One of the most contentious and discussed subjects for generations, there is no doubt that there is little fresh information I can bring to the Brexit debate. The recent success of the ‘People’s Vote’ march and petition to revoke Article 50 – juxtaposed against the sad and rather creepy handful of Farage supporters shuffling about the place – has brought genuine hope to Remain supporters that Brexit will be cancelled altogether. But is it really as simple as that?
The referendum was a close run thing. In 2016 16,141,241 people voted to Remain in the EU. 17,410742 voted to Leave. At the time of writing*, the petition to revoke Article 50 sits at almost 6 million signatures, so that’s still 10 million short of people who voted to Remain in the first place – and voting requires significantly more effort than clicking a link and filling in a few details online.
But it cannot be denied that the situation has changed since those oh-so-innocent days of 2016. The Conservative government have proved woefully incapable of delivering anything close to a coherent form of Brexit. Parliament as a whole have spent the last two years fighting amongst themselves, serving personal and party ambitions, and showing absolutely no regard for either the country in general or the Leave majority in particular. The UK simply does not have the leadership or the political nous to actually handle Brexit. And that, I believe, is a far more worrying thing – not only is the government incapable of delivering what the country asked for, there is a sense that we are trapped within a relationship we may or may not wish to continue, whether we like it or not.
This does provide an argument for abandoning the whole thing as a bad idea, but that is a devastating blow to democracy and one from which the Conservative Party will struggle to recover for many years. Which, depending on which side of the political spectrum you sit, is either a terrible or brilliant thing. They say a government is only as good as its opposition, which doesn’t say much for Corbyn and his Labour Party, themselves dealing with internal splits and infighting and not having a clear position on Brexit either. Whilst Theresa May is a Remainer trying to deliver Brexit, Corbyn is anti-EU and fronting a party who support Remain. The fact of the matter is, no matter what the voting public have said, the majority of Parliament do not want to leave the EU and there is no impetus for them to deliver on anything. Especially as something as complex as Brexit. It’s almost as if we expect them to work for the country, or something. Imagine!
But could it be that the great British public have changed their minds? After the utter cake and arse party of the last two years, who could blame us? May has ruled out another referendum. Which ever side of the debate you are on, no one can deny that present circumstances are very different to those in 2016. Blindly pushing ahead with a strategy absolutely no one supports – Leave or Remain – is surely madness.
I am no scholar of politics or economics, so I will leave the analysis, scant as it is, right there. I cannot give you any greater insights that those already widely and copiously available, written by people far more adept than I. The real tragedy of Brexit, however, is how divisive it has been to communities, families, friends and colleagues. People who have never before shown an interest in politics are suddenly falling out with other people who have never before shown an interest in politics, just because they ticked a different box to them. The strength of feeling is plainly evident across the social media spectrum and it isn’t a pretty sight.
It is with great trepidation these days that I open Facebook. Ordinarily reasonable, intelligent and considered friends are posting vitriolic rants, decrying the other side as idiots, making grand, sweeping statements about several million people they have never and will never meet. At present, Remain have the upper hand and I have been disturbed at the condescending and ignorant remarks made about their adversaries. Blithely condemning 17 million people as racist, uneducated morons would have been unthinkable by any reasonable person before Brexit. But, there are the posts and comments, proposing just this. And on the other side of the coin, Leavers denouncing their opposite numbers as enemies of the people, sore losers and destroyers of democracy – as if each and every Remainer has a pathological desire to destroy the very fabric of civilisation.
The truth is, there will be racist people who voted Leave. And there will be people in the Remain camp who refuse to accept the result just because it isn’t what they wanted. But in my experience, the vast majority of people on both sides had their own reasons for voting the way they did. Sure, some people will have believed what they read on the bus and others would have taken every word of ‘Project Fear’ as gospel. But mostly, people went with their gut.
Whilst it is probably true to say that many Leavers were working class without a university education, I have met plenty who are professionals, academics and landed gentry. And of course there are many Remainers who don’t fit the middle class, virtue signalling, well educated stereotype either. My feeling is that many people who voted Leave did so because they desperately wanted change. Fair enough, they probably didn’t have an informed insight into what leaving the EU actually meant, but really, how many people did in 2016? It all seems clear as day now, after two years of the bloody thing, but then hindsight is always 20/20. Most of these people were not racists or Little Englanders, they were just people who were struggling and felt ignored and abandoned by an increasingly callous political class. It’s only natural to want everything to stay the same when you have a steady job, reasonable house, your kids go to nice enough schools and you can leave your car parked in the street and it still be there in the morning.
And many will point out that leaving the EU won’t actually change any of those things and anyone who thinks that is stupid. Well, you might be half right. But don’t call those people stupid. For a whole variety of reasons, not everyone has had the same opportunities or benefit of insight as the so-called ‘typical’ middle class, educated Remain voter. When you are skint, hungry, without employment prospects and can’t see things getting any better for your kids, any kind of change seems like a good idea. Things couldn’t be any worse, right?
There is no happy ending on the horizon for Brexit. May’s Brexit – if it happens – isn’t acceptable to anyone, Leave or Remain. To simply cancel Brexit might seem like the easiest option, but the knock-on effect socially and politically will be devastating for generations to come. Another referendum is as good as Parliament saying it has ballsed everything up and doesn’t know what to do next, which would be the first honest thing to come out of Westminster in centuries, no doubt.
However this bloody awful mess ends and whatever side of the debate you are on, the important thing to remember is this : it isn’t your Union Jack-waving neighbour who voted Leave, or the woke hipsters down the road who voted Remain, who are to blame for the state of the country. Everyone was asked to express an opinion and that is just what we all did. While we are tearing each other to shreds over our differences, the government are breathing a sigh of relief that we aren’t turning on them. People of social media, your ire is misplaced. So let’s all try to be a little bit nicer about the whole thing, hmm?
*The time of writing is 26th March. Parliament have since confirmed that revoking Article 50 is off the table. By the time you read this amendment, who knows what could be going on.
(I have included a picture of some nice wine because we all need a bloody good drink)