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Accept it Remainers, you’ve lost Why did the titans of British politics do so little to heal the Brexit rift?

Credit : Leon Neal/Getty Images

Credit : Leon Neal/Getty Images

December 12, 2019   4 mins

Well the results are in and Boris Johnson has led the Conservative party to a historic win. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, has led the Labour party to a historic loss. Its worst result since before the Second World War.

Of course there will be plenty of complaining and buck-passing. The devotees of the cult of Corbyn will spend the coming days blaming their loss on the media, on big business and — naturally — Brexit. Indeed they have already started.

But it is only the Brexit excuse which has even the slightest plausibility. Brexit was one of the things which did it for the Labour party in this election. But not for the reason that the Corbyn cult-ists would like to think.

The reality was that yesterday the country reasserted the answer it had given to the political class in 2016. That year the British public were asked a very straightforward question: did we want to ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ within the EU? The country voted that it would like to leave but here we are, three and a half years later, still in the EU. And there are a number of attitudes that parties putting themselves before the electorate in such an era can aspire to hold.

The Labour party probably didn’t have the worst policy in this election. That honour must be given to the Liberal Democrats, led by Jo Swinson, who lost her own seat in East Dumbartonshire last night.

Swinson’s idea was that not only would the Liberal Democrats continue to oppose the result of the 2016 referendum; but that they would hypothetically oppose the results of any future referendum. According to the Liberal Democrats it was a viable policy to campaign for a second EU referendum but to say that if the public asked to leave the EU again the Liberal Democrats would still not see through that policy.

It isn’t hard to see the problem in that stance. It is against the whole principle of democracy. If elected representatives not only refuse to do what the public ask, but also promise that they will ignore the public in perpetuity, then it is not surprising if the public take the view that the normal democratic process has effectively been suspended and that business as usual can no longer be pursued. The Liberal Democrats, and their leader, received the verdict they deserved from the British people last night.

But the Labour party had the next worst policy on the matter of Brexit. Corbyn — a life-long Eurosceptic leading a predominantly ‘Remain’ Parliamentary party — had attempted to straddle an impossible divide over the last three and a half years. He had tried to accept the 2016 referendum result and tried to ignore it. He had tried to be against a second referendum and then in favour of it. He had tried to pretend that he wanted to stay in the EU but could see the possibilities of leaving. Those Corbynites who are pounding the studios this morning trying to blame Brexit for their dear leader’s loss are not onto nothing.

Meanwhile, it might be noted that every single one of those MPs from the Conservative and Labour parties who joined ‘The Independent Group for Change’ without calling a by-election, and otherwise used their position to campaign to remain in the EU, lost their seats. From Chuka Umunna (who ended up jumping again, to the Lib Dems, and losing for them) to the vitriolic and unlamented Anna Soubry in Broxtowe. All were given the heave-ho by electorates who were sick of being taken advantage of .

But perhaps once the dust has settled, the bigger picture could once again be observed. The fact is that last night’s results — and in particular the sight of northern, working-class, historically Labour seats going Conservative — should be the biggest possible signal to the still resistant political class.

In the last three and half years it has become a commonplace to say that Britain’s politics have been divided and even toxic. But there is just one central cause for that. The 2016 referendum was the first democratic vote in these islands which looked as though it would not be acted upon by Parliament. We were thrown into three and half years of bitter, recriminative politics because a largely Remain-supporting Parliament decided that it knew better than the people and that on this, for the first time in the history of our democracy, the people needed to be ignored.

Of course that changes everything. It shifts the whole game. If some votes are upheld and others are not then you do not really live in a democracy. The realisation that this was the case was the reason why some of us always said that once the referendum vote of 2016 had been cast there was no form of Brexit that could be worse than having no Brexit at all.

The toxicity of recent years — the language in particular — has been much commented upon. But at its root was always and only this one fact: that there were people who had decided they would try to ignore, get around or otherwise trick the British public into not giving them what they had asked for. Looking back it is remarkable what wasted years these have been. And how many talented people have wasted their time.

Those former prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair might have helped this country out by assisting or even leading negotiations on our departure from the EU and future trade deals. Instead, they spent their time trying to conspire with Brussels to keep Britain in the EU. Politicians and former politicians from across the main parties did the same thing.

And one after another they demonstrated that they would do everything in their power to frustrate the 2016 vote and nothing whatsoever to help their country given the choice that that country had made. Former titans of politics such as Michael Heseltine reduced themselves to spittle-laden appearances on television where their aim appeared to be simply to be as nasty and vitriolic as possible. What exactly did that achieve?

In the past I have described the situation of some Remain-ers since 2016 as being akin to that of people trying to work their way through the stages of grief. And they have got stuck, unable to get to acceptance, on the stages of bargaining and denial. Perhaps the results of this election can finally put this whole sorry period to bed. The British public voted for Brexit in 2016. They voted for it again yesterday. There’s no way around it. Our future is outside of the EU. It is time that the Remainers finally joined the Leavers in making the best go we can of this.

Douglas Murray is an author and journalist.


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