Brexit and the myth of “we knew what we were voting for”

I still keep wading through the statement “we knew what we were voting for” which is being used by all sides in the post-Brexit upheaval.

Reality Check. NOBODY who voted Leave knew what they were voting for. All the ballot paper asked was whether the UK should remain in the UK, or leave.

Anybody who claims “I knew what I was voting for” is engaging in one or more of the following:

  • Lying
  • Bullshitting
  • Imagining their own version of Brexit

The most charitable interpretation is that people voting Leave had an imagined outcome that they were certain would occur, or they thought they properly understood and agreed with one or more of the many promises made by Leave leaders, mostly to the effect of “this will be easy”.

I am prepared to bet money that almost nobody imagined the current outcome. The hardline Brexiters certainly did not, since all they did after the referendum was to rant and rave about “trading on WTO terms”, and demand that the UK tell the EU to get lost on every topic and “go it alone”. Remain supporters initially hoped that the UK decision would be ignored by Parliament, and when that did not happen, they hoped for a “soft” Brexit, which would retain key parts of the existing relationship such as freedom of movement.

Both sides were wrong, for all sorts of very good reasons. But the final outcome, shaped by 3 years of dithering, confusion and incompetence by the British governments, and distorted at every twist and turn by people many of whose understanding of the EU, global trade and reality wouldn’t fit on the back of a postage stamp, is going to irrevocably impact the economy and democracy of the UK, in a bad way, for generations.

My default response to anybody who claims in any seriousness “I knew what I was voting for” is: Bullshit. You had no real idea, except that perhaps you had something in your imagination, or something that you read or saw or heard about from supporters or leaders of Leave, and if you want me to take anything else you say seriously, you may as well admit that, so we can actually have a useful conversation. Absent that admission, you’re an unserious warbler, and this conversation is over.


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