6 years ago I published a book “Brexit. How Britain Will Leave Europe.” It came out before the May 2015 election. It set out all the reasons, based on 20 years of door knocking in what we now call a red wall seat, why I thought that if a populist plebiscite on Europe were to be held the vote would be out.
After the defeat of Ed Miliband and the expulsion of the Lib Dems from politics in May 2015 the points were set for the Brexit referendum. Philip Hammond – remember him? – exulted that “Brexit would light a fire under Europe”, a curious metaphor as Europe celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of five years of fire and nationalist hate which consumed Europe 1940-45.
I assumed there would be a serious adult response by Cameron, Labour, the economic and foreign policy world, to prevent the isolation and trade rupture of Brexit.
I was wrong. Bit by bit I felt like a Brexit Cassandra as all my friends in politics, journalism, think tanks, foreign policy wonks all patted me on the head and said it would never happen.
On the day of the referendum itself the academic Professor Anand Menon told me “I know the English Denis. They’ll bottle it. They’ll never dare vote to leave.”
Another respected friend, the pollster Peter Kellner, said the same on the day.
I am still at a loss as to how the great and the good who have such status and influence in our nation were so utterly wrong.
Endless books have been written and conferences held but no one has stepped up to say “I was wrong. I let the Trojan horse of Europhobia enter the gates of Britain without protesting or fighting back.”
I showed my book to Jim Naughtie who assured me it was worth an outing on Today. However, the programme’s then editor, a prominent Tory, who had turned the flagship current affairs programme into Radio Spectator, refused to have me on.
Just one journal, Standpoint, ran a piece by me saying Brexit would happen. The Guardian was full of comments by Sir Simon Jenkins or the Reverend Giles Fraser ranting against the EU or by Owen Jones arguing for “Lexit” – a left wing exit from Europe.
Two friends, Charles Grant, the veteran Europe watcher with his think tank the Centre for European Reform and John now Lord Monks, the former TUC general secretary, shared my fears.
But the overwhelming mass of the British establishment was complacent, blind and deaf to the views of the British people
As in 1939, the government had no idea of what to do or the need to mobilise effectively if Britain were to stay in Europe.
Business launched a campaign run by a shopkeeper which lacked drive, flair and relied on political dinosaurs.
Labour under a life-long anti-European advised by communist sympathisers dreaming of overturning the 1975 referendum result did nothing to mobilise such as remained of the left in Britain.
Today there are endless conference and BBC slots on the fifth anniversary of Brexit. Will any of the distinguished participants own up and admit their blindness and deafness and complacency in 2015-2016?