Brexit can still be stopped – POLITICO.eu
Doubting the inevitability of Brexit is suddenly in vogue.
BBC Newsnight Political Editor Nicholas Watt declared last week what many of us already know.
“I’m beginning to hear talk, in some quarters, that Brexit may not actually happen,” he said, in the sotto-voce tones of a man delivering a killer line.
Six months ago, such heresy would have been dismissed as the ravings of an anti-democratic zealot (Believe me. I’ve got the T-shirt). Today, not so much.
In “Story,” his bestselling manual to writing Hollywood blockbusters, Robert McKee describes the narrative arc of a movie.
A winning plotline, he writes, has an inescapable, and with hindsight, predictable trajectory. An “inciting incident” provides the story with seemingly unstoppable momentum that carries forward through twists and turns until the third act, when a sudden reversal of fortune leaves cinema-goers elated or crushed.
Brexit is not, of course, a movie (not yet, anyway). But after a year of twists and turns it’s beginning to feel like one — and we’ve just reached the end of the first act.
Our inciting incident? The shock of the June 2016 referendum. The first act twist? The shock of the June 2017 election.
“I’ve been amazed by how pessimistic Brexiteers have now become” — Tom Newton-Dunn, The Sun’s political editor
“Brexit: The Movie” will not have a happy ending — only degrees of tragedy tinged with moments of high farce. However this story plays out, Britain has done itself harm. Our reputation as a solid and historically inspirational leader of nations is shredded.
But as we head into the second act of Brexit, we’re unsure of anything except that — as that other great Hollywood grandee William Goldman put it — “nobody knows anything.”
A very senior politician and household name, now more or less backstage, emailed me recently with a suitably cinematic analogy for this moment in our story.
“It’s like the promised land is in sight,” he wrote, referring to the possibility that a full exit from the EU could still be avoided. “There’s no inevitability about Brexit anymore. But since we have no Moses character to part the waves, we are still in danger of being washed away like Pharaoh’s Army.”
He’s not alone in feeling a shift in the political winds. On Twitter, the Sun’s astute political editor, Tom Newton-Dunn, commented: “I’ve been amazed by how pessimistic Brexiteers have now become. Most ardent Leaver I know texted today: ‘We’ve blown it.’”
In the biggest giveaway yet that the Brexit camp is on edge, the Sun itself weighed in with its leader column. Under the headline “Remainers risk voters’ wrath” the paper observed that “some excitable Remainers are seizing on the Tories’ weakness and concluding the referendum can be reversed. Even some leavers are wobbling…”
Talk about rattled.
And with good reason. It’s readers of the Sun and the Daily Mail who will be feeling most bemused as the reality of Brexit kicks in. Those readers might be (understandably) so bored of it all that they are now immune to reconsideration. But once it’s all over, they’ll also be wondering (angrily) who it was who sold them on the milk and honey idea in the first place.
The leader writers of the Sun know it’s not Remainers who need to beware voters’ wrath, but those whose prolific lies — not just the £350-million bus, but the litany of promises of freedom, control, sovereignty and properly bent bananas — were so effective in the Leave campaign.
Today’s reality, all over TV and radio news, is so completely at odds with the persisting editorial message of their newspapers, it must make readers’ heads whirl: The moans and groans from all those damned industry experts who actually know what they’re talking about and keep throwing their damned facts into the debate; the cockiness from the EU27’s representatives who seem alarmingly un-arsed about the prospect of Britain leaving; the incompetence from those we elected to represent us.
Reality is, finally, belatedly, cutting through. Never before in my 30-year career in journalism has agenda so completely trumped fact, but readers are not as dumb as some editors would like.
Six months ago, I thought a second referendum a good idea. Today I don’t.
The idea that Brexit should and, just as importantly, could be overturned (two very different questions) is gathering pace. In all likelihood, the landscape has already shifted to the point in which a majority of ordinary Britons would vote for Remain if a second referendum were to be held today.
So, should there be a second vote, once the terms of the negotiated Brexit are known? Six months ago, I thought a second referendum a good idea. Today I don’t.
There isn’t time, and making that kind of a decision isn’t the public’s job. It never was. The job of overturning Brexit falls to our MPs: the 650 men and women freshly mandated to represent our best interests.
Will they do it? This is where the absence of a Moses figure is troubling. When the leaders of the two largest political parties are hellbent on pursuing a hard Brexit, how can the momentum be reversed?
Our story will have plenty of supporting characters. The House of Lords has a part to play. So does the EU27. But ultimately, if somebody is to play the starring role — the guide to the Promised Land — it will likely have to be the British public.
Imagine, if you will, this closing scene. The sheer weight of public opinion against Brexit has grown so strong — tragically heightened by successive economic or social traumas — that the parliament has finally been forced to do the right thing.
Just before “Ode To Joy” strikes up and the credits roll (Director: Rupert Murdoch. Gaffer: Theresa May. Based on a bad idea by David Cameron), a prime minister stands at the dispatch box to summarize the events of the past two years.
“Britain’s long-term interests are best served by our remaining within the European Union,” she (or he?) says. “The people have spoken. Remain means remain.”
That’s a twist worth waiting for.
Matt Kelly is editor of the New European.
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