Roar writer Patrick Sandbach says the only possible escape from what he calls “the Brexit joke”, is a confirmatory referendum.
“Rats! Rats!” chanted the crowd at the mass of blue-and-yellow flag-waving protestors below. The vicious jeers of the pro-Brexit counter-protest against the people’s vote march last Saturday stood out in what was otherwise an upbeat and even jubilant atmosphere.
It was symbolic of the depths to which politics in the UK has descended.
All of this seems to be becoming very normal. Once again, we find our Prime Minister requesting an extension from the EU, a million protestors on the streets of London, and orders of business in the House of Commons which nobody can understand.
Every time we come to one of these “endgame” moments – and there have been many – the creaky machinery of government spits out another solution which is appetising to almost nobody. First, there was the debate between Hard and Soft Brexit (remember that?), then there was Theresa May’s deal (thoroughly rejected) and now there is Boris Johnson’s. No member of the public sings the praises of Johnson’s deal from the rooftops. The only ones who support it are those who do so out of desperation to get this farce over with, no matter how.
This mismatch between the expectations of Brexit and the reality of what is actually possible is the source of all the turbulence of the last three years. It has given rise to the frustration, the violent language and attacks on democratic institutions which we have come to define British politics. Whatever path the government chooses will be unacceptable to a large part of the population, and accusations of parliamentary treachery will grow louder.
The country is in an ugly place. Neither Boris’ desperate deal nor the prospect of a crash-out exit resembles anything like what was posited during the 2016 campaign. With each parliamentary decision that attempts to steer the way through this mess, more credence is given to the dangerous suggestions that some strong figure should just intervene and “sort it all out”. The longer we stay here, the further down that rabbit hole we will go.
That’s why I have come to believe the only possible escape is by a confirmatory referendum. In the case of a victory for Boris’ deal, we have our answer. Perhaps that is what was going to happen anyway. Threats of civil unrest in the case of Remain are no grounds to be put off holding such a vote. In either case, it will be the people who decided, and those who are unhappy with the decision will find it much harder to denigrate our institutions out of frustration.
It’s slightly poetic that those jeering Brexiteers launched their attacks from the front of the Lord Moon of the Mall pub, named in part after George Orwell’s imagined perfect London drinking establishment, The Moon Under Water. Orwell’s was to be a place of calm, homeliness and friendly discussion. It is hard to imagine that the writer who warned us of the dangers of undermining democratic institutions would be happy with the rhetoric we hear today.