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Could Britain rejoin the EU? It seems like a hopelessly lost cause – but so did leaving | Jonathan Freedland

It’s easy to assume that the question has been settled for a generation. Remember that Brexit once looked impossible, too

Have I mentioned the man in the egg-stained tie? I first spotted him at Tory party conferences two decades ago. A forlorn figure – mocked even by his fellow Conservatives – he stood at the back of fringe meetings, armed with a plastic bag full of leaflets, leaping to his feet to offer “more of a comment than a question”, uniting the room in a collective groan. You’d see him at most political events; he was often in the Question Time audience. His obsession was Europe and the supposed tyranny of Brussels.

Nobody wanted to be the man in the egg-stained tie. He was a bore and an object of derision. Yet today that man is celebrating a victory, one that, at the turn of this century, would have seemed like the stuff of laughably improbable fantasy. Against all odds, he got his way: the new year begins with Britain having completed its exit from the European Union. What was once the quixotic cause of anoraks and obsessives – to overturn a settled decision on Britain’s relationship with Europe – has proved to be among the most effective political movements in the country’s history. For pro-Europeans, that movement ensured the start of this new year is tinged with regret, even longing, for what’s been lost.

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