The recent abuse directed at Anna Soubry MP outside the House of Commons highlights what I consider to be one of the most damaging aspects of the whole Brexit debacle: the polarisation of British public opinion. From the outset, the referendum in 2016, and the subsequent farce, has divided families, friendships, workplaces and political parties. In the Labour Party, for example:
"Today, Labour’s MPs, individual members and affiliated trade unions are overwhelmingly pro-EU and hostile to Brexit. All but about ten Labour MPs voted “Remain” in the referendum. A recent poll of party members found 90% would now vote for Britain to remain in the EU. The problem is that the party leader doesn’t always seem to share their enthusiasm."
Piers Morgan, a man who does not command universal respect and admiration, was surely correct when he said recently that Brexit has brought an unfamiliar element of intolerant anger from both sides of the debate. This has led to "Remainer" Anna Soubry being called a Nazi by far right protesters (!), and "Leave" dilettante, Nigel Farage, being attacked in his car when with his family. In the 1970s, I took part in protests against extreme right figures like John Tyndall and Martin Webster. I thought this justified as these men stood for violence against political opponents and mass deportation (or worse!) of ethnic minorities. I see no justification for violence or intimidation by either side in the Brexit debate - but it has happened, and may prove to be a genie difficult to get back into the bottle.
For the genie of violence has gone beyond the limits of the 1970s. We all remember the horrific murder of Jo Cox, M.P., by the Leave campaigner, Thomas Mair. We should also bear in mind the death of Duncan Keating in 2016, two days after the referendum. Keating, a "Leave" voter, died after a fight with a Remain-voting neighbour, Graham Dunn. And, of course, let's not forget the rise in hate crime, which has doubled in the past five years, according to the Home Office.
All this is bad enough, but there have been other negative effects. The economy, predicted to suffer post-Brexit, is suffering already. As The Guardian says:
"The UK economy is already 2.5% smaller than it would have been had Remain won the referendum. Public finances have been dented by £26bn a year, more than half of the defence budget. This translates to a penalty of £500m a week, a figure that is growing."
My final area of concern is the growth of Populism and the commensurate rise of the Far Right. Anna Soubry is not a Nazi; anyone with a minimal grasp of political theory knows this to be a ridiculous accusation. The problem is that many people are ignorant of political theory and political history, and do not fully understand the meanings of terms they use as abuse. The protesters who abused and harangued Anna Soubry, however, would react with hostile derision if you pointed this out to them. Subtleties such as facts are of no interest to what was clearly a shower of ex-English Defence League members, acting like Nazis themselves.I believe this to be part of what I can only describe as a celebration of ignorance. My main charge against the referendum and Brexit is this: it has legitimised prejudice, division and unthinking hostility to people of different opinions. This does not, of course, mean that we are engaged in internecine warfare, but at times it feels like it.Soldiers of ignorance: EDL in all their glory
By way of an afterthought, there is one more area where Brexit has caused us damage: our international prestige has been seriously weakened by the referendum result, the absurd antics we have seen during the past two years of "negotiations" with the EC and the recent defeats of the government's efforts to provide a solution. All this has made us look insular and incapable of sane governance to people abroad - in other words, a laughing stock. And we haven't even left the EC yet, nor has the Irish border problem been resolved. Social division, political intolerance and violence, the rise of the far right, an economy that already looks shaky and diminished prestige abroad - if there's light at the end of the tunnel, I can't see it.