Reversing Brexit will be a dangerous moment for the UK

There is now a realistic possibility that the UK will not leave the European Union. Talks are already under way to extend the Article 50 deadline. An extension can only mean one thing: a second referendum. EU leaders will not extend the deadline to allow for renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement. There will be no new agreement, despite what hard line Brexiteers claim. Polling shows a decisive shift in public opinion away from Brexit.

The reality of this act of national self-harm has made many people think again, while young people who saw their futures threatened over the last two years are now old enough to vote. A second referendum could go very differently to 2016. Naturally, Remain supporters will welcome the chance to stay in the EU, but they should also be aware of the grave risks that reversing Brexit will bring.

To Leave voters, the Brexit referendum was a sacred event – a once in a generation act of pure democracy, a declaration of British independence. Nothing will convince Brexit’s true believers that the country should change course. Brexit press and politicians have worked hard to paint a second vote as an act of betrayal. Staying in the EU, they say, would effectively end British democracy. This talk is dangerous.

The Brexiteers are right about one thing: reversing course would lead to national humiliation. After two years of abortive negotiations and overheated rhetoric, abandoning Brexit would be widely mocked at home and abroad. It would be seen as the final proof that Britain is no longer a great power. And yet, Britain already stands humiliated before the world. The Withdrawal Agreement is an embarrassing confirmation of the British government’s impotence. You might as well have humiliation with EU benefits as without it.

The real concern is not chuckles in foreign capitals. The real concern is reaction at home. Every Remain supporter in the UK must recognise the anger, resentment and genuine hatred that staying in the EU will cause among Brexit supporters. Already, a narrative of treason and weakness is emerging. Britain could get a better deal if only our negotiators were tougher, they’ll say. Britain should have left with no deal, but the government was too cowardly, they’ll say. And most dangerously of all: Britain was sabotaged by Remainers who cared about EU bureaucracy more than British democracy.

When Germany lost the First World War, many Germans refused to believe that their country could have been defeated honestly on the battlefield. Germany was one of the greatest countries on Earth, ruling a vast empire and commanding a huge army. How could they have lost? Germany lost its African colonies, much of its European territory and its emperor. Humiliated, angered and incredulous, some Germans began to believe that they hadn’t really been defeated at all. They had been betrayed. Betrayed by their own government, by the political parties, by an international conspiracy.

This Dolchstoßlegende – the Stab-in-the-back myth – became central to Nazi propaganda and was widely believed by ordinary Germans, chafing at the loss of status at the hands of foreign powers. The foundations for a British Stab-in-the-back myth are already being laid by some Brexiteer politicians and sections of the press. Theresa May, already dubbed ‘Theresa the Appeaser’ in some circles, may soon find herself dubbed a ‘March Criminal’ if the UK doesn’t leave the EU by the 29th of that month.

No-one is yet suggesting that the UK could become another Nazi Germany. That would be hyperbole. But the similarities are eerie: a dysfunctional democratic system, a country heading for a humiliating defeat and an emerging narrative of treason. Any reversal of Brexit must be managed with great care to avoid long-term rot in British public life, and the dark results that history shows can come from these conditions. The UK’s leaders will have to be especially skillful to navigate these dangerous waters. The last two years don’t inspire confidence.

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16 Responses

  1. Paul Pearce-Couch

    Absolute nonsense! The EU doesn’t want the UK to leave. They won’t mock us – they’ll embrace us for realising that we’re stronger inside the Union. If you want to see what real humiliation looks like, look at the self-serving Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg, et al, who clearly don’t have the best interests of the country at heart but who a few coffin-dodgers and xenophobic chavs have taken at face-value because they’ve been told the kind of drivel they wanted to hear!

    1. steve

      The temptation to mock will be irresistible to some, especially remainers high on victory. We underestimate the reaction at our peril. Not many things stimulate a violent response more than a sense of betrayal and public humiliation. Add to this the fact that the far right are now not only emboldened but well financed and well organised by the same forces that successfully created and financed brexit and trump.

    2. Karen Willet

      Rees-Mogg is probably one of the least self-serving people in Parliament and most certainly has the country’s best interests at heart. The sooner we are out of the clutches of the Evil Union the better for us all whether we are coffin-dodgers, xenophobic chavs or anything else you care to call people. The EU is anti-democratic and unbelievably corrupt and in 40 years the UK has changed nothing much at all about it. Time to leave them to their own meanderings and not listen to the lies that come from it daily.

  2. Jock Tamson

    Reversing Brexit would be in accordance with what Scotland voted for. This whole Brexit thing is an English project. Stop calling it British!

    1. Karen Willet

      But it IS British. Everyone’s vote counted and many Scots also voted for Brexit. Add to that the fact that the majority of Scots voted to remain part of the UK. Whether you like it or not, it is a British thing.

    2. Dave A

      Can you please take the English cities out of the equation. London was massively in favour of remaining. So were many other English cities. And Wales voted to leave. Let”s not let more nationalistic crap get in the way of fixing this thing.. It’s what started it. And yes, plenty of Scots voted to leave and their vote counts too.

  3. Gill West

    Reversing Brexit is the only sensible, realistic action. It will no doubt upset a few people, but the type of ‘leave’ voters that are going to get angry by a reversal, are not the type of people I want to associate with. This whole thing has escalated out of control and should never have arisen in the first place. A government with any sense of responsibility for its people, will admit this and do what is in our best interests which is undoubtedly to remain in the EU.

  4. Paul Grajnert

    As in all aspects of Brexit, the humiliation that Brexiters will feel will be self-induced. The rest of the world will applaud and congratulate the people of the United Kingdom for helping to maintain our common Enlightenment institutions intact. Another thing we’d like – is to get the people of the UK behind some serious reforms of the EU: To further democratize its institutions.

  5. Emma Spary

    A lot is being done to stir Brexiters up to civil war. However it should be pointed out that recent pro Brexit marches have attracted extremely low figures. The same organisations and individuals who established a network of far right, pro-Brexit groups and pages on social media, filled the ordinary media with lies and drummed up funding to bombard the public with propaganda are still hard at work. Reversing Brexit can only happen to the accompaniment of some kind of regulatory system that stops people from being fed nothing but far right propaganda and unchallenged lies. It is noticeable that the current government does not intervene to correct even the most glaring errors and lies about the EU, and it has apparently instructed the BBC not to do so either. With the government (at the least) collaborating with the propaganda machine, it will indeed be hard to soothe public opinion. Therefore, alongside stopping Brexit, we need answerability of public figures who have mis-spent billions of public money to keep Brexit on track, and a tightening up of political rules on electioneering, transparency and donations. In the absence of that, those responsible will continue to play the system. For an overspend of more than £600K, Vote Leave received a ridiculous, tiny fine. Yet its actions have been shown to have a measurable effect on the referendum outcome. It’s not good enough.

  6. Christopher Wicks

    The UK is severely damaged by Brexit, a divided nation for sure. It must be stopped for the sake of our future generations. It will require strong leadership to manage the nation. That won’t be provided by our current leaders but from the wreckage of this disaster, something will emerge that stands for integrity and being a positive member of the European family of nations.

  7. Harry Havermout

    So, despite it being hyperbole, the gist is that if Brexit doesn’t happen (and/or have second referendum) we run the risk of becoming like Nazi Germany.

    Well that would be ironic

  8. Geoff Thomas

    Just as an aside – if the cartoon is supposed to show German Soldiers from the First World War, why does the soldier third from the right in the foreground have a swastika on his helmet ?

  9. Kenneth Baxter

    What a lot of bollocks journalism. Confirmation bias at it’s worst no proper analysis of the comparison. Firstly Germany of 1914 was a lot different to the UK of today. It was not a full democracy and most did not have a right to vote. Also, you’re comparing vastly different situations for goodness sake a peace treaty imposed on Germany by foreign powers after a really awful war.. You know where folk died in the millions. The brexit deal, on the other hand, was negotiated by democratically elected leaders. This pathetic leaver propaganda piece is unbiased journalism and leaver propaganda and not very good at that. scrapping the barrel journalism.

  10. Will H

    Staying in the EU has to be coupled with giving leave voters something into the bargain (indeed this is important for everyone). There has to be a massive programme to combat austerity and regenerate areas that have been left behind. Remain in the EU / rebuild Britain / better wealth redistribution.

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