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Britain’s Brexit split is finally out in the open

28 May 2019

1:23 PM

28 May 2019

1:23 PM

I love everything about the European Parliament election results. As a Brexiteer, of course I love that the Brexit Party came out of nowhere to obliterate the Tories and Labour and induce yet another outbreak of Brexit Derangement Syndrome among the chattering classes.

But I also love the fact that Remain parties did well, too. I’m happy that the Lib Dems, with their sneering, juvenile, anti-democratic slogan of ‘Bollocks to Brexit’, came in second place. And I’m pleased that the Greens, for whom Brexit is a calamity on a par with the climate catastrophe they breathlessly drone on about, also had a good showing.

Why? Because the victory of a proper Brexit party on one side and of the Bollocks to Brexit lobby on the other is a wonderfully clarifying moment. It confirms that the mushy middle ground of seeking a Soft Brexit has fallen away. That the days of compromise are over. That the country is split — as many of us suspected it was — between people who want Brexit and people who want to destroy Brexit. Thanks to these elections, we can now see the truth of political life in 21st-century Britain.

It isn’t often I agree with Jonathan Freedland, but he’s right to say the UK now faces ‘a fight to the finish between a no-deal Brexit and remain’. ‘The battlefield is shifting’, he says, ‘towards a starker, binary clash’.

This is correct. In the Euro elections, a staggering 74 per cent of the vote was split between parties that are defined either by their all-out support for Brexit or their all-out contempt for Brexit.

Parties that promise to deliver Brexit either with a deal or without one — the Brexit Party and Ukip — won 34.9 percent of the vote. And parties that have pretty much devoted themselves to overturning Brexit — the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SNP and the hilariously tragic Change UK party — won 39.4 per cent of the vote.

Meanwhile, those parties that have dithered over Brexit and emphasised the need for compromise and foolishly attempted to bring about Soft, Kind-Of, Not Really Brexit — the Tories and Labour —received an almighty drubbing. They got a paltry 23.2 per cent of the vote between them. From an 80 per cent share of the vote in the 2017 general election to less than 25 per cent last week — that’s extraordinary. 

The electorate’s message is clear: you compromise on Brexit at your peril. The majority of people don’t want pseudo-consensual bargaining over Brexit. They either want Brexit to be enacted in full, with a clean break from all the parts of the Brussels machinery that in some way erode our national sovereignty — primarily the Single Market, the Customs Union and the European Court of Justice.

Or they want Brexit to be stopped, cancelled, thwarted, whether by revoking Article 50 or by having a ‘confirmatory vote’ — a sly, slippery phrase for a second referendum that would offer voters the anti-democratic choice between Remain by Another Name (the withdrawal agreement or something like it) and Remain.

This is the new divide in the UK. Forget left vs right — that 20th-century clash is exhausted. Never mind Labour v Conservatives — only nostalgic Momentum types get excited about the increasingly tiresome, pantomime-like shouting match between Labourites and Tories.

No, the national split now is Leave v Remain. It’s people who value nationhood and people who don’t. It’s democrats vs technocrats. It’s Roundheads v Cavaliers all over again. Only this time without the muskets (thank God). And only this time, the kind of people who would have lined up behind the Roundheads nearly 400 years ago — radicals, rebels, progressives — are bizarrely bowing and scraping at the altar of the Cavalier-style project that is the increasingly centralised, monarchical-like EU.

I don’t know why people get so down about the Leave v Remain divide and the fact that it is splitting Britain asunder, pitting generation against generation, working-class voters against woke middle-class voters, the Labour heartlands against the London-based, anti-white-van-man Labour leadership. Don’t be depressed; it’s good that we can clearly see these divisions; it’s good that they’re finally out in the open.

It is good that British politics has been rescued from the post-ideological, post-passion Third Way swamp that Tony Blair, David Cameron and others pushed it in to, and is now fully reorganised around real, pressing questions of historic import. In particular the question of democracy and whether the laws we are expected to live by should be made by people we elect (MPs) or by people we have no control over (Eurocrats).

So let us embrace this ‘fight to the finish’ between a no-deal Brexit and staying in the EU. It’s the most important political battle in the Western world right now. Forget the old political identities, don’t bore people by telling them you’re a Labour voter or a Tory voter. The question now and for the next few decades is this: are you a Leaver or a Remainer? I’m a Leaver, and I’m ready for battle.

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