Forget Brexit Betrayal. It is Remainers Who Have Been Betrayed

On Sunday, as the bacon grilled slowly in preparation for breakfast, the major picked up his paper. Shocked, his moustache quivered with rage as he turned to his wife.

“Marjory, can you believe it? This lily-livered government has offered to pay the blasted EU £40bn.”

“Really, dear? Why’s that?” said Marjory putting the sausages in the pan.

“Why’s that? Because they are a bunch of pinko commies. This is not what we voted for Marjory. It is a betrayal!”

Before she could turn to face him, the major had taken the shotgun from his side, pointed it at the telebox and fired two rounds into its screen.

“Bloody BBC!” he sniffed and, his point made, he waited for his breakfast.

Major Bumsore is, of course, a fictional character and a gross stereotype. Yet, led on by Faragism, in scores of newsrooms and even households, across the country, the idea that the United Kingdom should be obliged to settled its obligations - on pensions and much else - to the EU represents a betrayal of Brexit.

So absurd has the betrayal narrative already become that it would not be surprising were John Redwood cry foul because David Davis did not turn up to the latest round of negotiations dressed as John Bull.

It is almost as if they are afraid it is all going Pete Tong.

And yet, if any group can claim betrayal, it is not Brexiters but Remainers.

Mandates are not stone tablets, carried down from Mount Sinai. They are interpreted

When Britain voted to leave the EU it did so narrowly. 52-48% was an indisputable margin but it was not a landslide. The political class has allowed that narrow vote to become “the will of the people”.

Most Remainers would reluctantly concede that pursuing Brexit is the democratic obligation of the government. What they would not concede is that this should be done at any cost.

As Iain McLeod said of Enoch Powell: ”I am a fellow traveller but sometimes I leave Powell's train a few stations down the line, before it reaches, and sometimes crashes into, the terminal buffers.”

It may be that standing by the door, as it is announced that the next stop is Brexit Armageddon, a majority want to stay on the train. But it is surely right that the people are given a choice when we learn the destination rather than have the carriage door slammed in our faces by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Had Britain narrowly voted for continuity Nigel Farage would have declared a second referendum inevitable. He is on record as saying so. The glaring difference is that a Remain vote was a vote for a known; when Britain voted Leave - and I am, out of politeness, glossing over those dodgy promises - it was voting for an unknown.

The Remain betrayal has been that so few politicians have been prepared to make that case. And it is a democratic case.

The betrayal of 48% of the population was best symbolised up by Margaret Beckett during the Article 50 debate: she predicted catastrophe but voted in favour. She could have refused to back the bill until reassurances on EU nationals, the Single Market and the Customs Union were put in place. She did not.

Instead, both main parties support a policy that is only distinguishable by their slogans.

Implicit in the post-referendum debate is the notion - oddly illiberal - that Britain has become a majoritarian democracy.

The history of Britain’s relationship with Europe - from Schengen to the the euro - is one of compromise with its euroscepticism. That compromise would, rightly, have continued had Remain won. The reverse being the case, it would be proper for the winning side to look at the losing argument. The alternative is a country that stays starkly divided.

Somehow Brexiters have been able to divine what 52% wanted when they voted in the referendum. Coincidentally it iswhat they too want. Mandates are not stone tablets, carried down from Mount Sinai. They are interpreted. Voters elect governments despite policy disagreements. They have little choice but to do so. It is the job of representatives to interpret what their election means. They do so imperfectly. And if they misinterpret their mandate they are accountable.

Representative democracy is inherently about compromise

On the crest of the United States is the motto E Pluribus Unum - One From Many. It symbolises modern democracy’s inherent struggle to work for the good of everyone. Not just 52%.

That is why we have a government and an opposition.  

Somehow this ideal got lost on June 24th.  

Representative democracy is inherently about compromise. Governments change and reverse the excesses of their predecessors. All victories in politics are fleeting.

The betrayal of Remainers, and descent into an incoherent populism, represents a greater betrayal of democratic liberalism.

Major Bumsore will never be happy. And it is right that he should not be.

And as for Marjory, she never got round to telling him that his breakfast sausages were Bratwurst she had bought on special offer from Sainsbury's.

Betrayal, eh?

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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