Now that we are several months into the post-Brexit world, with all manner of outcomes, mostly negative, clearly visible and documented, it is interesting to note the response of many Brexit supporters.
A classic line, being used in many variable ways, is “this is not the Brexit that I/we voted for”. Here is fisherman Chris Vinnicombe, interviewed on TV, uttering a classic version.
His exact words were “Most fisherman, me included voted for Brexit but we didn’t vote for this”.
Well, no, they didn’t vote for “this” (the actual outcome). There is a very simple reason for that. There was no outcome specified on the EU Referendum ballot paper. Here is the exact text of the June 2016 referendum ballot:
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
with the responses to the question to be (to be marked with a single (X)):
Remain a member of the European Union
Leave the European Union
So, Chris and his fellow fishermen were presented with a binary Yes or No question to answer. There was no information, not even a hint, as to what the final outcome would be if they voted Leave.
When anybody who voted for Brexit says “I didn’t vote for this”, the correct answer is “no, you voted for nothing except to Leave. Everything else was, and still is, in your imagination”.
Of course, there were plenty of politicians, charlatans and bullshitters who were only too willing to predict the outcome if the UK voted Leave. They seemed to think it would be easy. The messaging from the Leave supporters was charmingly simple: leave it to us and we will negotiate an excellent Brexit which will make you all very happy.
We know how that has turned out. After prematurely triggering Article 50, internal strife over what exactly the UK should try to negotiate resulted in 3 years of disputes, 2 General Elections and, after months of posturing dickery by the UK, in the negotiation of what has now turned out to be an alarmingly deficient trade deal with the EU.
When disappointed Brexit supporters say “this is not the Brexit I voted for”, my response may depend on how charitable or snarky I am feeling.
The snarky response would be “you never voted for any Brexit. You just voted to leave. So how you can say that is beyond illogical”.
The more polite response, which is more akin to playing a fish on a line (haha) is to politely inquire “so which detail Brexit did you think you voted for?”
You can expect that, most of the time, this will result in hemming and hawing, with a weird list of bits-and-pieces cockamamie ideas involving “sovereignty”, “fishing”, “freedom” and other slogans with no useful content. Like any cockamamie idea based on regressive ideology, slogans played a major part in how Brexit was promoted as a good thing. Sometimes people will be more detailed.
The response to the response is then going to be “and what evidence did you have that the government intended to negotiate that sort of Brexit, or was that just your hope?” That will probably result in another long silence.
As you can guess, this will be an uncomfortable conversation, but that is not all the fault of the Brexit voters. The real issue is that there never was a Brexit strategy. Nobody in government seriously expected that Leave would win, so when that was the result, the government had no ready answer to the obvious question “what would Brexit look like?”.
The government certainly couldn’t expect to get any useful input from Leave voters. When your reasons for leaving the EU consist of slogans mixed with bullshit anecdotes, that is not a credible starting point for any thought processes. Any chance of getting input from Remain supporters was squandered with the juvenile campaign against Remainers, with its use of school playground sloganeering, triumphalist dickery, and pseudo-patriotic demands that Remain supporters “shut up”.
So, after June 2016, we had a shocked government with no strategy for how to negotiate Brexit, umpteen million Leave supporters, all with their own individual sets of hopes, dreams (and in some cases, cockamamie fantasies) about what Brexit would be, and almost the same number of Remain supporters sitting off to one side, alienated and pissed off.
This was always going to end badly. If Brexit had been a project, it would never have passed even a preliminary review. No strategy, no vision, no plan, millions of competing stakeholders…shred the paper and let’s forget about this damn stupid idea.
So when Brexit supporters say “this is not what I voted for”, the tough question has to be “so what did you think you voted for in June 2016, and what made you think that there was any chance of that actually happening?”
Because, when the history of Brexit is written, probably after I am gone, the conclusion is going to be that Brexit was a terrible decision made by an uninformed electorate that had been fed BS by all sides for decades about what the EU was and how it operated. Having made a bad decision, the implementation by the UK government was even worse.
Right now, most Brexit supporters would rather live in Denial than come to terms with the results of the decision. Many of them will refuse to own the result, and will continue to blame everybody and everything in sight. Because ultimately, deflection is more comfortable than accountability.