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The Spectator's Notes

We now need Vote Leave more than ever

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: Osborne’s position; the rhythm of crises; FT anguish; Ireland and Brexit

2 July 2016

9:00 AM

2 July 2016

9:00 AM

It sounds logical that Vote Leave should now disband, since the people have obligingly voted Leave, but is it wise? Who else can try to ensure that the Leave cause is not forgotten in internal Tory struggles, or in a war between Ukip and the rest? If it is right — which I think it is — that the Leave vote is the biggest shock ever administered to the main parties and the ruling elites since the collapse of the Munich agreement, then it follows that those parties and those elites will try to reverse or at least neuter the decision. There needs to be an organised resistance to them, run by people who know what they are talking about. I know that Dominic Cummings is longing to return to the wife and new-born baby whom he has hardly seen for eight weeks, but I fear that duty calls.

An example of the problem is the extraordinary situation of George Osborne. Mr Osborne says he can stay in the government in some capacity (‘a decision for the next prime minister’). Monday’s Financial Times reported ‘Friends say a move to the Foreign Office would be the only other job that would appeal.’ No doubt they are right, but have Mr Osborne and his friends not noticed that what ‘appeals’ to him has nothing whatever to do with what the country needs? Unlike David Cameron, who said immediately and firmly that he will go, the Chancellor does not seem to understand that he has got it all wrong. His sense of entitlement is completely unfounded. Until Monday, I shared the general view that he had to stay on as Chancellor for the time being in order to calm the markets, but I am now beginning to wonder. In both his public statement on Monday and his interview on the Today programme on Tuesday, Mr Osborne did not confine himself to sober Treasury matters, but made political statements. He declared, among other things, that he wanted to ‘reject intolerance and hatred against migrant communities’ — a clear, false and insulting suggestion that the Leave campaign has encouraged such hatred. Worse, he has put himself in the position by which, having told us such appalling things would happen if we voted Leave, he feels he must prove himself right. ‘Absolutely’ there will be spending cuts or tax rises, he told Nick Robinson, though he will not himself introduce them. The repair job now required would surely be much better done by Michael Gove or Andrea Leadsom than by someone so invested in disaster. Mr Osborne agreed that something must have gone awry with the Remain campaign — since it lost — but at no point would he admit any personal or tactical error. He did not speak in French, but he was in effect repeating Norman Lamont’s ‘Je ne regrette rien’ (after falling out of the ERM in 1992). He should suffer the same fate.

It is so weird how some politicians do not understand the rhythm of such crises. Mr Osborne, who has done much for his country, could easily (he is young) return in later years, but only if he quickly and clearly admits that he has messed it up, and then goes. Instead of staying in office to tell us how we must all have a punishment Budget, he must inflict overdue punishment on himself alone, and resign.


The letters page of the FT has been a wonderful expression of anguish in recent days. Rejecting an editorial that ‘the will of the sovereign people should be respected’, one Martin Roetter exclaims, ‘No, this exit must be challenged by any and all conceivable means.’ John Lock, from London E7, wrote to gloat that Cornish people ‘voted to be poorer’, while at the same time attacking the old for their ‘cupidity’ in supporting Leave. And Sadiq Khan and Anne Hidalgo, mayors of London and Paris, declared a sort of sotto voce UDI, ‘Together we can act as a counterweight to the lethargy of nation states.’ Surely, whatever you think of last week’s result, it was not a symptom of lethargy.

I have just returned from trying to buy a new horse in Ireland. It was a great relief, after so much politics, to find myself beneath the Galtee mountains, to climb on to a hunter that had been ‘wild as a goat when he came off the hills’ and hear my equine quest described as a search for ‘a big fellow for fly country’. I think I may have found just such a one but I mustn’t let on, obviously, until the bargaining is over. I remember the description in Somerville & Ross of the poor sap Bernard so eager for ‘a nailer to gallop’ that he accepts the price without question. ‘I saw a spasm of anguish cross the countenance of McCarthy [the horse coper], easily interpreted as the first pang of a lifelong regret that he had not asked twice the money.’

Irish attitudes to Brexit are complicated. On the one hand, few countries are prouder to think of themselves as European. On the other, there is a realistic awareness of the overwhelming importance of the British-Irish economic relationship. Maybe, the thought seems to run, Ireland could now screw concessions out of a frightened Brussels. Why not get rid of the euro and let Ireland rejoin sterling, I have heard and read over there. And why not, one front-page headline proclaimed, leave the EU unless Ireland is allowed to retain its 12.5 per cent rate of corporation tax? I am glad to find this ‘transactional’ spirit. It would be a fine thing, in the same spirit, if the islands of Britain and Ireland were to band together as the European hub of a revived, low-tax Anglosphere.

At the great Vote Leave victory party on Tuesday, I heard about the behaviour of Populus, Lord Cooper’s pollsters, who were working for Remain. On the night of the vote, they texted the Leave campaign to say that the figures were even more in favour of Remain — 60 per cent — than those they had published. ‘You’re toast,’ they told Leave. But it is the integrity of opinion polling that is now up in smoke.


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