I started my Brexit Diary on Facebook in September 2016. I renamed it my Remainer’s Diary when Sarah Olney defeated a prominent Brexit supporter in the Richmond Park by-election and gave me hope. I am re-homing it here. I plan it to be a record of the biggest folly my country has committed during my lifetime.
There is so much to say again. But before I get on to the Russia Report, there’s something else I need to say and it’s this. There is a link between Brexit and racism, and I don’t mean the one people suspect (voters’ motives), but another one that goes back into the distant past.
American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund S. Morgan begins with a historical account of the early colonies, firstly the lost colony of Roanoke and then the colony in Virginia, founded in 1607. The book documents in detail how, in Virginia, some servants – not slaves, servants – were beaten to death by their masters. The masters suffered no punishment.
The brutality was possible because the masters had control, and they had control because the colony was virtually impossible to escape from, being surrounded by wilderness inhabited by tribes who had rapidly learned that the new settlers were not friendly.
This brutality was in English culture. The settlers brought it with them from England. Or rather, the investors who controlled the Virginia Company, men of means, brought it and imposed it via the councillors they appointed, who ran the Company and the colony. Meanwhile back in England King James I was at loggerheads with Parliament, of which the commons element consisted of landowners elected by other landowners (men only). Ordinary people had no say.
The Virginia colony was there to generate profits, which eventually it did by means of growing tobacco. When the landowners ran out of labour, they turned to importing prisoners from Africa. The slavery and the slave trade were not invented by the English elite but they were enthusiastically adopted and used for the furtherance of these profits.
The brutality was there long before the importation of African prisoners into Virginia, which began decades later, and long before the degrading myths surrounding people of African descent took hold.
The brutal people behind this horror were the English elite.
Four centuries later, four years after the insane collective act of self-harm of 17.4m voters in the referendum of 23 June 2016, the indifference of the English elite to the plight of ordinary people is not so different.
We had the Windrush scandal. We had the uprooting of settled EU citizens. We had the shabby treatment of refugees. We had the torrent of lies and manipulation.
Earlier this year the English elite was at it again: up for allowing a deadly new pathogen to tear through the defenceless population causing thousands of avoidable deaths as part of “herd immunity”. It messed up its response to the pandemic because it put the economy first and arrogantly ignored expert advice. Faced with the certainty that this would overwhelm the NHS, it responded by getting patients transferred from hospitals into care homes, untested for the new virus, taking it into the very communities that were most vulnerable.
People’s resources are exhausted and businesses have reached the end of their survival plans and cannot cope any longer. The country is heading for more loss, failure, pain and many more deaths, but the English elite will not change course.
The English elite loves exceptionalism but is not exceptional: it has a psychological defect. It is indifferent to the plight of individuals. It lacks empathy. If it were not indifferent, it would not have behaved as it has. It’s not just Prime Minister Johnson. It’s also the people he has gathered around him, and Theresa May and her associates before him, and all the people who sustain them in their elite positions.
When historians seek to understand these times they should focus on what is wrong with the English elite, and why. They might like to begin with the public schools, and the parents who send their young children to them, who have much to answer for.
Diary Day 1215: Remain is a state of mind, and that is why talk of the country getting together and getting behind Brexit is pie in the sky. Twaddle. Forget it.
The UK left the European Union three quarters of an hour ago. That is what the law books say. The British MEPs will come home, including Anne Widdecombe and some others we don’t want back unfortunately. The reach of the acquis communautaire shrinks a little and we no longer have a say. The unknowable future stretches ahead like an unlit highway. No, more like a wet slipway into dark water.
So now I’m not an EU citizen any more. All the rights and privileges that entailed are cancelled. I am outside the European Union. But I have not left the European Union and I never will. I never could. It’s an ideal, a peace project, a higher form of organisation. It’s proof that the human species is not doomed to forever regulate its affairs by war. It’s civilised. It civilises.
I think millions of people in this country feel as I do. The mass movement we have put together is still here. We will not disperse, we can’t be dispersed because where are we? We are everywhere. If we were minded to cause trouble, we could cause a lot of trouble. But that’s not our way.
I don’t apologise for letting Brexit happen, because I didn’t. I opposed it all the way, every day. Other people can start apologising.
Diary Day 1184, or whatever: it’s New Year’s Day, and we are still in the European Union.
We’ve just had an exceptionally dreadful general election, which should never have happened, and would not have but for the vainglorious delusions of, chiefly, Jeremy Corbyn’s entourage. Against all the evidence, they apparently thought they could win.
Predictably, Nigel Farage was persuaded not to nominate Brexit Party Limited candidates in Conservative-held constituencies. This meant that pro-Brexit votes were not split. They went to the Conservatives. Meanwhile in mainly Labour-held seats Farage did nominate candidates. And it turned out that voters were so opposed to Mr Corbyn entering 10 Downing Street that they would rather break the habits of a lifetime and vote Conservative than vote Labour. They even did this if they were staunchly pro remain.
And in Scotland the SNP increased its MPs to 48 out of 59. Labour got just one seat there, in what had once been its stronghold.
The Conservatives campaigned on “Vote for us or get Corbyn” and “Get Brexit Done” messages (both of which were lies, but that’s normal now) and got an 80-seat majority. The so-called Red Wall in the north of England turned out to have gone blue. Even Dennis Skinner, the 87-year-old Beast of Bolsover, was defeated.
Apparently Mr Johnson wants to do away with the word “Brexit”. So from now on he shall be known in my diary as Brexit Johnson. It was after all his fault more than anyone’s.
So what has changed? Brexit Johnson has got control of the House of Commons. So, in domestic policy terms, we have moved from stalemate and paralysis to an elected dictatorship of a pretty awful crew of right-wingers. And barring some as yet unimagined crisis, they will be there for four or five years. So for anyone who isn’t in their camp, things are going to get much, much worse.
In international relations terms everything is exactly the same. We will be worse off under any version of Brexit than if we stay in the EU. We are hopelessly split on whether to stay or leave, with 52% of votes cast in the General Election being for parties that favoured a second referendum. All well-informed opinion in the UK and around the world thinks it’s insane to leave. The intelligent well-informed observers in the EU27 of course know all this.
We were so, so close to getting a second referendum, which polling has consistently for over a year indicated we would have won. The UK does not want Brexit.
But – First Past the Post! It usually delivers a Conservative majority. No wonder the Tories are so attached to it.
So what now? A crashing pound, food shortages, job losses? Probably.
And angry voters. The new government is making noises about the Northern Powerhouse. Good luck with trying to get businesses to invest in the north. It took Margaret Thatcher enough trouble to get Nissan to come to Sunderland, and that was when we were a bridge to the European market. Very soon we won’t be. And then the voters who switched in the Red turned Blue Wall constituencies are going to be very cross.
So good luck, guys and gals. You’re going to need it. And Happy New Year. May it be less dreadful than 2019 was, though the signs don’t look promising.
Diary Day 1126: it’s Guy Fawkes night, a night I have come to dislike. It causes injuries to people and terror to wild and domestic animals. It sounds as if a battle is going on, nightmarish for anyone who has actually been in one. And it celebrates the burning of someone at the stake, a horrible thing. Thanks to the activities of the sinister Matthew Hopkins, witch hunter, there were many such burnings in the part of the world where I was born that I wish I could forget about, having read contemporary descriptions.
Anyway, it is well past 31st October and we are still in the EU. How that happened is convoluted. But in a nutshell, Parliament was again unable to agree on anything. Not to leave with a deal, nor to leave without one. So the EU, anxious not to be blamed for the fiasco, gave us yet more time to sort ourselves out.
On 19th October I was one of over a million people who peacefully but noisily converged on the Palace of Westminster to protest (again) against Brexit and demand a People’s Vote. I gather that German TV using the latest crowd-counting techniques estimated it was more than two million; I wouldn’t be surprised. It was bigger than the previous one which itself was huge.
Parliament was in session even though it was Saturday. That had not happened for very many years. It was due to tedious game-playing by Boris Johnson and his associates who were trying to force their revised version of Theresa May’s deal through the Commons. We were noisy because we wanted MPs to know we were outside. And they did.
I was standing close to the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, near the huge screen erected by the organisers. There were speeches. The MPs inside were voting on a key amendment: it was about scrutiny of the legislation to implement the withdrawal agreement, which would determine whether the umpteenth EU Withdrawal Act, the one with a draft letter from Boris Johnson to the EU annexed, would trigger the duty to send that letter. People around me were saying they had a bad feeling. Then the result flashed up on the screen. The moment I saw the Ayes had 322 I knew it must be defeat for the Government! The crowd roared. Everyone roared.
It was a historic moment, overwhelming. It was a battle that had to be won in order to keep fighting, a point to save the match. We are still in and still fighting.
The PM sent the letter, though with childish truculence he refused to sign it, which didn’t matter as the EU officials knew he was bound by law to send it.
I was in Athens last weekend for the ALDE Party Congress. This is a fascinating event attended by dozens of political parties from across Europe. The gossip there was that President Macron was minded to veto an extension to the Article 50 period because he saw no point in one unless for the purpose of a deadlock-breaking event, such as a referendum or general election. A perfectly reasonable stance. In the end he dropped his objection and the EU agreed another extension, because proposals for either or both of those things were tabled in Westminster (again).
And then Hallowe’en came and went, with people celebrating Not Brexit Day. Boris Johnson, who had said he’d die in a ditch unless we left on 31 October, broke that promise as well.
There was a small and very feeble protest by Brexit supporters at the failure (as they saw it) to leave. They just can’t mobilise the numbers. The steam is going out of the Brexit cause with every day that passes.
And now we are plunged into yet another general election. With our primitive First Past the Post system and everyone being urged to vote tactically, which requires trying to second-guess how everyone else will vote, it’s exceptionally unpredictable.
The Metropolitan Police have confirmed that last month they passed papers on the illegal overspending by the Vote Leave campaign, led by among others the present Prime Minister and his close adviser Dominic Cummings, to the Crown Prosecution Service for “early investigative advice”. It has taken them ages to get even this far.
No. 10 is accused of suppressing a report from the Commons intelligence and security committee on Russian infiltration and interference in British politics. It was delivered on 17 October, No. 10 is meant to give clearance and no good reason has been given for delaying publication. The committee chair, Dominic Grieve, has called the decision to hold up publication “jaw dropping”.
John Bercow has stepped down as Speaker. We will miss him.