What Brexit meant in practice was never clear

Faux journalist Jonathan Pie points out that in the 2016 Brexit referendum, while the choice between Remain and Leave seemed straightforward enough, in practice only one position, the Remain one, was well-defined because that kept the status quo. What Leave meant was never quite thought through and this led to Leave voters being able to project onto it all their frustrations with the status quo and with Europe, resulting in the current mess where there is a real possibility of a breakup of the UK, something that I doubt few Leave voters seriously wanted.


  1. Holms says

    “Impossible coalition of ideas, and so it was an impossible coalition of voters” -- pretty good phrasing.

  2. says

    I did a posting way back [stderr] about the inner tensions in revolutions and why they almost always fall apart after they have taken the first step in destroying the establishment. Don’t get it wrong: brexit was a revolution even though it resembled the children’s crusade. The whole story is as simple as this: you whip up fervor against something but that bypasses the need to whip up fervor for something. Thus you wind up with a successful mandate to overthrow whatever, and a complete inability to agree upon what replaces it. Until a Stalin or Bonaparte or some other political opportunist sees that they have a power vacuum they can fill. This is why revolutions (did I mention that is what brexit is?) usually collapse into dictatorships and seldom do anything to further the goals of The People -- because The People only agreed that they wanted to blow up the status quo.

    Boom. Now what?

  3. John Morales says

    Which is ironic, sorta. The UK had by that time, over the years, extracted special and bespoke concessions. No matter what occurs henceforth, that privileged position is well and truly gone.

  4. jrkrideau says

    I watch this with a bit of horror.

    Scottish nationalists must be toasting each other with extra drams of whiskey and planning on how to reapply for EU membership once they are independent.

    Northern Ireland could turn into an absolute débâcle.

    I am sure that England and Wales will become a nice little country about like Singapore or, possibly Belgium?

  5. Curt Sampson says

    @John Morales:

    Well, it was unclear in that it was misleading to many, not because the facts were not available but because of the snow job done by the leavers. It’s the same thing as many Trump supporters who do not “know” (in one reasonable sense of the word) that he’s clearly been spewing racist stuff: in fact they would say that they know he hasn’t, even though they’re looking at the same words from Trump as everyone else is.

    That the U.K. had massive special concessions that are now surely lost is a good point. That’s one of the several things lost even should the U.K. cancel article 50 right now and try to return to as close to “normal” as possible.

  6. Curt Sampson says

    Hugo Rifkind got it spot on in “Here follows a Brexit thread” on Twitter. (This has been mentioned before.) It’s so good (and accurate!) that I reproduce it in its entirety here for your amusement.

    ∙ Here follows a Brexit thread.
    ∙ Sorry.
    ∙ The thing is, the best way to understand Theresa May’s predicament is to imagine that 52 percent of Britain had voted that the government should build a submarine out of cheese.
    ∙ Now, Theresa May was initially against building a submarine out of cheese, obviously. Because it’s a completely insane thing to do.
    ∙ However, in order to become PM, she had to pretend that she thought building a submarine out of cheese was fine and could totally work.
    ∙ “Cheese means cheese,” she told us all, madly.
    ∙ Then she actually built one.
    ∙ It’s shit. Of course it is. For God’s sake, are you stupid? It’s a submarine built out of cheese.
    ∙ So now, having built a shit cheese submarine, she has to put up with both Labour and Tory Brexiters insisting that a less shit cheese submarine could have been built.
    ∙ They’re all lying, and they know it. So does everybody else. We’ve covered this already, I know, but it’s cheese and it’s a submarine. How good could it possibly be?
    ∙ Only she can’t call them out on this. Because she has spent the past two years also lying, by pretending she really could build a decent submarine out of cheese.
    ∙ So that’s where we are.
    ∙ On balance, I this analogy works fine, perhaps except for the submarine and cheese parts, which need a little work.
    ∙ Thread ends.

    A little back-and-forth with (clearly British, and probably leaver) respondent Robert Guy makes the extent of the problem clear:

    ∙ Guy: That’s a rather daft analogy Mr Rifkind.
    ∙ Rifkind: oh shit is it?
    ∙ Guy: Yes the sub would sink if made of cheese.
    ∙ Rifkind: I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that

    And of course cue other comments regarding Nigel Fromage and so on.

  7. Matt G says

    This reminds me of the story of the workshop in which everyone is invited to write all their problems on a sheet of paper, and put it in envelope which goes into a common box. Everyone now has two choices: take back their own envelope, or take a random envelope. Everyone takes back their own envelope. No matter how bad your own problems are, you always fear that someone else’s are worse.

    It’s the opposite with Brexit. The Leavers, somehow, think the nebulous “something else” is better than the status quo. I find this unfathomable. How can so many be so easily convinced to take that risk? The same is true of Trump. He is obviously incompetent, dishonest, corrupt, reckless, etc., yet convinced enough people he was an improvement on the status quo.

  8. Mobius says

    Gawd, I love Pie. Can we get him to come to the US and do his shtick for us?

    And he does have it right. The question was ill formed. Stay or leave??? Leave how?

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    Stay or leave? It’s a dilemming; a choice between the status quo and jumping off a cliff.

  10. Curt Sampson says

    The Leavers, somehow, think the nebulous “something else” is better than the status quo.

    Or they just want to send a “fuck you” message and are thinking, “How much worse can it really get?” (And, perhaps, “How much do I even really care, anyway?”)

  11. says

    I really think that people ask themselves, “Were things better for me before the EU?”

    Of course, they neglect to ask themselves if that’s a fair question, since leaving the EU won’t make them 13 years old again, with all their hopes & dreams still intact.

    This is why movements like the Leave movement are so racist and sexist. You tell people that the reason that they couldn’t achieve their childhood dreams is the rise of feminism and anti-racism and anti-colonialism, then run a political campaign like Leave which depends on asking people if they liked their lives better long ago. Of course the people who felt that they would have had all their dreams fulfilled except what happened the last few decades would be the ones voting Leave. And of course, you’ve already told them who are the villains of the last few decades.

    The overlap isn’t so much inevitable as it is carefully manufactured.

  12. says

    I really think that people ask themselves, “Were things better for me before the EU?”

    Not even that works, because history has happened. If the whole debacle has shown anything then it’s that most of us were pretty fucking unaware of just how big the EU is, and I don’t mean that in terms of area or population, but in terms of how much in our lives actually depends on it. We reasonable joined up in various EU institutions that provide infrastructure, like approving new medication and shit. Not to mention the often laughed at EU regulations that may sometimes be bullshit like when they tell you how bent bananas may be, but that also tell somebody that your pillow mustn’t go up in flames as soon as a spark hits it.

  13. blf says

    the often laughed at EU regulations that may sometimes be bullshit like when they tell you how bent bananas may be

    Just to clarify — I think this is what Giliell@14 meant but it seems possible to construe the comment in other ways — the EU did not ban bent or straight bananas. Is the EU really dictating the shape of your bananas?:

    Bananas have always been classified by quality and size for international trade. Because the standards, set by individual governments and the industry, were confusing, the European Commission was asked to draw up new rules.

    Commission regulation 2257/94 decreed that bananas in general should be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature”. Those sold as “extra class” must be perfect, “class 1” can have “slight defects of shape” and “class 2” can have full-scale “defects of shape”.

    Nothing is banned under the regulation, which sets grading rules requested by industry to make sure importers […] know exactly what they will be getting when they order a box of bananas.

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