In a recent speech to the European Parliament, European Council President Donald Tusk claimed that Brexit would become a reality unless Britons have a “change of heart”. His words echo persistent demands among Remain-supporting figures in British politics for a second referendum on EU membership, suggesting the electorate should keep “an open mind” about reversing Brexit. There’s nothing wrong about keeping an open mind, but there’s also nothing open-minded about reversing Brexit.
There was a time for open, honest debate about Britain’s place in the EU, and that was during the campaign period leading up to the June, 2016 referendum on EU membership. Indeed, the Brexit debate dominated TV, print, and online media. In fact, almost 15,000 articles were published online across 20 national news outlets during the official campaign period, eclipsing all other political issues.
After months of impassioned debate from all sides, record numbers of Britons showed up to vote. With a turnout of 72.2%, compared to the previous year’s general election turnout of 66.4%, voters were keen to express what they thought about Britain’s place in the EU.
Now that it’s clear how Britons feel about EU membership, it’s time for Remain-supporting politicians to keep an open mind about the fact that 17.4 million of their compatriots decided to leave.
Beyond Britain’s recent discussion on EU membership, a lot can be said about the EU’s consistent inability to keep an open mind about any direction that reverses integration. Brussels is known for quashing dissenting points of view, as it did when “virtually all” eurozone finance ministers, and several national leaders were agreed that Greece should temporarily exit the common currency in 2015, only for Tusk to forbid German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras from leaving the negotiating room without an agreement. The currency union, however flawed, had to be preserved.
If anything, Tusk and other EU leaders should ask themselves whether Britons might have decided to remain, had the EU shown more flexibility to address their concerns. As British MEP Daniel Hannan argues in a recent tweet, “If Tusk and [European Commission President Jean-Claude] Juncker wanted Britain to stay in the EU, they’d propose a looser arrangement. Their refusal to contemplate such a thing explains why we’re leaving”.
The time for debate on Britain’s EU membership was in 2016. Britons have made their decision, and it’s now time for the political class to be open-minded about how best to move forward as an independent nation.