Five years after the Brexit referendum and almost two years after Britain left the EU, British social media is still full of “Pro-Europeans” who are abusive to anyone who dares to suggest that “it’s time to move on”, even if they previously campaigned on the same side.
“We must rejoin the EU!” they insist with frustration that their cries fall on deaf ears. None of the major parties will back their desires and the wider population is truly sick of the subject. Polling throughout 2021 clearly indicates that although some people now think that Brexit may not have been the best idea, they don’t want to reverse the decision. Even if it were otherwise, their dream of falls at many hurdles.
To Dream the Impossible Dream
While politicians and the public across the EU were shocked and saddened by the UK’s exit, they have moved on. Dealing with Brexit has been an exhausting process, taking bandwidth from other priorities for a very long time.
There is no appetite for letting the UK rejoin at any time soon – most certainly not with the budget rebate and opt-outs from Shengen and the Euro it previously enjoyed. The extent to how these special privileges were long resented by many Pro-Europeans within the EU is either little understood or deliberately ignored by “Pro-Europeans” in the UK.
In the European Parliament itself, MEPs may say how much they miss the great British sense of humour, but in private they also express relief that Nigel Farage no longer disrupts their proceedings. Contrary to a desire to letting the UK rejoin, most feel they can finally get on with the project of ever-deeper union without being held back by a reluctant UK.
In fact, the very idea of “rejoining” is misleading. The EU is not a bus you can simply hop on and off from. As any other third country, the UK would have to apply to join and go through the full accession process, which can take decades.
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But not only that, it would also have to convince the EU that there is no risk of “Brexit 2.0″. According to MEPs from various countries I spoke to, that doesn’t just mean winning a supermajority in a referendum, but also a clear cross-party consensus, lest the opposition campaigns on a “Leave again” ticket in the next general election.
In short, it’s not going to happen and there is a wide gulf between serious Pro-Europeans in the EU and the UK’s wild FBPE rabble that won’t be satisfied until Farage gets his seat back.
Time Travel Does Not Exist
The sooner everyone realises that there is no going back in time, the better. There are now 23 countries in Europe that are not part of the EU – and like it or not, the UK is one of those.
The best that UK Pro-Europeans can hope for is to improve some of the terms of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), that now governs our relations with the EU.
People on all sides agree that it is far from perfect, but few seem to be aware that it has plenty of room for improvement. A few chapters are left blank, not just because no agreement was reached within the short time it was negotiated, but also because it was deliberately designed as a flexible framework on which we can build a new relationship.
For the time being, however, any chance of improvement is being held back by the ongoing “uncivil war” of continuity-Remainer and Leavers, neither of whom appear to realise how unrealistic their respective hopes and fears of rejoining the EU are.
The on-going conflict and language around it doesn’t just feed the polarisation of our own society, but also stands in the way of post-Brexit reconciliation that the majority of people and businesses on both sides of the English Channel and Irish Sea hope for.
While Rejoiners need to accept that we have to make Brexit work, especially for Northern Ireland, it is also true that some Brexiteers still need to accept that Brexit meant change – what was the point if it didn’t? – and that this change was unwanted by many. Some are angry that they can no longer trade into the Single Market as easily as they used to, while others had their dreams of moving to Spain dashed, but for many it was also a very emotional loss of an identity they cherished. They are in a process of grief that explains their anger. These are not things to be mocked or laughed at. Calling someone “sore losers” is what bad winners do. We all need to move on.
The author is a Strategy Advisor and Political Affairs Consultant, and former National Organiser of Conservatives for a People’s Vote.