My column calling Brexit campaigners ‘hooligans’ and ending ‘Reader, I voted Remain’, caused quite a stir — coinciding as it did with The Spectator’s eloquent call for Leave. ‘Pathetic,’ spat a famous columnist encountered in the street. ‘Your words and Farage’s poster resonated so much that I (reluctantly) voted Remain,’ emailed a broadcaster who had previously given me a talking-to on the virtues of freedom. ‘I quite like being a hooligan,’ declared a Leaver on Facebook, alongside a selfie with the Boris-bus emblazoned ‘We send the EU £50 million a day.’
‘Did someone else write your last paragraph?’ growled a veteran politico a day before the poll. ‘We thought you were one of us.’ He had just described the great post-Brexit flowering of national energy he foresaw, but went on to say something un-expected: ‘I’ve bought 51 Remain 49 Leave in a sweepstake. I always buy the result I actually want.’ Like many others he turned out to be a protest voter, betting on an outcome that would put his cause in the ascendant without the pain of real separation.
Now his ilk has been swept to victory by an inchoate coalition of anti-immigrant, anti-Brussels and anti-politician resentment. And we’re clinging to the life raft of cliché: we are where we are and there’s a tough road ahead but stock markets exaggerate, ratings agencies are often wrong, a weak pound will boost exports, the world is our oyster, and at least we’re no longer shackled to the rotten sinking hulk of Europe — though of course we love our European neighbours and wish them all the best.
And let’s not forget, as the reader who liked being a hooligan told me before the vote: ‘To remain would be a much bigger leap into the dark.’