Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

The Brexit betrayal bandwagon is growing

It may not be this week. It may not be Boris Johnson. But eventually a minister will break with this tottering government and establish himself (or herself, for it could be Andrea Leadsom) as the leader of the diehard right. Brexit is crying out for its Ludendorff; the scoundrel who can blame his failures on everyone but himself. The smart move for today’s right wing politicians who find their careers blocked is to break with the Tory leadership – whatever or whoever that may consist of – and resort to old  slogans.

The referendum delivered a mandate to leave, Johnson, or whoever takes up the challenge of building a new nationalist right, could say. The failure of Brexit to deliver the bright confident morning the Brexiteers promised the British is not the fault of the leave campaigners. For how could it be? How could so many politicians, influence peddlers and journalists be wrong? No. The ‘elite’ has stabbed the people in the back.

I believe we are on the brink of seeing all the old warnings about the dangers of referendums being vindicated. Clement Attlee dismissed plebiscites as a device for dictators and demagogues precisely because they allowed complicated issues to be simplified to a binary choice. All referendums do that. Last year’s Brexit vote represented the reduction to absurdity in its clearest form, however.

Vote Leave dissolved as soon as the contest was won. The referendum thus dispensed with the most basic democratic requirements. The winners were not accountable for the promises they made. In their history of the campaign, Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith quote the Leave campaigner Gisela Stuart saying that she thought the referendum was an ‘abuse of democracy’ because no one who campaigned to leave was accountable for what happened next.

It seems a little rich of Ms Stuart to wring her hands now the rest of us must live with the consequences of the Brexit she fought for.

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