A recent visit from an old friend has been a vivid reminder of the violent passions that still run among some of those who voted to remain in the EU. Peter felt it wasn’t natural, or healthy, for him to feel an intense rage more than a year after the referendum. He asked if I could offer some informal therapy, which might stop him exploding at every Leaver he met. I was happy to oblige, and am now happy to share my therapy with the rest of the world. If there is enough demand, I may set up in business as a counsellor for Remoaners.
No one actually knows (however strongly they believe it) whether God exists or not. No one ever has known. So to assert either proposition as a fact is ludicrous. It can only be an opinion. So it is with Brexit. No one actually knows (however strongly they believe it) whether Britain will, in the long term, be better off outside the EU or not. It can only be an opinion. And opinions can be wrong.
Certainly, it looks as though it will take a miracle to avoid a rocky road over the next 10 or 20 years. But miracles have been known to happen. Beyond that, who knows, so perhaps we should all stop claiming that we do.
Many of the angry Remainers are angry because they believe that their vision of a liberal, tolerant, culturally inclusive Britain will soon cease to exist. There is no good reason to believe this. Just because the slim majority for Brexit happened to include a large number of narrow-minded bigots does not mean that suddenly the whole country is about to adopt their values.
Britain has always contained a lot of narrow-minded bigots. So has every other country. We have lived with this for decades, and we will have to go on living with it. But we are largely a metropolitan country, and our cities are all cosmopolitan and will remain so. When people from overseas come to Britain, they will come mainly to our cities and they will continue to receive, in the main, a welcome that is warm and open.
Brexit was a single issue, although admittedly a huge single issue. The referendum result signifies nothing beyond itself. Stop fearing that the whole nature of our society is about to change.
We have no idea how the Brexit negotiations are going. It is in the interests of EU spokespeople, and of the Labour and LibDem parties, to paint the British position in the worst possible light. It is in the interests of the Government to paint it in the best possible light. The sound and the fury signify nothing. In the end, something will emerge, and we can then all decide whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Until then, it is best to keep an open mind.
And let us not forget quite what an imperfect institution the EU is: its instincts are, and always have been, anti-democratic, corrupt, bureaucratic and protectionist. It has smugly tolerated youth unemployment levels across its southern half of 20, 30, 40 per cent for nearly a decade. It is a body that – whether through our own fault or not is now irrelevant – we have largely failed to reform in almost 50 years of membership. So it is not an institution towards which we should be feeling a nostalgic affection. Nor one that looks well-adapted to the future.
Almost anything could happen in the next few years: within the EU itself, and with regard to how (and if) we leave it. Let us save our rage until we know precisely what we are raging against.
I voted to remain. I still wish that we were remaining. My other opinions on the Brexit process are liable to swing violently from one day to the next, depending on who has last opened their mouths. I am forced to conclude that my own opinions are unstable and unreliable and that I should refrain from having any for a while. Not a natural state of affairs for anyone, but I commend it.
The therapy for Remoaners still in the grip of a powerful rage is to follow the wise, if rather disgusting, advice of Oliver Cromwell: ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.’
That will be 100 guineas, please.