Earlier this year I was approached at a party by a prominent and slightly oiled ‘Remainer’. Amid other pleasantries she asked me, interrogatively:
‘You voted “Leave”, Douglas. Can you give me one good reason why we should still leave the EU?’.
Having watched the last two-and-a-half years from the sidelines, depressed by almost the entire political debate in the UK, I could think of no argument that would be new to her. We’ve all been round this too many times before, and almost no one has conceded anything new on the subject for years. So I decided to relay the feeling that was (and still is) foremost in my mind. The feeling which has disturbed me the most. ‘If we don’t leave the EU, or if we somehow get tricked into remaining in everything but name’, I said to my friend, ‘I just don’t think I’ll bother voting again.’
It isn’t the most original observation, but it is sincere. And I don’t say it in the chuntering spirit of malice and fury that has dominated the Brexit debate since the referendum, but only in a spirit of sadness and regret.
There are several reasons for that regret. The first is that the period since the Brexit vote has shaken several fundamental presumptions I had held about this country. For instance, before now I have always been irked by people who talk about ‘the establishment’ in Britain. That lazy term has always seemed to me not only a sort of chippy, let-yourself-off-the-hook, piece of British conspiracy fodder, but a phrase which signals an ignorance of how this country actually works. Britain is not run by a cabal of men in smoke-filled rooms. To the extent that an establishment exists there are several establishments, and all far more complex and morphing than the word suggests.