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Friday, July 1, 2016

I Voted Remain. We Lost. Now Let’s Leave.

Keep calm and stop trying to refight the referendum


Losing is rubbish. Trust me, I know. I have stood for election for the Liberal Democrats and support Tottenham Hotspur.

I was also a Remain voter, and losing the referendum last week felt particularly bad. Awful in fact. I think the sense of defeat last Friday morning was so profound because, unlike General Elections, after a referendum you cannot just try and regroup with your fellow travelers to fight again five years down the line. A referendum means the argument has been had, the specific question has been answered, and the matter has been settled.

At least that is the theory.

Some of my fellow Remainers seem to want to ignore last week’s democratic result and re-ask the question because they do not like what the British people said. Some four million people have now signed a petition calling for a second referendum. Four million people are trying to shout over the majority and overturn the view of 17 million. The Lib Dems have gone as far as to say that they will run at the next election on a policy of having Britain rejoin the EU.

It is my view that a second referendum would be wrong – you cannot keep asking a question until you get the answer you like. You certainly cannot do what some have suggested and use Parliamentary procedure to block the result of the referendum ever being implemented.

It is entirely legitimate to be upset by the Brexit result.It is entirely legitimate to be upset by the Brexit result. It is entirely legitimate to be angry about it. I am both of those things. While neither side covered themselves in glory, I think a deeply unpleasant kind of politics won out on Thursday.

It was mostly short-term and small-minded, blew some very nasty dog whistles on immigration, and was based on a post-truth style of politics in which facts matter less than feelings. Indeed, facts and expertise became something to be sneered at and mistrusted during the course of the campaign.

However, that side won by 1.3 million votes. Four per cent. I wish that it had not, but that is what happened, and it was a clear victory in a referendum with a huge turnout.

The rallies, the petitions, the 1000-word Facebook posts might allow Remainers to let off some steam and feel better, but I’m pretty confident I know what our reaction would be if we had won and the shoe were on the other foot. We would tell the other side to toughen up and accept defeat with dignity, or at the very least stop winging.

Indeed many of us did exactly that when the Scottish Nationalists griped about the result of the independence referendum in 2014. So toughening up and accepting grudgingly but gracefully that Britain voted for Brexit is what we must now do.

We can and should campaign for the single market and free movement.Of course, that does not mean we Remainers should give up what we believe in.  Far from it. We can, and should, campaign for integration, for internationalist politics, for entry to the single market and the freedom of movement that entails. We should keep the pressure on our political leaders to get us the best possible terms of divorce as they negotiate our separation from the EU. But we cannot legitimately ask people “are you sure you made the right decision… no really, try again… have another go.”

Doing so would replicate the way that the Dutch and the Irish were so arrogantly asked to return to the polls and come back with a much better reply after they voted against the EU in their own referenda. In my opinion, it was that kind of undemocratic behavior that helped stoke up such resentment towards the EU in some parts of both this country and across Europe.

Let’s fast-forward to the acceptance stage of grief.No, we would be wiser to fast-forward through all the stages of grief and reach acceptance. Not acceptance of the politics that won, per se, but acceptance of this particular result and the democratic mandate that unfortunately Brexit now has.

It is a tumultuous and chaotic time in British politics, to say the least, with so much unknown and still to be decided. Yes, some of the Leave camp do need to abandon the more unpleasant elements of their campaign, and should be held to account for what they have said, but equally my fellow Remainers and I need to have a good cry, take a deep breath, and then stop trying to refight the referendum.

Ultimately, that is the only way Britain, Great Britain, has any hope of moving on as a United Kingdom.

This article first appeared at CapX.


  • Charlotte Henry is a journalist and broadcaster covering technology, media, and politics.