The post-referendum debate might appear to have solidified into a battle between the parliamentary advocates of ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ Brexit. But this is largely another phoney war over Europe. In reality, neither side represents the democratic Brexit for which 17.4million people voted four months ago.
Soft Brexit sounds increasingly like a code for no real Brexit at all. It is the Remainers’ attempt effectively to re-run the referendum, and get a different result, preferably without actually having to ask the electorate.
Ours is an age in which everyone in politics feels obliged to pay lip service to the principle of democracy. So they will say yes, of course, the referendum result must be respected. But, the Remainers insist, nobody was asked to vote specifically for Hard Brexit, and leaving the Single Market, so that must not happen, no matter how many concessions Britain has to make to prevent it.
They want to ‘respect’ the referendum result in principle by reversing it in practice, ensuring the UK remains within the EU system in reality even if – perish the thought – it might leave on paper. As a result, some of them now endorse the disingenuous Soft Brexit option, under which Britain will remain in the Single Market, enjoying the free movement of goods, capital and labour. The Remainers know, of course, that the EU elite does not want that option even to be on the negotiating table; as European Council president Donald Tusk said this week, the EU sees it as Hard Brexit or no Brexit at all. Thus they believe that insisting on a Soft Brexit would mean default Remain by another name.
This motley parliamentary alliance, stretching from former failed opposition leaders Ed Miliband (Labour) and Nick Clegg (Lib Dems) to Tories like Baroness Patience Wheatcroft, dreams of a second EU referendum, in which it might finally manage to browbeat us supposedly brain-dead voters into doing what we are told. In truth, these politicians know their best hope is a parliamentary conspiracy against the express wishes of the majority of the electorate.
Typically for our times, leading Remainers seek to deny democracy in the name of… democracy. They insist that ours is a parliamentary democracy in which parliament must be sovereign and have the final say. Interestingly, this never seemed to be an issue for them through the decades when parliamentary democracy has been trampled on via the EU, by both British governments and Brussels bureaucrats. They only appear to get excited about parliamentary sovereignty when it comes to defending it against the people, as reflected in the referendum result. (They also appear to have forgotten that parliament voted overwhelmingly to hold the referendum in the first place.)
The fact that the unelected, unaccountable House of Lords is a hotbed of the Soft Brexit plot sums up what these people really think of democracy; the Lords, as Baroness Wheatcroft boasts, is best placed to lead a ‘rebellion’ over Brexit because peers like her have ‘no constituents to fear’. Well, quite. Fear and loathing of the electorate is what unites them.
What about the Hard Brexit allegedly being pursued by the Tory government – a term coined by Remainers to depict the Leave camp as extreme? Prime minister Theresa May and her team are accused of rushing headlong towards a full-blooded Brexit at all costs. Hardly. All the prime minister has said is that she intends to trigger Article 50 and begin the lengthy withdrawal process next spring – a full nine months after the referendum. In the meantime, it will all be about private talks and planning.
This secretive foot-dragging should ring alarm bells, especially when we recall that the two most powerful people in the government – May and the chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond – were, and remain, upfront Remainers, while the third – foreign secretary Boris Johnson – is a long-term Remainer who decided to pose as a leader of Leave for the referendum campaign.