It’s now six months since the referendum in which 17,410,742 Brits voted to leave the EU, beating the remain supporters by over a million votes. Former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said that “a week is a long time in politics,”, so surely six months is enough time to make headway on one of the biggest political decisions in Great Britain in the past century? It seems not.
I don’t believe it flippant to say we have no more idea today about what Brexit means and how it will transpire than we did this time last year. You could even argue we have even less of an idea. Before the referendum it all seemed so simple. Vote leave: regain our sovereignty, reinvigorate our economy and make Great Britain great again, without all those pesky immigrants taking advantage of our welfare systems and EU regulations imposed from those Jonny Foreigners in Brussels and Strasbourg strangling our economy and political freedoms.
Personally, I would rather stay in the European Union, but if the British public have made up their minds, let’s get on with it. The suspense is killing me. Now we’ve known the referendum results for six months, we should have some certainty about where we go from here, but still we’re full of questions. What does Brexit mean? If Brexit means ‘Brexit’, what does ‘Brexit means Brexit’ mean? Which of the fifty shades of Brexit is best for the UK: hard, soft, with freedom of movement or no movement at all, locked in our island dungeon forevermore? How can the Brexit process proceed constitutionally if we don’t know what Brexit means and we Brits don’t even have a proper constitution?
For all the questions, there are a few things we do know:
- There was no plan for Brexit before the referendum and there isn’t one now. Theresa May insists that she is not revealing the government’s plan for Brexit to avoid giving away our negotiating position. To anyone paying much attention to the news, it’s clear that they aren’t revealing a plan because they don’t have one. The leaders of the ‘leave’ campaign in the run up to the referendum had no plan either – that’s why they scuttled away from positions of real leadership when the result was announced. The citizens and residents of Britain need to know the government’s intentions so we can get on with planning for our own lives and futures.
- Britain isn’t as important as we like to think it is. Now we’ve voted to leave, we’re shocked that the EU isn’t begging us to change our mind and offering us a deal to stay. If the EU is as nefarious and Britain so important as the Brexit campaigners would have us believe, shouldn’t some strings now be being pulled in some backroom in Brussels to prevent the UK moving on? No, the EU can survive without the UK. Brexit isn’t even close to the top of the EU agenda, and rightly so, there are much more important things to deal with, issues of life and death. European leaders didn’t even want to say hello to Theresa May at the EU summit earlier this month.
- There are deep divides in British society that must be bridged. The referendum didn’t change anything substantively, the results just revealed what people had been thinking all along. I don’t think anyone with an ounce of common sense believes the stream of op-eds and think pieces arguing that over half the UK population – those who voted leave – are racist bigots while the rest are the wealthy metropolitan elite. But there is clearly a deep chasm between how the leave and remain voters interpret the direction Britain has been moving in and where they believe we’re headed. National policy makers in Westminster need to work more closely with those who understand how the country outside the M25 works. Too often public money is poured into London-centric vanity projects or infrastructure development that betray a deep misunderstanding of how to generate equitable growth for those who don’t live in London.
Fingers crossed we’ll have a clearer view on where we stand once a full year has passed since the vote.
Joshua Eyre is a 1st year MPA candidate at LSE. Prior to LSE, Josh completed a Bachelors degree in history at University College London and worked at salt communications, where he developed campaigns around public health and responsible business.