When I told two neighbours that I had become a no-deal Brexiter they physically recoiled from me.
‘But there’s no other option,’ I said.
‘You can vote Lib Dem,’ they said.
‘But that’s the same as a second referendum. Even if the Lib Dems came to power, the ones who hadn’t voted for them would hate the ones who had.’
Until 2016 I wanted to leave the EU. My thinking was half-baked. There were the silly laws driving farmers mad, the judgments of the European courts and the fact that Brussels hadn’t signed off its accounts for years.
So when the chance came to vote to leave, I thought — good. But then I began to look into the consequences. I am biased towards Poles and didn’t want them to go home. I hadn’t realised that if they did go home, more non-EU immigrants would arrive to replace them so communities would still be disrupted. I don’t think most Brexiters realise that.
I hadn’t realised that the EU had once been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on account of the fact that we haven’t had a war in Europe since we all began to co-operate through trading. And on a selfish level, I wanted to be able to carry on travelling freely through the EU.
Then it emerged that not only did the thinkers I admire want to stay in, most of parliament wanted to stay in. MPs are there to represent the interests of their constituents, not their prejudices, and they know so much more about the EU. And with Richard Dawkins unable to sift the evidence to make a definitive decision, how would my husband Giles and I be able to? Why ask us? Imagine going into a primary school and taking a vote on whether homework should be banned and then implementing the result.
Giles was swung by Stanley Johnson, who said the EU laws on eco-protection had saved the UK from all sorts of eco-damage, but what clinched it for us both as Remainers was the fact that we probably couldn’t get out. Someone on the FT said that it would be like trying to extract the egg from a cake that had already been baked. That resonated.
And so we were out and proud Remainers and dinner parties were still jovial. And then the result came in and lifelong friends fell out.
Why on earth had David Cameron not given a three-year warming-up period so we could all get acquainted with the facts before voting on our half-baked prejudices? Worst of all, who would have thought that this would turn countrymen against each other? I began to suspect that Brexit divisions were, in many cases, proxies for other envies or old personal grudges.
As the divisions grew, so the UK began to remind me of Northern Ireland, where I grew up. It was the cosiest of countries and we didn’t think that much about our differences until Troubles-makers forced us into two tribes and savagery broke out for 40 years. Now we think: ‘What was all that about?’ The same had happened in Rwanda, where the Tutsis and the Hutus had got along fine until the Belgians made them register what tribe they came from and the disparities were suddenly starkly highlighted.
It would be self-indulgent and boring to drone on about our unhappinesses and disappointments and frustrations and envies but, using Brexit as a metaphor, we can drone on to our hearts’ content. Nuance and abstract thought have died a death. You have to claim allegiance to either one tribe or the other.
But it was the increasing awareness that outside the M25 there is real misery, and that the people who are suffering believe that this is because Brexit has not been delivered, which has forced me to conclude that it would be dangerous to have another vote — because the tribal divisions that already exist would be exacerbated, and the result would probably be the same.
Brussels won’t move on Theresa May’s deal, and that deal anyway is worse than staying in. Leo Varadkar is not ‘minded’ to be imaginative. And therefore, logically, a no-deal Brexit is the only option. But now we’ve own-goaled it by taking that option off the menu. And this morning my neighbours glared at me, and Giles says he’s still a Remainer, even though there’s no real option to be a Remainer.
Well, there’s still my ‘Dear Mary’ solution. Divide the divorce bill money between every adult in the country and let’s forget the whole nightmare ever happened.
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