“You’re a Nazi! No you’re a Nazi!” We’re all scum, rodents and villains. That’s what Brexit is doing to us in the United Kingdom. Even breaking the acronym apart – being more than the oh-so-safe UK – feels cheap and unrehearsed. Saying that any of us know what this country stands for, in its relationship to the world or its own, internal borders, is a falsehood. We’re deep in a three-year war about who we are. Fissures have spread and they’re staying, the psychological protractor wounds on a map of somewhere that I used to think, quite happily, was proud to be a place for anyone to live, work and share a love of Cadburys bars.
It shocked many Remainers that a slight majority of people didn’t feel the same way. And sure, we’ve let parts of the conservative base down. It isn’t racist to ask for less immigration, instead of none. We can’t argue either with the wish for foreign lawmakers to stay out of our affairs. If a big fat cat was telling you what to do, and you were compelled to do what he said, then you’d naturally wonder Hey, I love this cat to a degree, and he’s fluffy and all, but can’t I take his good ideas and enact them on my own? What he says is largely great, except like, I’m an independent little sausage aren’t I? Maybe the cat can be a mentor, not a maniac on his pouffe all the way over there… Ergo the parliamentary hinterland of laws we could lose (environmental protection, workers’ rights, banks on a leash) that could easily be voted back into our national policy. There’s nothing really stopping us taking the EU’s utilitarian principles and crafting them in our own image.
But equally, let’s not be deluded. A lot of Brexiteers voted to leave because they’re more chill with a shotgun blast to their own leg, economically speaking, than to have an Andreas or a Justyna next door. They would rather pay more for less to keep Britain’s population down. While migration stats are wild – hundreds of thousands of new arrivals come here every year, in one of the most densely packed Western citizenries – they do benefit us; at least those from EU member states. Europeans pay a little more tax on average than we, the UK-born, do. They’re a ballast for other businesses – waiting tables, fixing boilers, fluffing our hotel pillows. We get more perspectives on life, more colour and surprises and quirky shopping stalls. Just like we can’t say that all Leavers are shitheads, not all EU migrants are bad for us. Andreas and Justyna are probably a lovely couple, if you just ask them how their day’s been. It takes an average of five to seven years for a trade deal to be finalised with another country, so we have time to make friends.
The thing is, few of us are able to concede the side we’ve taken. It’s trench motherfucking warfare. Ground isn’t given; we plant ourselves more firmly upon it, squealing about suppression, bullying and Nazism when what we’re really looking for is a solution that works for everybody. But you’re one of two people, basically. You’re the proud nugget of Blighty folding its arms, easy with less imports and delivery quotas if it means fewer foreigners rocking up with their cheap haircuts. Or the other: you’re a raving brownnoser after a bending from Merkel and Macron, an EU army, the Commission, and thoroughly anyone who doesn’t have Faulty Towers in their Netflix queue. The grey area isn’t sexy enough. It’s a bit passé, like wearing ripped jeans and a blazer.
Through it all, we’re clueless. No-one has stepped forward to give a clean-break-Brexit or a satisfactory concession. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the pterosaur of Whitehall, is the Great Shite Hope for the Conservatives, craning his beak over the Channel yelling, “Back off, I say, or we’ll forthwith tell Air Bnbs in London to stop giving reservations to anyone with an umlaut! So you hearest me proclaim!” Boris Johnson, our former Foreign Secretary, has left everyone to scoop the pieces of the country up until he re-stitches his lion costume and walks out to whatever’s left. Some Tory voters starved of leadership are looking to Sajid David – a striver and a Eurosceptic with few clear swings to make at the European problem, so he’ll probably be left on the shelf for now. The playing field on the Left is almost as bad, with the dithering visage of Jeremy Corbyn, the straw messiah, flanked by Diane Abbot, a woman so catastrophically daft I wouldn’t trust her to get a shopping list right, never mind our transition to independence.
If politics has failed us, we are failing ourselves too. We’re obsessed by Brexit because we don’t know what it is, and some people have come to that realisation with the slow alarm of a rhino that has been shot with a dart and now, almost three years later, keels over. Hackles are raised along with miniature flags. Families aren’t discussing it unless they’re all on the same team. I’ve had blazing discussions with friends, but I try and keep to them a lit match, not a firestorm. Brexit talk can spiral into insults, digs, and questions of morality. Sometimes you don’t know where someone stands. Is it because they’re loath to give an opinion, or has their opinion changed? If it has, they should be prepared to say why. Even when people agree these days, it’s couched in the knowing that the lady or gent opposite you could be a Brexit agnostic, following whatever answer book is currently being flipped in the media.
Despite hardly liking the situation, I don’t want a second referendum. It’s a terrible precedent to set. Currently, it’s not hard to imagine a vote on whether we should even have the vote again, which could repeal an earlier vote we were promised was Once In A Lifetime™. We’ll have to live with the consequences. Learn from them. Take the punch while we see if this mighty British experiment is riddled with holes, or actually going to float, worth all the trouble. Democracy is translucent at best in terms of how an idea is marketed an framed to the public. But the results should be clear; otherwise, you can take aim at any result, and say it was corrupted.
That said, I’m tempted to leave the whole sorry mess behind. Any room in your house for a Brexit refugee? I might just try and catch that rocket to Mars soon, if I can get a work visa.