Nearly two years after the referendum and only a year before we leave the EU, the most passionate Leavers and Remainers are settling into a war of attrition. The trouble is, we haven’t got years. On this occasion it COULD be all over by Christmas.
I’ve written before about how the Remainers need to play a longish game, but it’s all relative. It’s still all to play for and we do have maybe nine months, but the time has come for winning hearts and minds. If Brexit is to be averted, it will require a massive conversion of those who either voted to leave or who have accepted that Brexit is going to happen now anyway.
But is this happening? Not as far as I can see. All I can see are heels being dug in.
All over Twitter Remainers are sporting their FBPE (Follow Back Pro-EU) hashtags. It seemed like a good idea: build a movement to persuade others to fight Brexit. Instead it seems to have been commandeered by political opponents who are using it to undermine the Labour Party.
One of the major tactics of the #FBPE gang is to persuade other Twitter users not to vote Labour – so this has been hijacked by Lib Dems desperately hoping to boost their flagging electoral support. Not to mention by undercover Tories who believe they can use Brexit to turn young voters away from Labour.
Some #FBPE campaigners genuinely believe that undermining Labour’s vote at the May local elections will somehow magically bring Brexit to a halt. Their naive argument goes that Labour will be so alarmed at the loss of votes to Lib Dems and Greens that the party will suddenly switch from its democratic respecting of the referendum result to adopt a Remain position.
Of course, the local authority election results WILL be closely watched – but only to see how the Tories fare compared to Labour. If Labour’s vote is cut, the message taken from the elections will be that the Tories have done better than expected. And that will be interpreted as an endorsement of Theresa May’s Brexit plans. All systems go.
We’ve heard a lot recently about “Brexit madness” but a lot of this madness is being displayed by those who think a politically naive tactic such as this can be combined with personal abuse to produce a positive outcome.
I’ve tried engaging with #FBPE Twitter users and all I get is abuse. One began by calling me a “prat”, patronised me by calling me “sweet pea” and “petal”, then went on to accuse me of being “thick as two short planks” – and he’s supposed to be on the same side as me!
He also suggested I might be “happier with the #brexitloons”.
I’ve got a question for this comrade, and for his fellow #FBPE campaigners: how are you going to win over enough waverers to stop Brexit when you think it is a good tactic to abuse even those who want the same as you? And here’s another one: how many Leavers are going to be persuaded to switch sides by being called “loons”?
Brexit can still be stopped – but not by abuse. John Major and Michael Heseltine have spelt out what a disaster Brexit is likely to be, but they did it politely and effectively without resorting to abuse. They have provided a template for those of us on the left who want to avert Brexit.
Over the coming months there will be plenty of hard evidence that Brexit will be a disaster – economic slowdown, employers migrating, lack of progress in negotiations – so let’s use that to win the argument. Let’s try to convince as many people as possible that the referendum result was a mistake.
But let’s stop the Brexit madness.
Stop being abusive, because that results only in more entrenched positions.
Stop accusing all Leavers of being racists. Stop telling Leavers that they are stupid.
Stop throwing tantrums and stamping our feet.
Stop sticking our fingers in our ears and hoping this will all go away.
It won’t. Brexit WILL happen unless we can turn the tide of public opinion. If enough people are convinced by the end of the year that the government is on course for disaster, Brexit can be stopped.
It can be stopped by the opposition voting together (and Labour has said it will oppose any deal that fails to meet its own six tests) and winning over enough Tory MPs who are prepared to put their country above their party.
THEN we can stop Brexit. But it won’t happen if we keep fighting among ourselves.
That’s just madness.