Since the EU referendum — which politicians have taken to reflexively saying “delivered a clear decision” despite the tiny majority — the behaviour of our politicians has been perplexing. Theresa May, who recognised that the UK is better off in Europe, has been inexplicably pushing for the hardest possible Brexit; Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned to Remain, has whipped both MPs and Lords to go along with May’s unamended Brexit bill.
I have a horrible feeling the answer may be cowardice. I fear that Thomas Mair’s murder of Jo Cox looms large in the minds of May and those like her. I suspect that, at bottom, May is simply afraid of the anger of hard-right Leavers. That anger comes — rarely, thankfully — in the form of actual murderers. But it also comes in the form of hatred from the tabloid press; and in the form of rhetoric from people like Nigel Farage, saying things like “Every attempt … to delay or dilute Brexit will only increase our anger”.
Britain is — or at least used to be, and must be — better than that. We must not make irrevocable political, economic and social decisions on the basis of who is angriest.
As I write this, there is a pro-Europe march in the centre of London. I have no idea how many people are marching, or what effect it will have on the people who will decide this. But I hate the idea that the march will have more political effect if it expresses more anger. I hate the idea that the most effective way to swing the political mood might be for the march to turn into a destructive riot. I hate the idea that it might take a Remainer murdering a prominent pro-Leave political to change the political atmosphere — to make May and her cronies as afraid of extremist Remainers as they are extremist Leavers.
If we want to avoid our politics disappearing down that hole, it’s essential that those with power don’t let themselves be swayed by fear, but make decisions by means of evidence and rational discussion.