By Martin Vogel
The Britain that leaves the European Union tonight is not the same country that voted to leave on 23rd June 2016. The result was a shock, but it was still possible then to imagine that the Government would help the country process it in a mature way and facilitate the emergence of a consensus about how to discharge the mandate. Indeed, in that alarming period when we were a hair’s breadth from the Conservative Party giving us Andrea Leadsom as prime minister, such appeal as Theresa May held was chiefly that she might approach Brexit in a way that could elicit losers’ consent. These hopes were soon dispelled by her speeches to the Conservative conference disparaging “citizens of nowhere” speech and charting a course to a uncompromisingly hard Brexit (a course, it subsequently emerged, she did not understand she was embarking on).
“No state in the modern era has committed such a senseless act of self-harm,” The Irish Times opined yesterday. It spoke of Britain becoming poorer, diminished on the international stage and its citizens’ freedoms curtailed.
All true. But we have lost more than our participation in the European Union and the benefits that flow from that. We have abandoned the norms and etiquette of respectful disagreement, evolved over centuries, which gave substance to our sense of ourselves as a society founded on democracy and the rule of law. From the hasty rush to start the Article 50 countdown with no clear destination in mind, to the demonisation of the judges as “enemies of the people”, the suspension of Parliament and the intimidation of MPs (which began, let us remember, with the murder of one of their number in the days before the Referendum), this has felt like a country recklessly flirting with the darkest of forces.