Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: Does Anyone Really Expect the EU Referendum to Resolve Anything?

Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: Does Anyone Really Expect the EU Referendum to Resolve Anything?

Article excerpt

I suppose, if you could look deep into the mind of somebody who was passionately keen that Britain should leave the European Union then, in among things like old episodes of Dad's Army and unassailable convictions that Cornwall produces some perfectly good vintages, and so on, you might also spot a vision of the future.

In this vision, our referendum will have been and gone and Britain will have seen the light and left the EU. Everybody will have been convinced. Even Nick Clegg. The question will have been settled for a generation at least, and there will be no need to talk about it anymore and we'll be able to get on with doing all the things that those blasted Europeans have been preventing us from doing for the past four decades. Whatever they were.

Likewise, if you peered into the mind of a passionate British advocate of the EU, and you brought along a translator, because they're obviously dirty polyglots to a man, then you might also find a vision of the future. In this one, Britain will have resoundingly voted to stay in, and Nigel Farage will be feeling so cravenly silly about everything that he'll have crawled off to open a tiny pub in the furthest reaches of Kent, where he'll keep flouting the smoking ban in the hope that somebody will arrest him, but out of cruelty no one ever will. Here and there, residual pockets of Eurosceptics might linger on, but they'll be cared for in their own communities, possibly with the help of grants from Brussels. And likewise, the matter will be settled and nobody will want to talk about it all ever again.

Just like, in other words, almost no referendum ever. As we surely ought to have learnt from Scotland, what we are not about to do is resolve anything. Nothing will end. Nobody will calm down. People with entrenched views will not climb out of their trenches. Afterwards, everything will be exactly the same.

I assume, of course, that we're going to stay in. I assume that because the only people I can find anywhere who think differently are Scottish Nationalists gamely hunting for a reason to claim nationalism is only what southerners do, the English bastards. Even most of the Outies I know think we're going to stay in, and are mighty glum about it. Probably, as things unfold, we'll have lots of polls saying we're staying in, then a week of rogue polls that say we're going out, then a week of panic from people who really want us to stay in, and then we'll stay in.

And the thing we will be staying in, of course, will be pretty much exactly the same as the thing we're in already. …

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