It was particularly galling of European Council president Donald Tusk to quote one of Britain’s greatest cultural exports when floating the idea that the UK may ultimately stay in the European Union. “You may say I’m a dreamer,” he said yesterday, quoting John Lennon’s song Imagine, before adding: “But I’m not he only one.”
The remark may be indicative of little more than Mr Tusk’s desire to make mischief on the first anniversary of the referendum. It would not be the first time he has aimed a dry barb our way, and with Brexit talks yet to begin in earnest, it is unlikely to be the last. It does, however, bring to the fore a significant issue.
There is still a sizeable number of people across the UK, particularly in Scotland, who have yet to come to terms with the result of last June’s vote and its repercussions. Britain’s tumultuous journey towards Europe’s exit door has so far borne an uncanny resemblance to the five stages of grief, but while the majority are consumed with anger and depression – and the UK government focused on bargaining – a refusal to accept the outcome is not uncommon.
In a speech last month, the novelist Ian McEwan admitted that he was a member of the “smallest, saddest, most pessimistic faction”. He was, he explained, a Brexit “denialist”. He is not alone. For all the calls for the country to move on and forge a new future, Mr Tusk’s remarks will be music to the ears of those who cling to the idea that, somehow, the UK can remain in the EU.
This is, to be blunt, a fanciful notion. During the general election, only the Liberal Democrats proposed holding a second referendum. That the party failed to make any significant inroads with the electorate suggests that was not a winning proposition.
The stark reality is that the best option for those who voted Remain – and indeed, those who did not – is to secure the best possible deal as part of the Brexit negotiations. People wish to remain close to the EU, with long-standing cultural ties particularly pronounced in Scotland. It may be that in order to preserve that relationship, they will have to find other ways, whether that is starting pressure groups, or simply finding common cause with institutions and organisations on the Continent.
We may be leaving the EU, but it is incumbent on all of us to make the best of a difficult situation. The outcome will be imperfect, but it need not be disastrous. As Lennon also sang: It’ll be just like starting over.