I have been reluctant, for a while, to say anything about Brexit. To be frank, I become distressed when long-term friends turn on me for letting the side down by my failure to champion the cause of the remainers on the unspoken grounds that all middle class professionals must stick together in their adoration of the EU. I sympathise with a friend of mine, a distinguished bencher of one of our Inns of Court, who told me he had been advised by another, even more distinguished bencher, never to reveal to anyone in the Inn that he had voted to leave because to do so would lead to his being treated as an outcast, a traitor to his class.
But I am going to speak now. I urge my remainer friends, whose brains are, I freely acknowledge, much bigger than mine (or those of anyone else who voted leave), to be kind to me, to accept that my appalling, life-long, belief that we should have nothing to do with the European experiment is almost certainly due to an as yet undiagnosed mental illness. Humour me. Please don’t descend to foul abuse.
What do I have to say?
Actually, I think my more intelligent remainer friends will understand my point. That is not to say they will agree with it, but they will see that, unlike my wish for Britain to be a free country again (something they think horribly vulgar and common), it is logical and almost unanswerable.
The government is plainly under an obligation to try to bring about our exit from the EU. No one, other than a few deranged Liberal Democrats, can dispute that. The referendum result was not ambiguous. Yes, of course, an awful lot of people voted to stay, but many more voted to leave. For the government to ignore the result and decide we should remain in the EU would be political suicide. Whether you like it or not, the reality is that we have got to leave.
This question then arises: on what term should we leave? In particular, should we leave completely (now called “hard Brexit”), or should we do a deal with the EU which keeps us in the single market, subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice, and allows the EU to dictate all our social and employment legislation (now called “soft Brexit”)?
I do, I swear, understand why remainers prefer soft Brexit. Were we to remain in the single market we would, in effect, still be a member of the EU, though not allowed a say in its policies. We would have to adopt every loony regulation proposed by Brussels. We would have to accept free movement of people from all present and future members of the EU. We would have to go on treating the European Court of Justice as our most important court. All that, I acknowledge, would be bliss for the remainers. But could such a result be seen as one which the majority sought?
The answer to that question, to anyone not blinded by a love of the EU, is obvious. We don’t have to indulge in some fruitless exercise in order to work out why all we stupid people didn’t like the EU. Yes, I am sure, some didn’t like free movement of people, some didn’t like Brussels, rather than Westminster, passing our laws and some didn’t like the European Court of Justice being superior to out own Supreme Court. But no one who voted to leave wanted everything to go on as before.
Mrs May would have been mad to say she wanted us to remain subject to, but not part of, the EU. That would have led to electoral disaster. And, obviously, it wouldn’t be Labour or the Liberal Democrats who would benefit from that disaster.
No, Mrs May had no alternative but to say we will leave the single market. It is quite possible that she doesn’t like having to come out against the single market. After all, she campaigned (not with any great vigour) for a remain vote. But she knows that her political career would have ground to a halt if she had announced that her aim was to keep us in the EU in all but name.
All this will be fascinating to future historians. Maybe they will say that people like me were dotty. Maybe they will say that those who want us to have a fake exit from the EU were dotty. Wouldn’t it be lovely to know what their judgment will be?