The Losers: Anger in Brexit Britain

Chris Deerin wrote an excellent column in The Herald this week. Shared widely, I think it encapsulated how a lot of people feel about the Brexit process at the moment. As can be observed in Deerin’s column, a feeling of anger is underpinned by a sense of loss.

I am aware that my social media output is pathetic and whiny. I just can’t help it. I would like to be more phlegmatic or hopeful. I would like to be calm, open minded and reasonable. I would like to remember that lots of good and intelligent people voted for Brexit. I just can’t seem to. It is hard to curtail this reaction when the loudest Brexiteers sounds like a bunch of arsonists jeering at the Fire Brigade for not putting out their blaze quickly enough.

The more I thought about all this, the more it reminded me of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago.

52% of those who turned out voted for Brexit. I still don’t know what they actually voted for. It was about immigration concerns, absolutely. It was about extra money for the NHS, sure. Beyond this, no shared vision is emerging for a post Brexit UK. After all why would it?

For some, leaving the EU was an end in itself. Take back control. Those ultras who talk about sovereignty like they are wine gums, a stash held exclusively either by Brussels or Westminster, that can provide nourishment in isolation. A few of these advocates even talk casually about a no deal scenario because we can trade on WTO rules. Yes, those rules. The rules of the multinational intergovernmental organisation that regulates international trade. At some point, the penny will drop that whether the UK is in or out of the EU, we still live in a world of pooled sovereignty.

There are some of course, who do have a clear political vision of what they want from a Brexit Britain. They are just at fundamental odds with each other. Daniel Hannan’s Singapore in the North Atlantic cannot be reconciled with a state-aid fuelled Britain rolling back neo-liberalism. They are mutually exclusive propositions.

There are some whose vision didn’t easily fall within simple left or right ideological boundaries. For them, Brexit was part of a wider project in tearing down the established ways of doing things. It was about casting away ideological rigidity, eschewing punditry and adopting a scientific model of generating public policy. Yet the mandarins have not been cast aside for a cadre of physicists, instead Civil Service influence has been entrenched. I doubt Dominic Cummings is enjoying his Pyrrhic victory.

Finally, for some Brexit was never about moving forward. For the Enid Blyton Brexiteers it was about going back. Back to the United Kingdom as it used to be. A Britain of street parties, ginger beer, merriment and fair play. A vision etched in memory, not in policy documents. It doesn’t matter if Britain was ever like this. Nostalgia is about revisiting happier places as we remember them, not as they were. They might even reproduce some monochrome simulacrum of Commonwealth Great Britain, and if they do, fine, they can have it all, their empire of dirt.

However, it is unlikely that Brexit Britain will actually look like this. Indeed, none of the crude visions sketched above will likely come to fruition. It will be broadly recognisable to our country today. Just that much less prosperous, open, diverse and tolerant.

I think this is why I am so angry about this whole bloody charade. After the billions of pounds, and countless expense of intellectual and emotional energy, is anybody going to be satisfied by the outcome? In ten years, I wonder how many people will say they voted for a Brexit, just not this Brexit.

So many of us are angry, because so many of us feel like we’ve already lost.

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