become a prison-camp like North Korea. An angry mother had this scribbled on her placard: ‘I travelled freely in the EU. I want my daughters to do the same.’ She seemed unaware that 39 countries already enjoy visa-free access to the EU, and that Britain is almost certain to join this group – unless Brussels wants to wreck the tourist industries of France, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Malta, and elsewhere. Remainers also fear, again without warrant, that the government seeks to cripple the NHS by deporting millions of immigrants on Brexit Day. Few of them seem to have heard Theresa May’s repeated promises that EU citizens’ rights will be protected. Perhaps they run screaming from the room whenever she appears on TV.
The rally’s focus was Parliament Square where various celebs were introduced by Mariella Frostrup and Richard Bacon. They hosted the gig like a pair of washed-up comics entertaining a geriatric ward on Christmas Day as a favour: lots of giggling and flirting, no preparation. Richard told us that Britain’s future was linked to his bout of pneumonia last July. ‘The NHS saved me – now it’s time to save the NHS’. In other words, cancel Brexit in case my cough gets worse. Mariella cracked jokes. ‘The bus from Inverness has just arrived. It left on the day of the referendum.’ She tittered again as she introduced the follow-up campaign, ‘Write This Wrong’, which urges Remainers to send a letter to their MP. Those unfamiliar with the word ‘letter’ were helped out by the hosts who paraded a dummy postcard and an inflatable Biro the size of a baseball bat.
Several activists followed. Delia Smith, a millionaire cook in a green and yellow scarf, made us feel guilty for disrupting her busy Saturday. ‘I wouldn’t miss a Norwich City match for anything but I just had to be here.’ Phil Wilson, Sedgefield MP, filled Parliament Square with his rich Geordie accent. ‘The north-east will suffer most,’ he shuddered, like a mopey bumpkin in a Monty Python sketch. Anna Soubry made an angry speech accusing MPs – not herself, of course – of failing the electorate. When Sadiq Khan was introduced, and began ‘I am! The mayor of London!’ rather weirdly. He proceeded to blame Brexit on elected politicians, (other than himself). The ever-suave Chuka Umunna accused Brexiteers of ‘trying to divide the nation’. It had slipped his mind that the EU sought to partition us with a frontier down the Irish Sea. ‘Investment is stalling,’ he went on, holding Britain’s negotiators solely responsible for every snag. Like all head-in-the-clouds Remainers he refuses to see the truth. The EU needs a botched Brexit in order to discourage future escape attempts. Chukka couldn’t leave the stage without challenging the notion, yet again, that the Remain cause is a gentlemen’s club for pampered yuppies. ‘They call me a member of the liberal metropolitan elite,’ said the privately-educated lawyer in his charming Prince William accent. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth’.
A young Ulsterwoman foresaw bloodshed. ‘One border post, one police officer’, she warned, ‘would be the perfect target for paramilitaries wanting to re-ignite violence.’ Mrs May has repeatedly ruled out a visible border in Ireland and Leo Varadkar told his parliament that there would be no hard border, even in the event of no-deal. So this young woman’s speech was bizarrely ill-informed. And her belief that any divergence from her policy will lead to a renewal of bloodshed sounds like an encouragement to wannabe terrorists. This was the most chilling statement of the afternoon.
But then Caroline Lucas stood up. ‘Democracy didn’t die on June 23, 2016,’ she said. And she’s right. Democracy triumphed on that day. But her statement is prompted by the view that any democratic decision rejected by her is ‘democracy dying.’ That’s not democracy, it’s despotism.