I'm at home in Tunbridge Wells tonight. You might think I'd be at some swanky dinner or intending to join the throngs in Parliament Square at 11pm to mark our departure from the European Union. You'd be wrong. I was indeed invited to all these events, and I have no hesitation in saying that I hope those who are attending will have a great time. It's just not for me.
The last three and a half years have been horrendous and have taken their toll on many people on both sides of the argument. Many feel battered and some are broken by the whole experience. Some are just so relieved the whole things is over (sort of) that they want to mark the occasion publicly. I don't feel that need, even though I too am incredibly relieved by the change in the political atmosphere that has become all too apparent over the weeks since the emphatic election result. It's as if a weight has been lifted from the country's shoulders.
Brexit is now done in the sense that we leave the legal and political structures of the EU at 11pm this evening. It's something which I became increasingly doubtful would ever happen. But there's a very long way to go until all aspects of Brexit are settled. In some ways, December 31st is a more significant date than January 31st, given that's when we really do depart from all aspects of the EU.
Arguments will rage about the future free trade deal with firstly the EU, and then other countries, most especially the USA. But I don't think they're going to be as corrosive as those over the Withdrawal Agreement.
As you know, I've written a book about the decline of public discourse. Would I have written this book without Brexit? I honestly don't know. There is only one chapter on it in the book, and it's one of the shortest. However, Brexit has seen friendships broken, family relationships put under strain and professional relationships destroyed.
I've tried my best over the last three and a half years to conduct the debate in a respectful manner, but I know that I have sometimes failed. I've tried to understand the other point of view and listen to those who I disagree with. I do understand that people on the Remain side of the debate have a perfectly valid argument, and I could easily argue it myself. I do feel, however, that many Remainers look at people like me, who support the idea of Brexit, as if we are rather simple country bumpkins. We are to be pitied, not understood. I really hope this patronising attitude will graudally dissipate over time. It will if Brexit proves to be a success.
But how do you define success? Economically? By volume of trade? By our abilities to forge our own path in the world? By our parliament deciding its own laws? All these things and more. There will be some who, no matter how well we do economically, will always maintain that we would have done better if we had stayed within the EU. They will never be able to prove it one way or the other, nor will those on my side of the argument. And that gets to the nub of the reason for the intensity of the debate on both sides.
Throughout the referendum campaign Brexiteers could make all the arguments they wanted about the benefits of leaving the EU, but they couldn't actually prove things would be better. I believed with all my heart that we would be better off out, and it's what I still believe until the facts prove me wrong. I don't think they ever will. Yes, there will be some areas where problems will be experienced, but overall I firmly believe we have a very positive future ahead of us. If, in ten years time, the facts tell a very different story, those of us on this side of the debate will have some very big mea culpas to make. Those on the other side should also be good enough to admit that there is a big possibility they too may be wrong, and at the appropriate time admit that things have turned out rather better than they expected. We will see.
Reading this back, it all sounds a bit melancholical, when most people who have read this far will imagine I would be euphoric this evening, and wanting to rub Remainer noses in it. The fact that's not how I feel is why I'm not in Parliament Square tonight.
Conservative MP and leading Brexiteer Steve Baker tweeted this yesterday...
I will not be on Parliament Sq. Bearing in mind our need to unite this country when many people feel great sorrow about leaving the EU, I’m encouraging magnanimity from Brexit supporters. It’s time for big hearts.
I totally agree. I understand that people who’ve fought for this all their political lives wish to celebrate us leaving. I’m glad we’re leaving the EU too.
But let’s not have any gloating or outrageous jingoism. We’ve already seen some very ugly social media posts from ultra-Remainers this week. Let’s not play their game.
Let me finish by paraphrasing the famous closing monologue by President Whitmore in one of my favourite moves Independence Day
In less than three hours, Britain will leave the European Union. We will Brexit. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. The 31st of January will be the day Britain declared with one voice: "We look forward. We cast our differences aside. We are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And we're going to thrive!" Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
Happy Brexit Day!