By Frank Owen
There have been several times since the EU referendum that I’ve toyed with evicting all remaining Leave voters from my Facebook friends list. And each time, until yesterday, I’d walked back from the brink. I’d returned to old principles I’ve had, principles of pluralism – a belief that there could be multiple legitimate competing ends, and that it was important to encompass as many of them as possible in your friends circle, even if it occasionally raised your blood pressure. But now I’ve finally written such a status. I’ve got no intention of walking it back.
I’m not sure what’s been worst about the Brexit process so far. The inability of the prime minister to be direct, or transparent, with the country; the laughably low quality of cabinet ministers central to the task – a laughter that always rings hollow, given we are now represented on the world stage by a serial liar and buffoon; the continual rhetorical attacks on key British values and institutions by the now-victorious Leavers; the endless, mindless demands for empty-headed positivity by people who never cared, or knew, about the colossal damage Brexit would cause; the staggeringly incurious columns written by people demanding I should ‘understand’ Leave voters, none of whom have ever shown the slightest interest in understanding me; or the fact that the country is going to make itself poorer, smaller, less tolerant, weaker, a pitiful stunted lump of a thing, because people were upset that they once heard Polish being spoken on a bus.
Worst of all is the overblown hand-wringing insincerity of people who call themselves ‘Liberal Leavers’. There was never going to be a Liberal Brexit – they were mere gloss, a coating of faint respectability on a project dominated by populists, nativists and the downright rotten of British politics. Having stood shoulder to shoulder with fascists – Le Pen, for example – they now complain that those who voted Remain want nothing to do with them. Having indulged a project whose logical conclusion was the erection of trade barriers between the UK and its largest single export market, they bleat that free trade must be defended. After a campaign in which a British MP was murdered by a far-right terrorist motivated by anti-immigration sentiment, a sentiment stoked up by those same individuals and institutions that campaigned for Leave alongside the ‘Liberal Leavers’, they have been pitifully silent in the face of the surge of hatred on our streets since last June. Their wafer-thin commitment to liberalism provided just enough legitimacy to the enemies of liberalism to get their hands around its neck. For that, history must record them as failures in every aspect.
All these factors have conspired to twist the knife. Every day since June 23rd last year has affirmed to me that Brexit is the wrong choice for Britain – that it will embolden the enemies of liberalism, that it will make the country poorer and smaller, that it will personally, for me, raise huge challenges that are simply indefensible on the part of those who freely throw them out there. The simpering spinelessness of many Labour MPs in the face of this – scuttling after Nigel Farage with a begging bowl, asking for table scraps, rather than defending outright the UK’s membership of the single market – has compounded this sense of a country falling away from me, of a loss of a sense of place, of the growth of fear and anger in me, in the place of old sentiments about pluralism and tolerance.
I am told that the vote was all about a sense of community, of place in the world. Well, Leavers, you have stripped me of mine – and shown precisely no concern, care or plan in response to this. You have upended and weakened this country, attacked its values, undermined its institutions, and for what? So you could pretend the Channel is 400, rather than 40, miles wide. You have shown no indication at all you intend to understand, or even speak, to Remainers as anything other than detritus. So I have jettisoned those principles, once and for all. I don’t want you on my Facebook page. I don’t want you in my life. You have taken my country from me, shown not a single sign of ever wanting to reach out, and now are going to plunge us into a disastrous separation from Europe based on nothing more than ideological masturbation.
You have killed a pluralist, and lost a friend. I hope you sleep as ill at night for this as I have done since last June.
Frank Owen is a university lecturer working under a pseudonym
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