One Day Until Article 50 - What Remainers Should do Now

One day to go. Article 50 day. Some are calling for a national holiday. Some are calling for a national day of mourning. Some are already fed up of this ungodly Brexit mess.

I was at the Lib Dem conference the weekend before last. I meant to write about it over last week but, with the events in London, have only just had the time. Something struck me while there: members overwhelmingly agree with the party’s position, but more active members who’ve been there longer and have more invested in the fight against Brexit are still sick of hearing about it.

At this point we know full well that the ultra-Brexiteers are delighted with May’s rhetoric, and the Remainers- or even Liberal Brexiteers- are frustrated or distraught. We know this because, within their own bubbles, the pro-Remain and pro-Leave camps are simply re-playing the referendum with those who agree.

The ultra-Brexiteers may have different motives than the Remain supporters. Brexit has rendered the megalomaniacs who saw Euroscepticism as an opportunity for a power-grab irrelevant. It has created a situation where the thin veil of acceptability they once held is now a hindrance, and only through the kind of extremes the anti-EU movement constantly tried to purge can they get their air-time. For them, the worst elements of the campaign are no longer enough in their continued and pointless anti-European-values populism.

They’re winning that cynical game. Aron Banks is- apparently- relevant, UKIP isn’t yet dead, and Farage is trying to break the admittedly large post-fact pro-hate market in America. Dan Hanan is still getting thousands of retweets for his un-fact-checked memes.

Remain supporters? Well, remain supporters are legitimately furious. Leave won by a fraction, on a series of promises. Those promises included continued membership of the free market (of course, a promise amended after the referendum). They included close ties and close cooperation with Europe, a soft border in Northern Ireland, not threatening to deport anyone, and the continuation of most of our EU rights.

Yes, people could have known that the promises of the Leave campaign should have been discarded as nonsense. They were, and it clearly was to anyone whose studied politics. But most people have more important things to worry about than the complexities of EU treaties (because most things are more important than the fine-print of any treaty). Most people hear someone saying that claims that there might be a hard border in Northern Ireland or less funding for the NHS are ‘scaremongering’, and they believe them- after all, they sounded pretty extreme.

The sentiments that won- of free trade and a continued European identity- have been discarded by this government ‘of Brexit, for Brexit’. All of the most extreme rhetoric of the fringes of the Leave.EU campaign has been taken on board fully, and the concerns of 48% of voters have been discarded entirely. That’s worth being angry about.

This anger is channelled as inefficiently as it can be. The remain camp has largely decided to talk only to people that already agree. The fight is now on Twitter, or on Facebook, or at rallies. They are not at branch party meetings, at MPs surgeries, on the doorstep, or at open public meetings. The talk is of what’s wrong, not what should be done or how people can be convinced.

Those in the middle seem disheartened. Those who voted Remain begrudgingly or voted to leave because of the bureaucratic or legislative excesses of the EU rather than out of hatred of Europeans or a love of conspiracies. Brexit is now happening, and no one’s talking to them- on one side, the direction of Brexit is thoroughly disturbing, and on the other stands the despairing masses screaming into the crowds.  

This is why some people who still support remain are sick of talking about Europe right now. Having a two hour debate about how great Europe is amongst Lib Dems isn’t going to get to anyone who doesn’t already like Europe. Sure, there are other reasons the Lib Dems are talking so much about Europe- after the 2015 wipe-out, it must be nice for Tim Farron to get in the newspapers again.

At this point, Remain needs to put forward a coherent singular message. (No, Labour’s utter nonsense does not count as a message in any sense). Rather than just say ‘we still want to remain’, the pro-Europe side needs to put forward a set of proposals for the kind of Brexit a 48%-52% referendum win should mean, and make clear that only if those conditions are not met we will move to try to block Brexit. A truly soft Brexit, or no Brexit.

Those terms should include free movement, the free market, less bureaucracy, and a significantly reduced fee. Those terms should be a campaign issue, on the doorstep and in the real world. The campaign to remain should be the campaign to convince people that the values we hold are worth fighting for, rather than the institutions we’re part of.

Of course, this strategy gives us the best chance of remaining regardless. Should Brexit reflect our European values, we’re better off than if it doesn’t. Should it not, it won’t just be those who campaigned for remain who get angry.