Every now and again someone in the Lib Dems argues that the party’s focus on Brexit is mistaken because the issue will be over and done with come the spring of next year.
What’s odd about these comments when I’ve seen them made is that they’re not really followed up by any evidence or justification beyond the (to the utterer) apparent self-evident logic that once Brexit has been dropped or come into force it’s bound to be dead as a political issue.
That’s odd, because we have plenty of examples from previous dominant political issues about what happens once they pass such a key trigger point as the one next spring poses for Brexit.
Suez. The Winter of Discontent. The Miners’ Strike. Britain’s departure from the ERM (European Exchange Rate Mechanism). The second Iraq War. All examples of issues that dominated contemporary politics. All examples of issues with a clear ‘closing’ moment (withdrawal of troops, ending of strikes). Yet all also issues which were still shaping political views for decades to come after. Listen to the passion with which people still refer to the Miners’ Strike, for example, to see the decades-long afterglow of such issues.
And all the more so with Brexit when, whatever happens between now and Spring 2019, there will still be so much unfinished business and so much still to argue over.If Brexit doesn’t go ahead, do you think Brexiters will therefore meekly shuffle away and accept that as all done and dusted for a generation? Of course not, and we should no more expect them to do so than they should expect Remainers to shut up now. Democracy is a continuing process, not a one-off.
And if Brexiters do get their way, why should Remainers not, for example, campaign at the next general election for the UK to rejoin Euratom? Or argue for Britain to take part in a myriad of pan-European collaboration projects, decision times on which regularly come round?
Again and again, there will be opportunities to say ‘this is a useful thing to collaborate with our European colleagues on’ and for Brexiters to say ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgh! no, that organisation involves someone who once passed through Brussels on a train’.
There is definitely an important point about how such arguments are presented – about the best future for our country rather than about grumpiness over a past decision. But if presented right, the role of Brexit in determining political loyalties and election outcomes won’t be over by the spring of next year. It’ll just be starting.