10 December 2017
Last week, in a five-star Knightsbridge hotel, severalhundred financiers, lawyers and MPs enjoyed a £200-a-plate gala dinner. This was an “Exit from Brexit” fundraiser organised by Nick Clegg – the former Liberal Democrat leader who, since voters threw him out of the Commons six months ago, is on the airwaves more than ever.
The campaign to reverse Brexit is gathering pace, run by ultra-Remain MPs, peers and denizens of big corporations who, benefiting from the status quo, are determined to maintain it. While most still piously claim to “respect the referendum result”, some have broken ranks. They now admit, unashamedly, they want to upend the biggest vote in British history, before it’s even been implemented.
These Brexit negotiations are clearly tough. There are complications – not least as the European Union, a moribund, self-serving bureaucracy, is determined to make it difficult for Britain to leave. Pour décourager les autres. After all, without our hefty annual contributions, the EU is in serious financial trouble. A rocky leaving negotiation, though, in no way justifies ignoring the result of a “once in a generation” referendum won by a margin of 1.3m people. “This is your decision” said the Government’s pro-Remain mailshot, sent to all 27m UK households just ahead of the June 2016 vote. “The Government will implement what you decide”.
In 2015, Parliament passed a Referendum Act, with MPs voting six-to-one to delegate to the electorate the decision on EU membership. Then came the referendum – the result of which so shocked much of our political and media class. In February 2017, when an opportunistic legal challenge meant Parliament voted again on implementing Article 50, the Commons opted overwhelmingly to proceed. Then, in the June general election, both the Conservatives and Labour stood on a platform of leaving the EU, including the single market and customs union. Between them, they won 83pc of all votes.
Given all that, the polls show the public wants Brexit implemented quickly, with as little fuss as possible. The Tories’ slim majority, though, has energised those determined to scupper Brexit. Labour, meanwhile, is in constant flux – its policy no longer to “respect the referendum”, as per its June manifesto, but to sow confusion, doing or saying anything necessary to topple the Government.
Amid such chaos, big business, along with many professionals blindsided by Brexit, and furious they were outvoted, sense an opportunity. If Brexit can be made to look ghastly then perhaps the great unwashed can be scared into accepting a second vote. Then, with the broadcasting establishment on side and masses of campaign cash, we won’t need to leave the EU at all.
To read Liam Halligan’s piece for the Sunday Telegraph in full, click here.