We know that the Brexiters want to recapture a lost Britain; and few Britons can rival William Shakespeare in the patriotism stakes.
It intrigued me, therefore, to hear the following from a Shakespearean scholar who recently delivered a Bardic talk in – where else? – Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford-upon-Avon is as near to Middle England as any Brexiter could wish.
When it came to questions, my acquaintance was slightly surprised by the first one: which way would Shakespeare have voted in the referendum?
But, mindful of the fact that so many of Shakespeare’s plays are set in continental Europe, he immediately answered Remain. As Andrew Adonis and my colleague Will Hutton note in their forthcoming book Saving Britain, Shakespeare said “all the world’s a stage”, but Europe was his actual stage.
My brother Victor once noted that, on a rail journey west from Venice, three stations are in places immortalised in five Shakespeare plays: Venice itself (Othello and The Merchant of Venice); Padua (The Taming of the Shrew); Verona (Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona). Indeed, most of his plays are set on the continent. As one of his greatest admirers, Ben Jonson, wrote about the homage Europe owes to him: “Triumph my Britain, thou hast one to show/To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.”
There is much talk of ‘globalisation’, but the key economic development of the British economy has been Europeanisation
As Winston Churchill, hero of Remainers and Brexiters alike, knew only too well, we are European. We went to war to save Europe. Under the Brexiters’ heroine, Margaret Thatcher, we were the driving force behind extending the boundaries of the EU to embrace eastern European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, whom we had helped to save from Hitler and who had then fallen into the hands of our wartime ally, Stalin.
The UK is an integral part of the European economy. Large segments of our public and private sectors are in fact owned by continental entities – not least our transport network and public utilities. There is much talk these days of “globalisation”, but the key economic development of the British economy in recent decades has been Europeanisation. One hears almost daily reports of how the manufacture of familiar products – cars, refrigerators, washing machines etc – involves criss-crossing national boundaries with minimum disruption, thanks to the combination of the customs union and the single market.
The young, and those of us who are not so young, have got used to freedom of movement around Europe, which would almost certainly be threatened if Brexit is allowed to go ahead. Although it is easy to criticise their occasional excesses, the advent of cheap airlines has been a boon to citizens who can fly all over Europe at bargain prices. It is not for nothing that Michael O’Leary of Ryanair is such a formidable Remain campaigner.
I have said before, but it is important to say again, that the problem for the Remain campaign, and therefore for the country, is that the serious economic and social damage from Brexit would not be fully apparent until after March next year, when our misguided prime minister has set the date for leaving the EU.
Now, I did not get where I am today without quite a good network of contacts. What is coming across to me loud and clear is the extent to which so many multinationals and smaller businesses are making contingency plans to relocate to mainland Europe.
Most of our elected representatives are in politics with the object of doing some public good. They will have failed if they do not put a stop to Brexit. How will they answer their children and grandchildren during the 2020s when asked: “What did you do during the biggest economic threat to our nation of your career?” Will they lamely answer: “Oh, I went along with what I thought was the will of the people?”
It would be good if those of our elected representatives who have been too hesitant to say what they feel – which is that Brexit is crazy – were to consult the research of Bettergovgroup. As Timothy Clarke of that research group has pointed out, analysis of voters’ motivations during the referendum “reveals that a significant proportion of those voting Leave were simply protesting about the state of politics within the UK … Most of those who voted in the referendum wished to stay in the single market …
“While parliamentarians and much of the press have been insisting that Brexit is ‘the will of the people’, the people are far from convinced. There is now a widespread public recognition that the referendum was flawed and that people were not given the relevant facts.”