It’s a strange beast, the internet. On Monday night, I was slightly reluctantly dragged onto Newsnight to discuss Brexit. Attentive readers will know that I very rarely write or speak about the subject. There are many reasons for this, one of which is that I said most of what I had to say three years ago when I cast a vote in a referendum.
Another reason – I must admit – is that I have wanted little to no part in the bile-fest of the last three years. I would like us still to have a country after this, and there seems very little chance of that if both halves of it continue to spit at each other.
In any case, on Monday I was asked on to discuss the ‘deeper issues’ underlying Brexit, but found myself in a studio with Matthew Parris in a discussion about ‘no deal’.
I mention the internet because one of the write-ups of the resulting headlines about the interview read ‘Brexiteer brilliantly savages Remainers on BBC Newsnight’, and I would like to record that I think that’s wrong on most counts.
Firstly, because although I voted Brexit I am not especially a Brexiteer. At any rate it isn’t what I put as my job description.
Secondly, I don’t think anything I said was especially brilliant.
And thirdly, I don’t think I particularly ‘savaged’ anyone. Certainly I have savaged some people in my life, and have occasionally been savaged in return. So I know what I’m talking about in the savaging stakes. My Monday evening exchange with Matthew Parris and Emily Maitlis was not such an occasion, and I think viewers might be disappointed if they clicked on something that we used to call a discussion in the expectation of a full-on, blood-drenched mauling.
Yet the exchange did highlight one of the reasons why I chip into all of this discussion so rarely. Unlike many others in the media class I do not wish to hold myself up as an expert on the intricacies of a no-deal Brexit. Maybe it will be easy. Maybe it will be difficult. I don’t know, and suspect that very few other people do either. One thing I do know is – as an Australian politician once expressed it to me – there is nothing so difficult that it cannot be presented as simple if politicians want to do it. And the reverse is also the case.
The BBC and others now present a no-deal Brexit as the most impossible, unimaginable, unachievable idea so far. And I am afraid that they do not persuade me. Mainly because all the talk of these difficulties comes from the same people who wanted the public to vote Remain in 2016, who wanted Gina Miller’s endless legal challenges to Brexit to succeed, who wanted Parliament to box in the government’s negotiating position with Brussels, who are generally left-wing but think Kate Hoey is beyond-the-pale, who tend to dislike Tories but regard Dominic Grieve as a towering figure of great principle.
The point is that it all comes from the people and places that didn’t want Britain to leave the EU and haven’t changed their minds. Which is a perfectly respectable position to hold. I simply dislike the pretence that this endlessly repackaged viewpoint is about anything else than cheating the country into remaining.
One of the only points I made on Monday was that while some Brexits may be better than others, there isn’t one form of Brexit that could be worse than no Brexit.
On questions surrounding which particular type of Brexit we should have I am fairly agnostic, and certainly no kind of ‘purist’ as Emily Maitlis strangely tried to suggest. I am simply of the opinion that we need to leave the EU, as the public asked, and can foresee no economic or social situation so dire that it is worse than the societal repercussions that would follow from overriding the public vote.
As I said to Matthew Parris, neither he nor I would much like a Jeremy Corbyn government. If the public voted for such a thing I would not alter my opinion of Jeremy Corbyn. But nor would I spend the ensuing years inventing ways to pretend that the election hadn’t happened, or had been manipulated by sinister forces or pretend that it wasn’t possible to work out what the public had meant when they had voted for Jeremy Corbyn.
I simply think we need to leave. And do what the public asked. Which isn’t an especially original point, and certainly not an especially brilliant or savage one. But gosh the push-back you still get on the media for just saying it.