At a Notting Hill party the Saturday after the referendum, I had a stand-up barney with a Labour MP. “It’s a disaster!” he cried. “We need a second vote right away.” Other guests nodded gravely, but I couldn’t contain myself. Hang on, I said, are you saying a democratic decision is invalid because you lost? “It’s appalling,” he wailed. “It can’t happen!” Thus began my life for the next five years.
I voted Remain – “with no illusions” as we used to say when I was a student Trot – but I was raised in Doncaster North, a Red Wall seat. I saw the gradual untethering of traditional Labour supporters in my own late father. In 2009, after the local party was discredited by the Donnygate expenses scandal, he voted to make a so-called English Democrat mayor. My father, and millions like him, had little in common with bien pensant London lefties whom I call friends. A reckoning was coming.
What surprised me wasn’t the result, but the reckless determination of Remainers to reverse it. Did they think 17 million people would just accept their votes being cancelled? If Remain had won, would they have been cool with Nigel Farage demanding a rerun? The contempt for Brexit voters – that they were thick, old racists, from shitty places – disgusted me.
The arguments I’ve had! Rich Labour supporters telling me they were employing Polish people from London to work on their second homes, because locals “want tea-breaks”. And you wonder why you lost! As Theresa May struggled to get her soft Brexit through, they clutched Waitrose Shoppers 4 EU placards, rammed on their blue- and yellow-starred berets and marched.
In their smug intransigence they led us to an 80-seat Tory government in 2019. Now they moan about the Northern Ireland protocol and visa requirements. But if you’d backed poor Theresa May, I say, none of this would have happened.
Now, like most of the country, especially after the pandemic, I only care about the future. Let’s make the most of Britain’s new place in the world: remain friends with old allies, but forge new trade deals, solve Brexit glitches, such as red tape around small-business exports. Although sceptical about Tory promises, I’m delighted that neglected Red Wall towns are finally promised investment. Would a chunk of the Treasury be moving to Darlington without Brexit?
Since the EU, especially France, disgraced itself over vaccine procurement, the Remainers have quietened down. Yet still they pop up to mock fishermen or reminisce about the halcyon EU like colonialists remembering the Raj. But it’s gone. They could have saved it, if they had listened. They could have ameliorated the pain, if they’d compromised. And if, even now, they can’t control their contempt for half their fellow citizens, there will be a Tory government for 1,000 years.
Janice Turner writes for the Times
This article is from our “How Brexit changed us” series, marking five years since the referendum.