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Four “pathetic fallacies” of the Remainers

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Written by Sir Peter Marshall

Remainer arguments are largely based on emotion, producing what John Ruskin called the “Pathetic Fallacy” – misjudgement of reality produced by violence of feeling. Here are four examples.

Does the febrile quality of our current political discourse mean we have lost our cool? 

The answer is: “up to a point, Lord Copper”.  Those who most dislike the verdict of the 2016 Referendum are still supremely confident that they know best.  They are resorting to all ways and means to prevent the verdict from being delivered: these include the exploitation of common emotions – reluctance to quit existing comfort zones, misgiving about launching on a new venture, “better the devil you know…”, fear of the unknown – to thwart or otherwise obstruct the necessary dispassionate discussion of major issues of policy.   

This is described in literary parlance as a “pathetic fallacy”.  The notion originated with John Ruskin two centuries ago:  his concern was with the falseness of impression or analysis occasioned by emotion, and hence with its practical consequences.  He would be nodding his head sadly at what is to be seen today.

Here are four prime examples, in something like logical order:

(1)  the idea of “crashing out without a deal” is so terrible that the Government should be prevented from agreeing to it. 

This blithely ignores the fatal effect such a restriction would have on the Government’s negotiating strength.  As de Gaulle crudely remarked in a similar context, on les aura tout nus. (we will have then stark naked)   

It also overlooks the simple truth that our partners are no less apprehensive about a “no deal” outcome and have as great a share as do we in the responsibility for finding the best way of avoiding it. 

(2)  if we don’t like the deal on offer, we can decide to remain.  The 27 would like a change of heart on our part, and the European Court of Justice have ruled that we have the right to revoke our notice of withdrawal. 

That is but the beginning of the matter, not the end of it.  The ECJ say nothing specific about the rights of the 27, individually and collectively, in relation to our revoking of our notice of withdrawal.  This was not a matter on which they were asked to rule.  Anyone who advocates revoking our withdrawal notice without giving a comprehensive account of the conditions our partners would set for agreeing to such a course would be guilty of issuing a false prospectus – truly leaping over the cliff. 

(3) “We did not vote leave to become poorer”.

This is a popular way of advancing the familiar claim that in 2016 the electorate were ignorant of, or were misled about, the economics of Brexit.  Now however, the legend goes, they know the facts, and can thus appropriately be asked whether they wish to change their minds.   

Two obvious comments.  First, the idea that the economic consequences so far observed are sufficiently clear that we should reverse our decision is patently absurd.  We would need a decade before we could make any firm judgement on this aspect of the matter alone.

Moreover, the EU itself faces a bleak economic future

The main judgement we can make so far is that the shower of gloomy forecasts of what will befall us have proved to be inaccurate.   

But we must always have the social consequences of any disruption very much in mind.  We are a humane people.  Equally, we must have the social consequences of remaining in the EU in mind. 

(4)  Just as “we” (I voted remain but am in the habit of respecting the views of the majority) did not vote leave to become poorer, so “we” did not vote leave primarily to become richer.  “We” voted leave so as to have control of our laws, our money and our borders.  “We” combined this with a salutary vote of no confidence in the general management of UK plc.   

The Prime Minister made it quite clear from the outset that she had got the message.  “I want the United Kingdom to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united, and more outward-looking than ever before”.

And how would we emerge if the Remainers had their way?  As (i) people who haven’t got the bottle to face the future (ii) “Bourbons who had learned nothing and forgotten nothing”, and (iii) the laughing stock of the world.

In 2016 the electorate was asked to give a verdict.  In 2017 Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed it.  Now is the time for Parliament to ensure its delivery.

About the author

Sir Peter Marshall

Sir Peter Marshall, formerly of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, served as Assistant Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, and also worked with Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of European integration.