The “Resistance” versus “Snowflakes”: how Remainers are divided over Brexit

Are pro-Europe campaigners in Britain fighting each other?


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Something I noticed when out reporting on the campaign trail during the 2017 general election was the confused message of Remainers. They couldn’t decide whether they wanted to oppose Brexit, or temper the outcome.

This was starkest in the Lib Dems’ campaign. They ran on a platform calling for a second referendum. This meant a vote on the final deal, rather than a Remain/Leave rerun but, as many figures within the party feared, this wasn’t how the public took it.

Politicians in Leave-voting, traditionally Liberal Democrat areas like Cornwall despaired at their manifesto’s unclear message.

And even Nick Clegg, now a prominent anti-Brexit campaigner, admitted to me when I visited him canvassing in his since-lost Sheffield seat that most of his Remain-minded constituents didn’t want the decision reversed.

“It’s a very British attitude,” he told me. “Lots of people who voted Remain sort of say, ‘oh, come on’. The phrase I keep hearing is: ‘We’d better make the best of it.’”

It’s this response, says Andrew Adonis – a Labour peer and former cabinet minister who has become one of the most zealous anti-Brexit voices in Britain – that is making his job so difficult. And not from voters, but from his fellow campaigners.

Last week, when telling me why he’s so enraged by the BBC’s coverage of Brexit, he admitted that lots of Remainers have been disagreeing with him.

“In the past week I’ve been flooded by snowflakes telling me I shouldn’t be attacking the BBC because it’s a great liberal institution,” he told me.

Adonis finds his fellow Remainers are divided between those who would have preferred to stay in the European Union but think the time has passed, and those who are still fighting to stop Brexit happening at all. He is very much in the latter camp, and condemns the former.

“One of the big debates taking place in Remain at the moment is essentially, amongst those of us who want to stay, what I term the Snowflake Tendency, who think it’s basically all over and we should roll over, and the Resistance Tendency,” he said.

“There is now a very clear division in the Remain camp between those who are serious about resistance, and those who basically think it’s game over,” he added. “It’s a big challenge for people like me; there’s a real danger from the game over brigade.

“And by the way, I think [shadow Brexit secretary] Keir Starmer is the leader of the game over brigade… Keir said he’s still a Remainer but he thinks it’s game over.”

Prominent stop-Brexiters include Andrew Adonis, Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, Peter Mandelson, Neil Kinnock and Vince Cable.

Having voted through Article 50, it seems a majority of MPs (and remember the majority were in favour of staying in the EU before the referendum) do not want to stop Brexit.

The most the pro-Europeans among them, like Chuka Umunna, are striving for now is staying in the single market and customs union, rather than officially continuing to be an EU member state.

Of the campaign groups, Open Britain is mainly gunning for single market and customs union membership – although it does highlight on its homepage that Lord Kerr, who wrote Article 50, says Brexit is reversible “if people change their minds”.

Best for Britain, which Adonis champions, is “fighting to keep the UK open to EU membership” – ie. campaigning for the British public to have a say on the final deal, with the opportunity to reject Brexit.

Then you have the grassroots activists, who have the same divides. There are those who think Adonis is going too far on Twitter in his rants against the BBC, and then there are those who parked a bus outside Parliament a few weeks ago with a banner reading: “1 year to #StopBrexit”.

The problem for Remainers is not just the rather narrow source of their most high-profile campaigners – former politicians associated with some really quite unpopular past governments – but confusion about their aims.

Just like the meaning of the term “second referendum” on Lib Dem leaflets was misleading – and therefore off-putting – to voters in 2017, the indecision behind what pro-Europeans want from such demands is muddying their message.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.