700,000 people marched through London last week to demand a People’s Vote. From those I know who attended the march, and what I read on social media, the point of a People’s Vote is to give the government a democratic reason to stop Brexit. The fact that 70,000 marched for this goes to show that a lot of people are still very hostile to Brexit.
Although the tone of the march was good-natured and overall it was positive, many Remainers are angry at the political establishment. Not only are they angry, they feel there is no democratic outlet for their anger. Remainers feel they have been ignored, as over the last year and a half a narrow referendum win for Brexit has steered us increasingly towards a No Deal cliff edge.
As with every Brexit article, I feel I need to make my position clear at this point: I voted for Remain and I think Brexit is a bad idea. I am very angry with this government that is being reckless with the livelihoods of millions of people. It’s farcical that the government is risking crashing out of the EU without a deal, which would do enormous damage to our economy. Damage that will be felt the hardest by the poorest. I understand the anger of Remainers, because it is my anger too.
I understand that many Remainers feel that Brexit is an existential threat to them. There is a very real danger of a No Deal Brexit and something biblically awful following, like hospitals closing because they can’t get medicines or recession so severe that it will make the last one look like a minor economic adjustment. Remainers are right to be angry about how careless the government is being.
This anger goes beyond the fact that the government is handling Brexit terribly. It comes from a feeling of that Brexit project itself is illegitimate. The fact that Leave won the referendum doesn’t settle the issue for many Remainers, as it wouldn't be for many Brexiters if they had lost by only 2%.
The government’s poor handling of Brexit has made this worse. No one voted for the debacle we ended with and many Brexit voters didn't vote for a No Deal cliff edge. Remainers are angry that the Brexit leaders lied to win and possibly had support from Russia. The fact that these charges have gone largely unacknowledged by many politicians means that many Remainers feel let down by both Labour and the Tories.
Not only do many Remainers feel that Brexit is fundamentally illegitimate, the very idea of Brexit strikes at the heart of how Remainers see the world. Brexit is the political expression of suspicion of foreigners, hostility to people with different cultures and nostalgia for an imagined past of British global supremacy. Remainers feel that their values are under threat from a culture of intolerance and backwardness. Remainers feel that their culture of tolerance and openness is under attack not only from the government but in the streets by emboldened nationalists. They also think they are being sneered at for being soft and out-of-touch by a political class that prefers to pander to knee-jerk bigotry.
The way that many Remainers see Leavers is deeper than the specific issues that came to a head around the time of the referendum, such as migration from Eastern Europe or the refugee crisis. The cultural difference between Remainers and Brexiteers comes down to basic things like a dislike of patriotism and preference for internationalism. Many Remainers simply don't understand why people would love their country to the point that they want to do huge damage to it so that they can save it from foreigners. The idea of patriotism (especially the way patriotism has been expressed through Brexit) is an anathema.
Remainers are also angry about being told to listen to Leavers. A lot of the Remainers I talk to don't want to listen to people with different views from them. They don’t want to listen to peoples’ concerns about immigration or the loss of British identity. Remainers are constantly implored to understand Leavers, but why is the opposite never said? Why are Brexiters never told to listen to Remainers? No one is suggesting that there be a pro-EU column written in the Daily Express to broaden their worldview.
At this point, it's worth remembering that not every Brexit voter was an unemployed former steelworker. Many were middle-class, property owners who feel insulated from an economic shock that Brexit cold produce. Most Brexit voters are older and not university educated, but that doesn't mean their howls of anger directed about the EU is the product of a life of being crapped on by the system. It could equally be the product of a close-minded, curtain twitching, dislike of others. Most young, University educated, Remainers, trapped in the private rented sector, have a better claim to being the people abandoned by the political class then Daily Mail readers who have been pandered to at every possible opportunity.
Remainers feel betrayed by the establishment. They feel betrayed by Corbyn and Labour for failing to mount an effective opposition to Brexit. They feel betrayed by the Tories for failing to put the practical needs of the economy ahead of the whims of the anti-EU loonies in their party. Above all, they feel betrayed by supposedly sensible politicians for pandering to people’s dislike of immigration to the point where the political manifestation of this dislike has driven the country to the brink of disaster.
There is the very real possibility of crashing out the EU without a deal and doing huge damage not just to our economy but also to the basic infrastructure of the country. If Brexit is a gargantuan disaster (which we may discover it is, very soon) then we will have ruined our country because a few people are sent into waves of existential anger because they hear Polish being spoken on the bus, and politicians were too frightened to tell them this is small minded and bigoted.
Remainers are angry that despite the fact that 48% of the country voted not to gamble our future on the promises of Boris Johnson, no serious political party is representing this group of people. Ignoring this number of angry people or dismissing these concerns as just those of "metropolitan liberals" will make Remainers feel less alienated. So far this anger has not found itself a radical outlet, but it will. Given time. Doing Brexit and getting it over with will not make this anger disappear. It needs to find adequate political expression.