We didn’t vote for this zombie Brexit
Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework betrays the democratic revolt of 2016.
Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak boasts that the Windsor Framework deal with the EU means his government has finally ‘got Brexit done’. Presumably he means ‘done’ as in exhausted, ruined, or swindled.
Because there are two ways of judging the Windsor deal. And neither is good news for Brexiteers and democrats.
The first way to judge Windsor is by studying the technical details of the changes it proposes to the Northern Ireland Protocol. No doubt these technical fixes will make some welcome differences to trade and economic affairs. But Brexit was never a technical affair, and was always about something even more important than the freedom to ship British seed potatoes to Northern Ireland.
As Brendan O’Neill has explained on spiked, on the key Brexit issue of sovereignty, Windsor does not prevent the European Commission and courts from continuing to interfere in UK affairs – as the EU itself has made clear.
The other important way to judge the Windsor Framework, away from the detailed legalese of the documents, is by measuring the wider political reaction to it in the days since the deal was done. This makes the bad news for Brexit and democracy even clearer.
Across much of the media and political worlds, the deal has been hailed as marking the return of pragmatism to UK-EU relations, as a triumph of serious managerialism over immature demagoguery, as a sign that ‘the grown-ups are back in charge’. In other words, it has been celebrated as the opposite of what Brexit was really about – an uncontrolled, popular democratic revolt against the establishment.
Listen to Ursula von der Leyen, who signed the EU deal with Sunak. As president of the powerful, unaccountable European Commission – a president ‘elected’ without needing to win a single vote from any of the peoples of Europe – she embodies the anti-democratic ethos of the EU. And there she was at Windsor, cooing that ‘we have so much in common’ with ‘dear Rishi’.
In other words, after Windsor, the EU elites recognised Sunak as really one of their own: a Remainer in a ill-fitting Leaver’s suit. Sunak might still loudly insist that he is a Brexiteer and a Unionist. But in politics it is wise to judge people by what they do, not what they say about themselves.
In agreeing the framework and trying to sell it as Brexit completed, the prime minister has shown he is as willing as any aloof Remainer to betray the electorate and expect them to be grateful for it. In moving to shelve Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would empower the British government to override the protocol in a crisis, Sunak has also shown that he does not want to rock the diplomatic boat. Little wonder the anti-Brexit camp is celebrating.
Let us remember what the historic 2016 referendum result was really about. The vote to leave the EU was also a rebellion against the pro-EU British establishment that was part of the same globalist system. UK governments of every political stripe had often deferred to the authority of Brussels in order to bypass British democracy. Leave voters wanted to take back control from all of them.
For example, contrary to Remainer claims, the issue of immigration in the Brexit revolt was not shaped by 1970s-style racism. It was primarily about the fact that Britain’s borders had been opened, without British people ever being asked their opinion at an election – because all parties backed the EU and membership of the EU Single Market demanded it. In response, millions demanded their voice be heard by voting to leave in 2016, voting for the Brexit Party in the May 2019 European elections, and voting for Boris’s Brexit-backing Tories in the General Election that December.
Now, after more than six years of trying to undermine or overturn the vote for Brexit, the Remainer elites feel confident that they are finally ‘taking back control’ without any need to risk a second referendum. They are coalescing once more at the top of the system, as if congealing to form a hard scab over the wound Brexit dealt to their authority.
With successive Tory governments failing to deliver the promise of Brexit, and Labour doing its utmost to hobble it, the political class feels confident that it has demobilised the Brexit revolt. Hence it has been seeking to sow the seeds of discontent by spreading talk of growing ‘Bregret’ about the 2016 Leave vote.
In short, the Remainer elites are now dreaming of the death of Brexit. Maybe they cannot formally overturn the 2016 vote (after all, that would mean another public vote). But they believe they can reduce Britain to a state of ‘Zombie Brexit’, where our national independence from the EU might still be visible, but in reality it is dead.
Just read one of the UK media’s most embittered Remoaner columnists, now smugly crowing about how Windsor marks the end of the ‘vandal cult’ (that’s us Brexiteer democrats) and the return (thank God!) of undemocratic ‘establishment statecraft’. Who’s taking back control now, you plebs?!
He sourly concedes that Brexit might survive in form, but prays that as a popular movement, ‘Brexitism is dying’. These people are confident that the Windsor Framework means we will be left in a situation where ‘the road to getting Brexit done starts to look more like the long, arduous process of undoing Brexit’.
Reversing the Brexit revolt is all about excluding the revolting masses from political life. It means making clear that politics is Their business, to be conducted behind closed doors. That theme runs through everything, from the secret Ditchley Park plot to ditch Brexit to the notion that the Brexit debate is really an internal affair of the parliamentary Conservative Party, (so if Tory Brexiteers accept the deal, so should we).
In response, we need to make clear that Brexit is not theirs to betray. It belongs to the people who made it the biggest democratic vote in British history. It is striking that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland has been set up as the villain of the piece, for questioning Windsor. Another way of looking at it is that the small, provincial party of the DUP (244,000 votes in 2019) is now the only voice in the UK parliament speaking for the 17.4million Leave voters.
Back to basics, democracy, in its ancient Athenian origins, is the meeting of the people – demos – with power – kratos. The revolting vote for Brexit brought those two factors together as never before in recent times. Ever since, the elites have been striving to prise the two apart again, and take back control. Now, with the Windsor Framework, the talk suggests that they think they are back in charge, as surely as the old monarchical occupants of Windsor Castle.
Sorry, but the death of ‘Brexitism’ remains a morbid Remainer fantasy. The vultures might be gathering around the perceived corpse of Brexit. But the democratic genie unleashed by the Leave vote will not be forced back into the bottle. We may not know how the next populist revolt will start. But we do know that, however much they might love this Zombie Brexit, the fight for living democracy is far from finished.
Mick Hume is a spiked columnist. The concise and abridged edition of his book, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?, is published by William Collins.
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