A year ago on this day the people of Britain took the momentous and entirely unexpected decision to throw off the yoke of the corrupt, sclerotic and unaccountable European Union and restore Britain as a democratic self-governing nation once again.
It was a victory entirely against the odds at the end of a battle so one-sided it made David versus Goliath look like an even contest. All the big guns of the establishment were ranged up on the Remain side – from all the main political parties to the trade unions, the Treasury, the think-tanks, the TV pundits, academia and even the celebrity luvvies of the arts aristocracy.
They were all agreed – the notion that the British people could run our own affairs was simply ridiculous. We had no choice other than to meekly give up the liberties our ancestors had fought and died for, and bend the knee in servitude to our unelected masters in Brussels.
The Remain campaign – characterised by the despicable Project Fear – was cynical and unprincipled. We were warned of immediate and complete economic collapse if we voted to Leave.
Preposterously, no less a figure than the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said a Leave vote would also result in genocide and the outbreak of World War Three.
Cameron’s Chancellor, George Osborne, the main architect of Project Fear, went so far as to threaten voters that if they dared exercise their democratic rights to vote Leave, he would punish us with a special “Revenge Budget” of huge tax increases and savage spending cuts.
Just remind us, George, how did that one turn out?
Even the international elites were drafted in to help the Remain side. With typical arrogance, Barack Obama wagged his finger and warned that the UK would be “at the back of the queue” for trade deals if we voted Leave. Has anyone in recent times so catastrophically misread the British character? We don’t take kindly to being bullied, Mr President.
With cold fury it was pointed out to Obama that the British weren’t “at the back of the queue” when the Americans were looking for allies to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During this period I took part in many debates, both informally with students and colleagues, and invited formally as a speaker, usually it must be said in front of audiences very hostile to the Leave side.
I love the cut and thrust of live debate. To the charge of racism – never very far from the surface – I pointed out that the EU discriminated against software engineers and brain surgeons from Jamaica and India (where the people are predominantly black and brown skinned) in favour of unemployed people from Lithuania and Poland (where the people are predominantly white).
So remind me, who is the racist here?
To the left-wing argument that we need the EU to protect workers’ rights, I pointed out that Brussels had imposed a pitiless regime of austerity on the working classes of southern Europe that had resulted in mass unemployment, particularly amongst the young, and destroyed the life chances of entire generations.
But, as the campaign came to an end, the pundits, pollsters and even the bookies forecast a comfortable Remain victory. The last thing I did before I went to bed on the day of the vote was to listen to what sounded like a concession speech from Nigel Farage. Oh well, I thought, we gave it our best shot, but it wasn’t good enough.
The next morning it was clear something extraordinary had happened. The funereal tones of the BBC Radio 4 presenters said it all. With mounting incredulity I realised that we had actually won against all the odds. More than 17 million people – more than have voted for anything in our entire history – had decided to leave the EU.
Of course it didn’t end there. The reaction of the Remain side has been an embarrassment. Instead of accepting defeat with good grace, they have kept up a wearying chorus of complaint and tried repeatedly to obstruct the people’s will. Project Fear has morphed into Project Never-Ending Whinge.
But for the vast majority of the British people they just want to get on with it – as is evidenced by 83 per cent voting for pro-Brexit parties in last week’s General Election.
With Brexit talks now under way, it is time to deliver what people demanded a year ago today. And politicians should never be allowed to forget – they are the servants of the people, not our masters.