Brexit means Brexit, don’t you know. Now that 52% of people have voted for Brexit (noun) we should now Brexit (verb). End of story. Or do you not believe in democracy?!
But, what does Brexit actually mean? This meme of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ doesn’t actually tell us anything. “Brexit” was a word the media made up less than a year ago. It’s a blanket term that relates an incredibly wide variety of things. If ‘Brexit’ means anything, it relates to a first step; it is to say you want to embark on a journey, but it doesn’t really say why or where you want to go. All this makes the political gesturing going on in the UK at the moment a little strange.
The gesturing is going in many directions. The first points towards the fact that no post-Brexit plan has been laid out. It’s not just that the government can’t guarantee it will get its way when negotiating with the EU, but that no one has taken the time to articulate what it is the UK wants from the negotiation. Is staying in the single market preferable? Was this debate about immigration or sovereignty over our own laws? Was this about the ‘democracy’ or otherwise of the EU? What are the problems we wish to set out to solve and therefore what direction are we going in? Put another way, when people put a cross in the “Leave” box, what were they showing support for? Couple with lack of direction and no legislative documents with the reported 7% ‘buyer’s remorse’ among Brexit voters, a certain level of the population wants the EU referendum to be held again, this time with clear legislation giving a sense of the direction the UK will take with respect to the single market, immigration, legislation and trade.
Another group wants a referendum to make a decision based on the outcome of negotiations. Negotiations are necessarily messy and no guarantees can be made, so many people want argue that a referendum at the far-end of negotiations is an appropriate safety net. It seems that should be a beneficial idea. After all, if the Brexit ‘side’ is confident in the UK’s negotiating power, then they should be confident the UK will vote in support of whatever deal the government can arrange. Equally, if the EU decides to try to drive a hard bargain for the UK, then perhaps even the Brexiteers would like a chance to change their mind. Moreover, social tensions might be a little alleviated if the Remainers could see a safety net in sight.
This safety net makes sense in the context of a third voice: the Hard Brexiteers. These are people who want to invoke Article 50 now, get things under way, sever all ties and get on with things. After all, Brexit means
whatever you want it to mean Brexit. This is saying we should all jump in the car and go on a family holiday, knowing full well there’s no agreement on where we should go, and nearly half the people involved don’t want to go on the holiday. Nevertheless, we should all jump in the car and head off.
I’m going to take this metaphor a little further. See, a few years ago we allocated a designated Driver: David ‘Designated Dave‘ Cameron. We might not always agree with where he takes us, but we had collectively all decided to trust his judgement well ahead of time. Now we’re jumping into the car, we find Theresa ‘No nickname available‘ May is sat behind the wheel. She didn’t want to go on holiday either. Not only that, but she’s been talking to tour operators without us. She hasn’t told us what she’s looking for in a holiday destination, what prices she is looking at, or what she’s using as leverage to get a better price for us. ‘I don’t think you understand the vote we had on 23rd June’ she says, ‘Holiday means holiday’. So, where are we going? ‘Holiday means holiday’ doesn’t really answer the question.
Theresa May does at least appear to be texting the tour guides, having a discussion about where to go. But she’s doing it silently. And we don’t know if she’s aiming to go to a museum or a theme park; the beach or a city getaway. And still there is screaming from some obnoxious backseat driver demanding she take off the handbrake and start the journey. We don’t even know if she has breakdown cover and I, for one, didn’t check the oil in the 1982 Mini Cooper we’re sat in.
So, a safety-net referendum doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I thought it would be easy to convince even the most convinced Brexiteers of that.