Nick Cohen

The betrayal of the Brexit bunch

The betrayal of the Brexit bunch
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It is now standard on the right to say that the establishment is sabotaging Brexit. I could pick one of half a dozen writers for this magazine, who wallow in the language of victimhood as luxuriantly as any of the alleged snowflakes they so unselfconsciously denounce. The inevitable failure to transfer the impossible demands of the Brexit campaign into the politics of the possible is producing vicious stab-in-the-back myths. Nowhere more so than from the lips of the Conservative MP Maria Caulfield who declared yesterday:

Coming from a non political background I naively thought being a MP was about making a difference to people’s lives. Today I saw the reality. Not sure there is even democracy in this country anymore. The powerful elite seem to know best and openly mock the rest of us.

— Maria Caulfield MP (@mariacaulfield) December 4, 2018

Note how artfully she plays the innocent who came to Westminster with high ideals, like a modern Candide, only to see them crushed by the machinations of the ruling class. This is the authentic language of counter revolution. For if democracy is mocked and subverted by the machinations of sinister figures – and the most sinister among them, Arron Banks’ Leave.EU immediately suggested with a nod to Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America, was the Jewish financier George Soros – any measures are justified to seize back the power the elite has wrested from its rightful owners.  

Is it worth pointing out that Britain does not have a ‘powerful elite’? I know everyone wants to pretend it does, and no one ever admits to being a member of it, but you need only ask what a ruling class worthy of the name would do about Brexit, to see it does not exist. A true elite would not take the risk of a second referendum. It would stop Brexit, now, and take the political consequences on the chin. (‘You always want to play the victim and feel put upon,’ it might say to leave supporters. ‘So let’s give you something to really moan about’.)

It would use the advice of the EU’s advocate general that Britain can even now retain its rebate and exemptions from the Schengen agreement and euro, and stay in the EU as if nothing had happened. It would argue that Brexit, in whatever form it transpires, is a clear and present danger to the British economy, and our alliances, national security and standing in the world. There is more than enough evidence that the referendum was illegitimate, it would continue. If the Brexit referendum had been a Parliamentary election, the courts would have intervened long ago.

The Electoral Commission has fined Banks and Farage’s Leave.EU for ‘multiple breaches of electoral law’. It has referred the official campaign backed by Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and many other supposedly respectable Tories to the police, and fined their Vote Leave for being guilty of ‘breaches of the laws put in place by Parliament to ensure fairness and transparency at elections and referendums.’ Beyond the fines, meanwhile, are questions about the alleged repeated meetings between Arron Banks and officials at the Russian Embassy, which I for one would like our idle security services to show an interest in; and the role of Facebook as a subverter of fair elections. Parliament did not give British citizens the power to petition an electoral court to declare the referendum void because it decided it was merely an ‘advisory’ vote. (Really? Can we just ignore it, then? Oh, I see.) Therefore, our powerful ruling class, our terrifying elite, would conclude it must act where the courts could not.

Nothing of the sort is likely to happen. Which only goes to show that Britain does not have a ‘powerful elite’. Instead we have a fractured and increasingly mendacious government and official opposition, which are both committed to taking Britain out of the European Union, and which are both wholly unable to offer protections to jobs and living standards while ‘taking back control’. To show the depth of the mess, consider that, if I or any other remainer had said in 2016 that two years down the line from the referendum the Cabinet would be drawing up plans to ration space on ferries carrying vital supplies to Britain, as ministers prepared for a no-deal Brexit that could leave supermarket aisles devoid of food, we would have been denounced as alarmists working for ‘Project Fear’.

Incidentally, we could have had a hard Brexit political elite. In 2016, many assumed we would get one. All Boris Johnson, David Davis, Dominic Raab and Steve Baker would have needed was a coherent and workable plan for Britain’s future. That they did not and cannot deliver one tells you all you need to know about their frivolity. In the Commons yesterday Sir Roger Gale encapsulated an entire irresponsible and self-pitying culture perfectly when he said to Johnson that he seems to 'prefer the grievance to the solution’.

Scenes. @BorisJohnson being heckled by his own side and then Sir Roger Gale has enough of his ranging speech - “prefer grievance to a solution. The PM has a solution. What’s his big idea?

BJ: I’m coming to that”

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) December 4, 2018

Let that stand as the epitaph for the entire Brexit movement. They had grievances, including justifiable grievances. But when they were first asked for a solution in the 2016 referendum campaign they misled the public and shouted that we could have our cake and eat it. Then in government they shouted at foreigners, believing that all they needed to do was bellow and the EU would tear up its rule book to make a special case for Britain. Now they have resigned, as politicians who do not want to take responsibility always do, they shout of betrayal and of a stab-in-the-back by a mocking all-powerful elite, and prove in the process that shouting, not governing, is all they are good for.

I could mock myself. But I have always feared where the right’s rhetoric will take it. Brexit was always going to produce a stab-in-the-back myth because no one could make the impossible possible. The real world was always going to betray the Brexit right, as it had betrayed the communist left. As anyone who knows the histories of Germany and Russia will realise, dishonest politicians never accept the ruin of their fantasies. Anything is better than admitting their errors. They talk instead of the people betrayed and march their followers, and their country, towards a dark future.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

Topics in this articlePoliticsbrexituk politics