Rejoining the EU will be right… but it’s too soon to push for it

To bring over people who supported Brexit we need to expose the failings of the Johnson government as it unravels, so that “Rejoin” is the response to LeaveLies coming into focus.

Nothing has emerged since the start of the referendum campaign to suggest that Brexit promises anything more than serious harm — to the British economy, British culture and Britain’s standing in the world. That didn’t change at 2300 on 31 January.

But the way forward is more complicated than switching from #RevokeArticle50 to #RejoinEU — and not just because the process for rejoining is not so simple.

Polling suggests that the majority have been opposed to Brexit for a significant time. But to re-join the EU we need to bring over those who supported Brexit.

Over the coming months and years there will be plenty of opportunities to point out the failings of Brexit and the gap between the reality and the “bright future” people thought they were voting for. We should be holding the government to account for attempting to sideline parliament and the press. We might well need to say a lot about the report on Russian interference in the referendum (whenever it is finally released). But reversing Brexit will hang on people saying “This is not what I voted for”. For Brexit supporters to hear this, it’s vital that we don’t come over as sore losers or humiliating them by seeming to say “told you so” as the reality of Brexit bites.

Among supporters of Brexit there’s been a palpable sense of “wanting Brexit” (or “wanting what we voted for”) though they are often hard pressed to express what this will actually mean. They are likely to assume that we are thinking in the same way — our case is undermined if we are seen to be trying to take away their victory.

In the near future, we will have a tricky balancing act — calling the government to account for its failings over Brexit in a way that highlights the problems and keeps faith with Remain supporters who look to us because of our clear stance on EU membership, without making it harder for Brexit supporters to change their position as they see the reality of what emerges.

The time to talk seriously of re-joining the EU will come. The time to do this loudly is when people are expressing their doubts so that “rejoining the EU” is a way of focussing the changed emotions. We’ll be heard more loudly then if we don’t push it in the near future.

In the last few days I have heard several political leaders with impeccable pro-EU credentials suggest that we shouldn’t talk about re-joining. It would be one thing if that were heard as “give up and embrace Brexit”. It’s quite another if the message is to bide our and prepare.

The wait may not be so long. If the Russia Report is even half as damning as is rumoured people will have every right to be angry at a stolen referendum.

The original version of this article appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice, 16 February 2020.

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