The Remain/People’s Vote movement is not a key talking point now. Thursday’s election was primarily a defeat of Corbynism and, almost as an afterthought, the Remain cause is finished. Notwithstanding this lack of attention, autopsy is imperative. Remain was a political failure. Unable to accept the result of the 2016 referendum, Remainers failed to compromise and this led to a worse outcome. Had Remainers supported the May Withdrawal Agreement, advocated by many of us, Brexit would have been softer. The all-UK backstop and commitment to a close future trading relationship, both removed by the Johnson Government, would have reduced effects of Brexit and made it easier to re-join. Opposition was a devastating mistake.
This was nonetheless secondary to the moral failings of Remain. This point requires background. Ever since 2016, when the rights of EU immigrants began to be attacked, defence of minority rights has been Remain’s supposed sine qua non. This was a necessary response to the Government’s disgraceful equivocation over the rights of European citizens in the UK. The Remain movement correctly asserted that minority rights should not be sacrificed to political expediency, as articulated by #iamnotabargainingchip. Remainers placed crucial emphasis on the experience of Europeans in the UK, citizens alarmed by hostile discourse and actual physical attacks, asserting that minorities were uniquely placed to understand racism. This is a critical point, which I only fully appreciated when my Polish wife wept watching an abrasive episode of Question Time.
These principles were discarded by many Remainers during the 2019 election. Despite prior emphasis on the importance of minority perceptions of racism, many supported a party led by Jeremy Corbyn, a man considered anti-Semitic by 87% of British Jews. Anti-Semitism is a more pernicious racism than that directed at ethnic Europeans, given Jewish history. Many argued that tactical imperatives were more important. Given that Remain was predicated on the belief that minority rights were non-negotiable, this was highly problematic. I understand arguments for tactical voting, having campaigned and voted for Labour in 2017, yet 2019 was a very different context. I don’t have ‘regular’ Labour/tactical Remainers in mind here, such voters not being fully acquainted with relevant issues. I am thinking of those who were vocal on European rights, well aware of the anti-Semitism issue, yet still supported Labour/tactical voting. I was disappointed with several prominent Twitter Remainers.
Remain may be finished, yet supporters will doubtless regroup into other movements which promote the rights of Europeans in the UK. These movements will make good arguments, many of which I will accept. Notwithstanding agreement, I will find it difficult to hear certain Remainers make these arguments. Europeans weren’t bargaining chips, but Jews were.