Dunkirk is a searing argument for defeating Brexit. Christopher Nolan’s new movie released yesterday shows the evacuation of British and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk on May 26th 1940. They were pursued by A German army and airforce. This was just over 77 years ago. It’s within the living memory of millions of people. Since the end of the Second World War, five years later, no western European nation has invaded a neighbouring country – the longest period of peace in the Common Era history of the continent.
Dunkirk was a defeat, a retreat, an evacuation in the face of a military threat. Brexit is a self-imposed defeat, a retreat, an evacuation following a massive shot in Britain’s foot by a grossly negligent, incompetent British Conservative party. The structures of the European Union, slowly and painfully built (with considerable British contribution over many decades) out of the devastation of that conflict, hold the murderous forces of war at bay. The European way of supporting the lives of citizens and solving problems is to discuss, negotiate, vote and discuss again. It is laborious, frustrating, opaque and has no equal in the astonishing achievement of bringing lasting peace to a continent of 500 million citizens.
In the Financial Times of July 17th 2017, Gideon Rachman begins an article with ‘The campaign to stop Brexit is gathering pace’, noting increasing chatter about a second referendum. He says that ‘The reasons that Remainer politicians are still so cautious about explicitly rejecting Brexit is that they are worried about sounding undemocratic’. Many of the online responses to the article showed why this is so, but one correspondent replied, ‘In a democracy the people speak all the time. Not just once. Every day, every week, every month, anytime they want and in the UK, Parliament is, and always has been, the only sovereign authority and one perfectly entitled to change its mind every day of the week if it wants.’ David Davis, Brexit secretary, agrees. He said, ‘If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy’ (quoted in the Independent).
Christopher Nolan’s film graphically showed men and women shot, blown up, drowning in sinking hospital ships, swimming through water ablaze with burning oil. Other human beings did this to them. No nation in the war had a monopoly of industrialized murder. It is the wretched, tedious democratic processes of the European Union that have prevented this happening again. The year after the end of the war, Winston Churchill envisaged this in a speech at the University of Zurich on September 19th 1946. The supposed benefits of Brexit are steadily being shown to be an illusion. Brexit is a displacement activity, to avoid the intensely difficult business of governing fairly a complex modern nation. I urge us, the British people, to change our minds, not through another referendum but through the great democratic institution that underpins our liberty – the British Parliament. Rational persuasion of our fellow citizens will avert another Dunkirk.