Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Defending Brexit

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Defending Brexit

Article excerpt

One of the many incorrect predictions about this year's referendum was that those who voted for Brexit would soon regret it. The theory was that these deluded souls only intended to lodge a protest vote, and would be overcome with buyers' remorse as Britain fell headlong into a deep recession.

Two months after the referendum, there is precious little regret. Polls suggest that just 5 per cent of those who backed Brexit wish they hadn't; the same is true for those who voted Remain. However, the Remainers have moved quickly and effectively into post-campaign mode and have found a new vocabulary. Their new enemy is 'hard Brexit'. They seize on every piece of bad economic news while rubbishing renegotiation prospects. They work effectively through agencies such as the Resolution Foundation, now perhaps the most influential think tank on the left.

And from the Brexiteers? Silence. We have barely heard a squeak from Vote Leave since the referendum. The group, like David Cameron, seems not to have had a plan for its victory. Like athletes collapsing at the finish line, they threw every last bit of thought and energy into the campaign and saved none for its aftermath. As a result, the side who won the war now risk losing the peace.

With Vote Leave gone, Brexit risks being defined by its enemies and moulded to fit their caricature. Theresa May, for example, has adopted a fringe position on EU migrants, keeping open the possibility of deporting them en masse in the confused belief that, if she doesn't keep up that threat, British pensioners might be expelled from the Costa del Sol. Vote Leave had said all EU nationals here legally should stay legally, a consensus backed by everyone from the Liberal Democrats to Ukip. But when Mrs May decided to place a question mark on the status of legal EU passport holders in the UK, Vote Leave was not around to show her the consequences.

They can be seen now. Employers say their EU staff are alarmed, and worried that they are no longer welcome; some investors are pulling out because of the uncertainty. This week, hospitals warned that EU doctors have started to leave the NHS. The damage is serious. With so few voices defending the Brexit vote, more errors like this seem certain.

Mrs May shrewdly appointed Brexit-eers to positions of influence in the government, but this already looks like turning into a bad episode of Yes, Minister . David Davis, the Secretary of State for Brexit, was handed a new government department only to find himself fighting a one-man turf war with the civil service. …

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