Like many people throughout the country, the news that we had lost the referendum campaign, brought an almost physical pain akin to grief. If, as has often been suggested, there are 5 stages of dealing with grief beginning with denial and ending with acceptance, I have no intention of moving beyond step 2 – anger!
I am, and don’t believe that I shall ever cease to be, extremely and unforgivingly angry not directed at the people who, for many reasons were persuaded to vote for Brexit, but at the liars and cheats, who by peddling endless and outrageous falsehoods, perverted the debate and are trying to destroy the country I love. I have tended to be a non-violent person for most of my life but what pushes me to the limit is hearing the people whose deliberate lies have pushed this country to the brink of disaster telling us to ‘all pull together to make Britain great’. Like Trump and his European predecessors in the 30s, they twist genuine national affection for their perverted ambitions.
The frustration and alienation felt by some of the many people who voted for Brexit is entirely understandable and the vote must be recognised as a valid expression of their feelings at that time. Were it just the brain addled gin and tonic brigades of the home counties, it would have been hard to feel sympathy but the reality, of course, is that there were many among the 17 million who needed to find some expression for the genuine grievance they felt at having been effectively disenfranchised and despised by successive governments, a media that puts ambition and profit before truth and a zeitgeist in which the cult of celebrity has displaced traditional ideas of community and solidarity. The tragedy was that the focus of their disenchantment and frustration was not, in reality, the cause. Four decades of hostile, misinformed, misleading and frequently manufactured denigration of the European Union and its institutions made it a very simple, if totally misjudged target.
Was the result democracy – that desperately overused and misused word? Was it a genuine expression of the popular will? Of course not. It was the culmination of an exchange of propaganda and sound bites encouraged by a bear-baiting media that was not looking to foster an informed debate but to create a spectacle.
However tempting it might have been to kick the Prime Minister, who thought he could solve the petty squabbles in his party by playing with the country’s future, I don’t believe that, in normal times, that would have been enough to overcome the usual common sense of the British people. What swung it were the endless and deliberate lies told by the political chancers and opportunists, who led the Brexit campaign. As Goebbels made clear, don’t tell small lies because they can be seen through: it is the biggest lies that are believed. Why? Because people don’t believe that others are vile enough to lie in such a blatant way and because the people of this country have been lied to for so long that it is getting impossible to distinguish the trivial from the enormous and life-threatening. The liars won because their lies were so large, it seemed improbable that they could sink so low as to make them up.
I love Britain. We live in a fundamentally decent country. It is not patronising to believe that if people had had the chance to evaluate calmly the reality of the situation and not just been bombarded by facts and statistics that were hard to distinguish from opinion. Had the underlying reasons for the European Union – as well as its faults – been promoted and discussed over the past 40 years as they should have been in order to develop an informed debate, I believe that the result might have been very different.
I am angry because it is the ordinary decent people of this country who will suffer, not those who led the Brexit campaign, some of whom, like Lord Lawson, will retire to their villas on the continent. It is we, in the European Movement, among many others, who must keep up the fight and ensure that the UK finds a way to re-engage with our European neighbours. This isn’t the end of the war and we are not going to give up any more than Dunkirk convinced the British people to surrender.
To disband now would be very wrong. Did we fight the best campaign we could? I was in a position to watch the extraordinary commitment, imagination, guts and massive hard work of our Chair, staff and activists throughout the country. Had they had the resources in time to frame the campaign they wished, I really believe a different result might have been possible. What is now necessary is to pass the European flame onto the next generation. They have felt the flames of battle and have shown courage and resilience. Those of us who have been involved for decades must accept that, though we may still be useful foot soldiers, we need younger officers to direct us. It is our generation, the absurd baby-boomers, who have failed and let down our children and grandchildren. Let us at least keep our anger alive and give them the support and resources to fight on.