What Does Remain Look Like?

It’s almost rhetorical now: “What does Brexit look like?” 

The truth is that Brexit doesn’t really look like anything. Brexit is the belief that the freedom of a nation to act autonomously in pursuit of its own interests is paramount, regardless of outcome. In some sense, Brexit could look like anything. 

Perhaps this is an unsatisfactory answer on its own. Certainly, it’s abstract. Let us not forget, however, that those who ask this question rarely seem to want an actual answer. They are opposed to Brexit regardless, and any answer given is little more than conjecture or white noise. Perhaps they have a point. 

The sad truth is that too many on the Brexit side have given up defending the principles upon which Brexit is based, regardless of their differences with regards to substance. Many are content to repeat platitudes: “Brexit means Brexit”; “get over it, Remoaners”; “no deal is better than a bad deal”. This needs to change. 

The reality of the situation, though, is that Remain/Brexit is not a policy dichotomy. Brexit, as explained, is a set of principles we might loosely call ‘freedom’. Freedom can be justified for its own sake, regardless of the specific outcomes that follow it. Remain, on the other hand, is rooted to membership of the European Union, and comes with a set of necessary practical implications for policymaking, both now and in the future. Remain vs Leave, generally speaking, was policy vs principle. 

“What does Brexit look like” is the wrong question, therefore. The actual thing that needs to be considered, which the Remain side neglects to discuss, often tactically, is this: “what does Remain look like?” 

Back during the referendum campaign, I spoke to hundreds of people at street stalls, many of whom were resolved to vote Remain. Most did not seem to have considered what it meant for Britain to remain inside the EU going forward. Remain, after all, isn’t a static position, but the second of two paths. To quote Nigel Farage, the EU is a bus, and we were choosing whether or not to continue our journey.  

The truth is that the destination of that journey looks a lot like what Jean-Claude Juncker openly declares it will look like: a federal Europe with further centralisation of fiscal policy, defence, and democratic sovereignty. This means, in practice, a Britain inside the Euro, inside Schengen, with obligations to a Commission-controlled military, unable to make supreme decisions over its own laws, regulations, and even taxes. Much of this is already true. 

If this is what you want, so be it; I’m sure we could have a solid and hearty debate on the subject! 

And yet, of those staunch Remainers I spoke with during the campaign, only two that I can recall actually declared themselves to be committed Euro-federalists. One was a Frenchman who ran the Remain team here in Aber; the other, a random German fellow from Hamburg. Neither, obviously, could vote. 

The fact remains that the British public at large don’t know the full extent of these plans. Those that do typically oppose them, including many Remainers, who talk often about “changing it from the inside” or dismiss fears over adopting the Euro or a common military as “dangerous fantasies” even as the legislation is being wrote up.  

Libertarians, in particular, balk at the idea of such power being incrementally and undemocratically given to a supranational entity, especially one whose most outspoken proponents are zealots like Guy Verhofstadt, a man who loathes British cultural and legal traditions with every fibre of his being.

What’s needed is an honest debate about what we’re actually leaving behind. There are deep practical implications that aren’t being discussed and which, frankly, the Remain side seem to believe they are now immune from.  

If Brexiteers actually articulate and expose exactly what it is we don’t want about the European project, it will become far more effective to argue for Brexit at the level of principle, a debate we will win easily.