by Martin Odoni

As I have stated before, I have never been crazy about the European Union. So when the opportunity was presented to vote for the UK to withdraw from it back in 2016, I did give it genuine consideration. Only once it became clear to me that there was no plan among the ‘Brexiteers’ for carrying out what was bound to be a very complicated process did I opt to vote for ‘Remain’. I could see that, even allowing for the uglier features of the EU (if you do not know what they are, just ask the Greeks), the UK would be tying itself in unnecessary knots that it had no idea how to untangle if it went ahead, and to no accurately-defined benefit. We were better off staying in than committing to a leap-into-the-dark.

In short, I did not vote with my heart, I voted with my head.

Therefore, it would be a considerable exaggeration to assume I am a devoted, hardcore, fanatical ‘Remainer’ who is so enraptured by the site of the ring of gold stars on a blue background that it blinds me to the patches of darkness behind it.

EU heart-flag - not really me

I don’t quite regard the EU with this kind of affection, but I know we’re better off inside it than outside it.

The difficulty is, an awful lot of Britons did vote in the Referendum with their hearts, without really engaging their heads enough to understand what the country would be attempting. Therefore, they voted on the basis of what they wanted, not on the basis of what is objectively for the best. They voted against what they hated, not against what is objectively harmful. Or in many cases, they voted for something they loved, not for what is objectively good for them. (Yes, I include voters on both ‘sides’ here.)

“Get over it!!!”

The phenomenon this led to almost immediately was the “Get over it, Remoaner!mantra. I noticed it and commented on it in under a week. This has been the favoured chorus of the triumphant Leave fanatics since the Referendum result was announced, and is almost certain to be sung by at least someone during any online discussion of the many protracted issues raised by Brexit.

I am often given to wonder whether large numbers of Leavers are football fans, as they seem to regard the Referendum result as ‘the end of all discussion’ a little like the final whistle is the end of a match. Their chants of “Get over it!” are barely distinguishable from those of one football team’s supporters jeering at rivals who are upset at a perceived bad refereeing decision.

Now, it is true that there are those who argue quite vociferously for the decision of the Referendum to be overturned. Given what an undiluted dog’s breakfast the Conservatives are making of the Brexit process, there is a lot to be said for that idea. But overturning is not the argument being made by many of the anti-Brexit protesters, and Leave supporters seem to have trouble distinguishing between different groups.

We do actually accept the referendum result, by and large

A great many ‘Remainers’ (if we must deal in name-tags) have, with sadness, accepted the result of the Referendum. Many, if they are like me, cannot bear the thought of going through another one, or of the tidal wave of anger that will spread through anti-EU areas around the country if the whole process is just called off. But that does not mean that the issue is closed off and that there is therefore nothing to discuss. On the contrary, as soon as the country committed to Brexit, it made it compulsory that a number of matters are discussed; they would not have mattered had the Referendum vote gone with Remain. Ireland and Gibraltar are the two most serious of these issues, and also the two most difficult to resolve. But they do not come anywhere near to being all the issues that Brexit has created.

The frustration for people like me is that every time we point out the no-win situation in Ireland, Spanish unhappiness about British sovereignty over Gibraltar, the inevitable and serious economic impact caused by leaving the biggest trading bloc on Earth, the sheer cack-handed bungling of the way the Government is handling the process and their lack of basic diplomatic skills, and all other Brexit-related obstacles that the UK is failing to hurdle, an awful lot of pro-Leavers get the wrong idea as to why we are doing it. They seem to imagine that we are moaning about a penalty being awarded against us when we think our left-back made no contact on their centre-forward before he went to ground. They seem to think we are pointing to television replays showing clear daylight between the players’ legs. And they seem to think that because they love playing the taunting game, Remainers must be trying to taunt them back and devalue their ‘victory’, or even get it overturned.

But this is not the case. This is not about taunting, or even about being competitive as such. It brings us no pleasure whatever to highlight the problems that are piling up. We are not obsessing over a past argument. We are not gloating and opportunistically saying, “Told-ya-so!” We are not demanding the Referendum result be overturned. We are simply pointing out that these problems are critically important, and they need solutions – quickly, given the deadline for Brexit negotiations is effectively October.  The country faces enormous legal and industrial turmoil if the problems are not solved in time. And solutions are a commodity Theresa May’s Government seems powerless to supply, and will also not materialise as a result of silly cries of, “Get over it!!!!” In a manner of speaking, the Referendum result is barely relevant.

This triumphalist shoutdown mentality from so many Leavers is not helpful or constructive. The problems mentioned above, and many others besides, are not going to be solved by just ignoring them, or by casually assuming that everything will just magically become better the instant the UK leaves the EU.  They will not. If the UK does not get a new deal before leaving the EU, British life will become very trying (as if it is not enough so already). That is looking ever-likelier after Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, finally ran out of patience with British non-commitment on the Irish border issue this week.

Brexit platitudes and sound-bites

When Leavers are not telling the concerned to get over it, they retreat into platitudes and sound-bites, either about being able to make our own trade deals, or controlling our borders. While there is at least a semblance of trying to engage in a discussion, these arguments are, alas, nonsense.

Firstly, we are not likely to get more trade as a result of going our own way. The EU has well over five hundred million people in it, making it an enormous market with huge ‘trading gravity’. The UK on its own has about sixty-five million people. Significant, yes, but inevitably it has far less of such a ‘gravitational pull’ in trading markets on its own, due to being only about one-eighth the size. This will immediately make it harder for us to trade with countries farther afield than Europe. Why? Well it really should be obvious. Long-distance trade, even with modern technology, is more expensive and has greater practical difficulties, than short-distance trade i.e. greater fuel costs, huge shipping distances increase the dangers of mechanical failure by either air or sea, or bad weather etc. It is therefore far easier to convince a far-off country to export to you on favourable terms if you can offer it a huge market in which to sell goods, one that guarantees profits that will clearly outweigh the risks.

Saying we ‘can’ make our own trade deals is in fact just a silly bit of spin. The UK will be compelled to make such deals, whether the country likes it or not, and they will be long, slow, complicated, arduous tasks. Given the weakness of our position outside the big trading bloc, many of the longer-distance ones will not be reached on advantageous terms. The UK will have to wait quite some time before it can get any such deals signed too, and literally decades before it has all the deals it would like. During that time, the British people will experience the comparative harshness of operating under World Trade Organisation rules, with high tariffs and heavy customs controls. Other countries will know how desperate the UK will be to escape those rules in a hurry, weakening the British negotiating hand further. The damage WTO conditions could do to the UK economy, moreover, will make it a less attractive trading partner.

Life was easier when we could leave all that to the EU.

As for controlling our borders, as has been pointed out ad nauseam, the UK has never been part of the Schengen Area, and has always decided its own customs and immigration policy. Leaving the EU will therefore have little impact on border controls or immigration levels one way or the other. While arguments about over-population are (arguably) more intelligent – at sixty-five million the UK population has grown rapidly in twenty years and is now getting a little on the high side for an island – they do not appear to be any less xenophobic when challenged for details, as the BBC‘s Nick Robinson has found. When the argument only works as a broad generality, there is clearly some form of prejudice involved.

No, not all Leave arguments are xenophobic, but most are

In any event, while some Leavers get very upset at suggestions that anti-immigration arguments are all racist and xenophobic (I am unconvinced that very many people do suggest that in fact), you would have to be crazy to assume that prejudice against foreigners has not played a big role. The below example of ‘Schrödinger’s Immigrant‘ has been doing the rounds for the last day or so on social media, and it serves as a real question mark against the whole notion of having referendums at all, if the views of someone this ignorant are considered equally valid as those of academics; –

No, I am not suggesting that all Leave voters are this foolish, or even that a particularly large minority of them are. But the fact that it is so evident that this fellow could only be a Leave voter does not say good things about its support base. Too many Leave arguments are based on rumours and delusions, even ones that flatly contradict one another.

Brexiteers do not help themselves

‘Brextremists’, as it is becoming popular to call the most fanatical Leavers, often complain about being insulted and patronised, but study the general level of debate at which they tend to engage, and it is very difficult to sympathise – just ask James O’Brien at LBC Radio. With their mechanical chorus of “Get over it!” Leavers in fact tend to be every bit as patronising, but also more aggressive in manner. They do not help themselves. More important from their perspective, perhaps, is that they also do not help the process of carrying out the policy they have inflicted on the country in the first place.

Intellectual respect is not a right, it must be earned. If Leavers want more of it, they have to try a lot harder. They need to offer fewer ill-defined generalities or platitudes, and they need to construct arguments based on facts in the real world. They need to learn that winning the argument is not an end in itself, and that taunting a counter-position is not enough on its own to de-legitimise it. The problem they have is that the evidence is so overwhelmingly on the side arguing that Brexit will hurt the UK that they cannot analyse and accept facts and remain Leavers at all. Their pride is clearly hurt by the notion that they might be wrong. So their only escape is to carry on thinking with their hearts and not their heads, and that is why they look so foolish to Remainers – at least to the ones who voted on the basis of objective facts.

It is therefore a ‘false-balance’ mistake to argue that Remainers should be ‘less patronising’. The ‘sides’ are not equal, intellectually or in demeanour.

If this sounds patronising to Leavers too, I have only one more thing to say to them.

“Get over it, Brexpostulators.”

I wonder how many of them will now be digging around in dictionaries trying to figure out what that means?