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Brexit Is Happening - It's Time to Fight for the Future

30/03/2017 16:25
Nicola Ferrari via Getty Images

It's finally happened. Theresa May has invoked Article 50. On Tuesday night, Twitter eagerly anticipated the biggest upheaval in British politics since the Second World War, with #BrexitEve the top trending hashtag Tuesday night and #WriteTheArticle50Letter used to both celebrate and skewer Brexit. On Thursday, #Article50 was the top trending topic in the UK, while (mostly Scottish) remainers used #ThatLettersNoMine to disavow Brexit.

#ThatLettersNoMine is strikingly familiar to the #NotMyPresident hashtag many of my American compatriots are using to oppose the nefarious policies of Donald Trump. I mourned deeply for my own country after Trump's election. To see so many of my fellow countrymen opt to validate such blatant misogyny and racism was appalling. And despite having my own reservations about the European Union, I supported the Remain campaign in large part because I didn't want to validate the racism and xenophobia that accompanied the Leave campaign.

I understand that for Remainers, today is nothing to celebrate. The deep anxiety about the future - unknown, uncharted, and heading down a dark path of prejudice - is understandable. I felt the same way the day Donald Trump was inaugurated.

Yet, I also felt something that I hadn't expected: relief.

With the inauguration of Trump, the real fight could begin. No more obsessing over what he might do or worrying about the future. No more licking my wounds from the devastating electoral loss. There was a task at hand now, and that was to counter and resist Trump at every turn. It was as if someone had finally ripped the plaster off my wound, which though it left a scar, had healed.

Waiting is the worst. Few things in this world can make one feel so powerless as knowing something horrible is inevitable. Anticipating the end of the world as you know it takes an emotional and psychological toll on you. When Trump was elected I felt frightened, angry, and helpless. But on the day of his inauguration, I found myself unexpectedly calm, with a peace of mind I had not anticipated. "What is done is done," I thought. "Now the real fight can begin."

The time for pouting, sulking, and temper tantrums is over. The stakes are too high for Remainers to stomp their feet and ignore the fact that Brexit is happening. I know how appealing that can be. After all, the Brexiteers made this mess, so why shouldn't they clean it up? But in reality that's a bit like asking a toddler whose thrown his food all over the kitchen to clean the dishes. Chances are things won't be cleaned up but plenty of things will get broken in the process. We can ill afford to let the same people who caused this disaster be the ones who are supposed to ensure its success.

Many Europhiles will continue to hold onto some sliver of hope that Brexit can be avoided, whether through the courts or through a second referendum or even another general election. This is an exercise in futility. Further discussion on whether Brexit is a good idea is no longer helpful, because it is no longer an idea, but a reality.

Now is a time for a pragmatic acceptance of events as they are and mapping out the best way forward. The EU referendum was always a destination and never a route. Theresa May has no mandate for this "hard Brexit" she is insisting upon, and Remainers still have months, even years, to influence the negotiations and ensure Brexit is as just as possible. Marginalised and vulnerable people are depending upon progressives, socialists, liberals and leftists to protect their rights and interests, and our children and grandchildren need us to make sure that leaving doesn't undo decades of social and economic progress.

That we now have concrete policies to fight for or against can only be a good thing. A nebulous "hard Brexit" is difficult to counter when we don't know precisely what that is going to entail. With the forthcoming negotiations and Great Repeal Bill, those of us who believe in free trade, internationalism, and progressive values can finally start defending these values in concrete, tangible ways.

It is my hope that even ardent Remainers will look at Wednesday's events as an opportunity to reclaim some agency and control over the direction of the country. What's done is done, but there are still major battles to be fought -to protect the rights of EU citizens residing in Britain (and British citizens residing in the EU), to counter racist and xenophobic narratives around immigration, and to make sure workers' rights and civil liberties enshrined in EU law are not abolished in the Great Repeal Bill. Brexit cannot be allowed to turn the UK into a tax haven, or to diminish the wages of hardworking Brits, or see further cuts to public services. These are all battles which can still be, and must be, won.

Brexit is happening, but it doesn't have to be an unmitigated disaster. Now that Article 50 has been triggered, the real fight to ensure a progressive, prosperous future for Britain begins. If only those Remainers will commit to the fight ahead, we truly can make sure the future sees, in the words of the Prime Minister herself, "a stronger, fairer, better Britain."

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