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23 June 2021

How Brexit changed us

New Statesman contributors reflect on the fifth anniversary of the seminal Europe referendum. 

By New Statesman

Andrew Marr: We have learned optimism is a potent political quality

If the left doesn’t find an optimistic, enthusing British prospectus of its own, then, in the short term, it is finished.

What surprised me wasn’t the result, but the reckless determination of Remainers to reverse it.

A referendum could change the terms on which we engaged with the world, but it could not change the fact engagement is in our best interests.

Matthew Elliott: Keir Starmer is the true architect of Labour’s post-Brexit misfortune 

As the former shadow Brexit secretary who called the shots, Starmer has created his own luck – and played into the hands of the Brexiteers.

Yanis Varoufakis: The UK’s departure has given the EU the illusion of strength

Both Remainers and Leavers ignored the impact of their decision on an EU in deep internal crisis.

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Laurie Penny: Britain has lost its sense of humour along with its self-respect

This project was supposed to restore Britain’s dignity, but instead we’re prepared to shatter the UK over sausages.

If you think there is no possible argument on the side of the 17 million people who voted Leave, you cannot help treating them with contempt. 

Out: Britain leaves the EU, 31 January 2020. Credit: Andrew Testa/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Northern Ireland is being used for proxy wars against the EU, as if the place has not had enough of the real kind of war.

For me chaos is good, it’s creative, and Boris Johnson is its political product.

 For every industry, the break has involved one big cat’s cradle of statist bureaucracy.

Johny Pitts: Why I feel less British and more European than ever before

I still find my identity where I always found it; in cultural connection beyond nationalism, outside officialdom.

David Gauke: The Tory party is almost unrecognisable now

The part of the Thatcherite legacy that stood for free markets, economic openness and fiscal conservatism has been largely repudiated.

 When an MP was murdered and the dangers to the Union seemed self-evident, it is disconcerting to think of the referendum as a time of innocence. 

Anand Menon: Brexit should never have become so polarised 

The way the public and, more importantly, parliament, polarised into two rival camps – hard Brexit versus second referendum – was remarkable.

Fighting on: a pro-EU protester outside parliament in London, 5 September 2019. Credit: Andrew Testa/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

Robert Tombs: Rejoining the EU is now unthinkable except for a diehard minority 

In a few years, young people may wonder why Brexit caused such a fuss.

Grace Blakeley: The left must challenge the EU, not simply concede to it

By failing to offer a post-EU vision, Labour allowed the Conservatives to shape Brexit – with disastrous consequences.

Maurice Glasman: For Labour, leaving the EU is a no-go zone which it can neither embrace nor reject

Despite his career of euroscepticism, Jeremy Corbyn could not make the case that the EU, after the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties, had become committed to an eternal form of capitalism.

The British diplomacy is reminiscent of a play-ground bully, with name-calling and threats interspersed with protestations that we are all good friends.

 Opinions about Europe, history and sovereignty quickly became treated as though they were existential conditions not viewpoints.

In November 2015 I found myself in trouble over an article I had written, provocatively headlined “Brexit Lunatics Will Destroy Britain”.

Chris Bickerton: The political future of the EU is still in doubt

Popular sovereignty may be far more deeply rooted than we imagine it to be in other EU member states. 

Rowan Williams: The referendum was always a solution in search of a problem

Political decision-making ought to be a matter of knowing how to identify real dysfunctions in social life and public policy, and then working out what can and can’t be changed.

Elif Shafak: The saga broke a creaking socio-political system

The calmness that characterised a good deal of public debate in this country is gone. 

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This article appears in the 23 Jun 2021 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit changed us