Neil Jopson argues the Brexit Revolution is not lost, and that the battle to reverse or undermine Brexit could have unintended consequences for the counter-revolutionaries.
Okay, yes, it can feel a bit depressing watching the news these days. But, as I argued a little over a year ago on this site, we are in the middle of a ‘counter-revolution.’ My point back in November 2016, was that every revolution is followed by a reaction. The Brexit Revolution is no different. At the moment we are seeing two processes unfold that are recognisable to students of history: counter-revolution and civil war. Additionally, at the head of the country, it looks increasingly likely that we have another familiar consequence of revolution, a Provisional Government.
Theresa May is now widely believed to be a ‘temporary’ prime minister who will not lead the Conservatives into the next election. In other words, the head of a Provisional Government. The current state of affairs would have seemed an unlikely scenario a year ago. But we are living in unusual times, where turbulence and surprise reverse the irreversible and make possible the impossible. The Prime Minister, a lukewarm Remainer, began her time at the top surrounded by an almost euphoric sense of purpose. Revolutions, you may have noticed, tend to create euphoria as well as despair. Attempts are made to cling to the wreckage of the past and to keep as close to the familiar as possible. For the Conservatives, May was that familiar. In both the French and Russian Revolutions, there was a provisional government, one that tried to bind the fast unravelling threads together. Neither succeeded. Yet the irony is they did not need to fail. They attempted to channel the revolutionary emotions without understanding what had really happened. They kept their old attitudes. In Russia, the Provisional Government of 1917 continued fighting in the First World War; even though the death of Russia’s manhood in the trenches had been one of the great triggers of rebellion. The Bolsheviks made the most of this failure to understand, taking power and holding it for seventy years.
Looking our elite today, it is easy to be struck by the comparisons. An establishment that said it needed to learn the lessons of the Referendum continues to ignore every single one of them. People outside London are fed up with the London bubble? We’ll argue that London is the reason we need to stay in the Single Market. Labour Party disconnected from its working-class roots? We’ll do everything we can to ignore the voice of the people and derail vital Brexit legislation under the pretence of newly re-discovered Parliamentary Sovereignty. BBC too favourable to the EU? Let’s just keep the Question Time panel well supplied with Remain talking heads (though to be fair to the BBC, there are probably few Brexiteers lining up to appear on the show). Despite this appearance, May’s Provisional Government is still attempting to fulfil democracy. If we are to avoid a messy collapse of Brexit, and an anti-democratic outcome, May’s government must deliver on the decision of the British people. If it fails to do so, the consequences are unknowable, whatever the latest Civil Service document might say!
Will the consequences be a Corbyn government? Dangerously possible. Violence? I doubt it. Who knows? No one. The reason we cannot know the consequences is because the Civil War is in full swing. New alliances are being forged, old ones are forgotten, lines (at least some of the time!) being drawn. Labour’s Kate Hoey and Frank Field stay true to their principles and vote with the government in order to achieve Brexit. Conservatives Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry vote against, delighting without irony in Parliament’s newfound sovereignty. At heart, it is a battle to take control of the revolutionary forces unleashed by Brexit. Corbyn thinks he can harness the whirlwind, or at least Momentum does; May nearly managed it, but made huge strategic errors.
What happens next will be, objectively, fascinating. But as a human being who loves this country, I hope that this Provisional Government will not fall. That, instead, it will transform itself into a vehicle that will implement the best Brexit possible. An honest Brexit. A real Brexit. In that way, this government will not be remembered as a provisional failure, but become legendary. It can be done. It should be done. It needs to be done. And it needs to be done now.