When Doctor Who returned to TV in 2005, Russell T Davies invented a very smart piece of kit for the Doctor to carry with him: psychic paper. This was a document, apparently blank to you and me, but it connected to the minds of whoever saw it such that it showed whatever that person wanted it to say or expected it to say. The Doctor needs access to a high-security military facility? No problem, here's my security clearance. Someone wonders who this strange man is conducting an investigation on their spaceship? No problem, here are my bona fides.
In June this year, simply by voting in a referendum, the British people created a piece of psychic paper. It may have seemed to be unobservant that the ballot paper asked this question:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
and that the result was very evenly split with a narrow vote in favour of leaving. But our politicians are more psychically attuned to the nuance of the question and its result.
At the Conservative Party conference, there was apparently unanimous agreement that the question had in fact been:
Should the United Kingdom put an end to EU migration and throw out the EU migrants who are already here?
and, what's more, that had been overwhelmingly supported by the British people. Amber Rudd floated a plan to name and shame organisations who employ migrant workers. It's not clear how this would work, whether organisations are to hand their names to the police or publish them in the papers, whether our response would be to applaud their multicultural spirit or smash in their windows. But whatever the fine details, it's got to be done, because Brexit means Brexit.
Others have made it very clear that the question actually read as follows:
Should the United Kingdom leave the European Economic Area?
This, too, was approved by a handsome majority of Britons. This option - 'hard Brexit' - is the reading of the vote favoured by, among others, disgraced former minister and now bewilderingly International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. He insists that there can be watering down the vote of the British people. After all, Brexit means Brexit.
There's quite a lot of psychic paper about. Other Brexiteers insist that Britain could stay in the EEA but also restrict immigration. It may seem to psychically inept people like you and me that the freedoms of movement of goods, capital, services, and people are the four fundamental freedoms that were established by the founding of the EEC and have been firmly stated as indissociable by successive acts and treaties, including the Single European Act to which Britain signed up and passed into law in January 1993, but some can see more clearly and realise that actually these so-called freedoms aren't worth the psychic paper they're written on.
The Leave campaign smothered a bus in psychic paper. It appeared to say that we pay £50m a day to the EU and that after Brexit we could spend it on the NHS. But that's just what you wanted it to say. You were tricked by your own mind! And of course, 'Brexit means Brexit' is itself a wonderful bit of psychic papery, seeming to satisfy everyone who hears it that it means what they want to happen. Everyone, that is, except those of us who are so mentally dull that when we examine this claim, we see only a blank piece of paper.
Given that the Tories seem able to discern what the British people are thinking, I wonder why we went through the rigmarole of a referendum. It just needed the Brexiteers to sit together around a ouija board, holding hands in a darkened room, as they listened out for the messages emanating from our dying democracy.
But then here are some facts - facts that seem to me beyond dispute:
- The referendum was non-binding. It could have been binding, but politicians on all sides deliberately voted for it to be merely advisory. So it was not a binding decision, but a test of public opinion: an opinion poll.
- The opinion of the public was evenly split, with a very narrow vote (51.9%) in favour of leaving the EU.
- You do not have to be a member of the EU to be part of the EEA (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein) or the Single Market (Switzerland).
- You do not have to be a member of the EU to accept free migration of EU citizens. Anyone can do it.
- Leaving the EU, if that is indeed what the government decides to do on the basis of that vote, does not entail leaving the EEA or the Single Market, nor stopping EU citizens living and working here.
Indeed, given that staying in the EU does entail free movement of Labour and membership of the single market, it would be reasonable to assume that the 48% were voting to retain these things. And since leaving does not entail ending these things, it would be reasonable to assume that not all of the 52% wanted out of the single market or an end of immigration. And if only 3.7% of the leave voters dissented from this hard brexit interpretation, that would drop their numbers below the 50% mark. I mean, I don't think you can parse a referendum result like this. But to do so would at least have the benefit of logic, unlike the spectacular mind reading acts currently being carried out by the Tory party's resident clairvoyants.
Because here's the thing: The referendum does not authorise you to do what you're doing. You are seeing only what you want to see there. Tearing apart this country's constitution and traditions is entirely your choice and you will be judged by them.
If you think the vote on 23 June was an instruction for stopping EU immigration, booting out foreign-born doctors, whipping up suspicion and hatred of foreign workers, or to launch Britain into the economic madness of a Hard Brexit it's because that's what you want to do anyway.