To judge by their recent outraged remarks, you might think that leading Remainers are an oppressed minority in British society rather than a powerful and privileged elite.
Top figures in UK politics, media, business and culture who oppose Brexit now act as if they are being denied their freedom of speech and democratic rights. They seem to imagine themselves locked in some sort of virtual detention camp, despite being ensconced in City boardrooms, the Palace of Westminster, the ivory towers of academia and the nation’s TV studios and newsrooms.
The constant complaint is that Remainers are being ‘silenced’ – the irony being that they enjoy a permanent media platform to shout about being ‘shouted down’.
We hear it from City financier Gina Miller, poster girl of the Remainer crusade, who took the government to the Supreme Court over Brexit. Miller now protests that ‘We’ve somehow ended up in this place where that whole premise of the will of the people has somehow made everyone else impotent. I find it very strange but very worrying because we need people to speak up.’
To that end, she is fronting a new campaign – with the suitably corporate name ‘UK-EU Open Policy Limited’ – backed by Sir Richard Branson and, reports The Times, ‘luminaries from business, the arts and the charity sector’ in order ‘to campaign against Theresa May’s plans for leaving the EU’ and plan for a second referendum ‘should opinion turn against leaving’.
We hear the same refrain across the political spectrum: from ‘rebel’ Tory MPs such as Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry, who declares that it is ‘crucial’ that ‘the voices and concerns’ of the pro-EU lobby ‘are not shouted down and silenced’; from former New Labour premier Tony Blair calling on people to ‘rise up’ against Brexit and not be silenced; from Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron demanding that Remainers ‘must not sit in silence’ but must start ‘shouting from the rooftops’; and from radical Remain lobbyists like Left Foot Forward declaring that ‘Remainers should fight on against Brexit – don’t be silenced by the populist right’.
The protest against being ‘silenced’ now forms the focus of much rearguard Remainer campaigning. Last month’s pro-EU demonstration outside parliament was renamed the ‘Make Your Voice Heard March’. One particularly bonkers campaign video doing the social-media rounds, entitled ‘Stop the Silence’, claims that the ’29million’ Brits who ‘did not vote for brutal Brexit’ are being gagged (represented by familiar images of people with a cross of tape sealing their mouths), and declares that ‘The people are speaking – is parliament listening?’.
The notion of Remainers being a silenced minority even seems to have taken hold of the normally sharp mind of novelist Howard Jacobson. Interviewed on the BBC’s Newsnight, Jacobson complained about being sidelined as ‘a Remoaner, that bitterness, that “get over it” stuff. As though you were obliged to get over it and you cannot deny the will of the people. Well that’s not true, you can deny the will of the people. Indeed if you believe the will of the people has taken you into a disastrous situation, it’s your positive duty to say so.’
It might seem bizarre to hear the Remainer elite protesting about being ‘silenced’. After all, Gina Miller is never off the front pages, the likes of Blair and (media mogul) Branson have an open invitation to the airwaves, and nobody can shut up Remainer MPs such as Soubry, Clarke and Farron from boring for the EU. The undoubted anti-Brexit bias displayed by the dominant BBC and the rest of the liberal media during the referendum campaign has if anything intensified since; one recent survey of BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme found that, of 366 guests who appeared in the business news, only 60 (16.3 per cent) expressed pro-Brexit opinions or were positive about the post-referendum economic outlook.