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Published: December 15th 2019
A friend of mine attaches the following motto to all his emails: 'Uncertainty is the key to a good decision; supreme confidence is the mark of a fool.'
I was reminded of this yesterday when I received an email from another friend, who is a passionate Brexiteer. In the wake of the Conservatives’ triumph in the UK election, I had sent him a cartoon from The Guardian
newspaper portraying Boris Johnson as ‘The Lying King’ (a parody of ‘The Lion King’) being presented to his people by Dominic Cummings. I thought it was quite a clever cartoon, and I knew it would irritate my friend, a Boris fan, who believes that Boris’s insistence on a quick Brexit makes him fit to govern the UK. Well, my friend was irritated all right, but I had not expected quite such a vitriolic response. His pro-Brexit feelings reached a crescendo in the following sentence: ‘A landslide for Johnson and the pro-Brexit camp. We know better than the idiotic scum who disagreed with us.’ My reply was succinct. I quoted those words and followed them with: ‘Now I know where I stand in your estimation.' I then received another email from
him, desperately backpedalling, assuring me that I was not one of ‘the idiotic scum’. But the damage had been done. My friend, who knows I am a Remainer, had insulted me. Not for the first time either. In an earlier email he had referred to my anti-Brexit views as ‘fatuous’.
I am flabbergasted and dismayed by my friend’s patronizing and know-all tone. He speaks as if Brexit is categorically good for the UK. Clearly, to Brexit or not to Brexit is a thorny question, and there are arguments on both sides. To dismiss all the people who oppose Brexit as ‘idiotic scum’
is nonsensical and deeply offensive. Many of the people who oppose Brexit are far brainier and more qualified to judge the issue than my friend is.
All this leads me back to that motto: 'Uncertainty is the key to a good decision; supreme confidence is the mark of a fool.'
Not being sure about something is often the only logical position a person can take.
My own view of Brexit is that it will probably damage the UK in a variety of ways, but it may, in the long-term, turn out
to be good. There are so many variables, all we can be sure of is that we don’t know what will happen after the UK quits the EU.
My opposition to Brexit stems largely from two things.
Firstly, Brexit happened almost by accident. The Brexit referendum, on June 23rd 2016, was called by Prime Minister David Cameron as a sop to the right-wing of the Tory Party, who had been promised a referendum, but he hoped and believed that people would vote to remain in Europe. It came as an almighty shock when 51.9% of the UK populace voted to leave. It had never been Cameron’s intention to leave the EU; he was just playing party politics. The result of the referendum was not legally binding, but Cameron's government decided not to renege on their promise to respect the people's verdict.
Secondly, the referendum offered no concrete and detailed alternative to staying in Europe. The people who voted to leave had nothing more than a nebulous ‘leave Europe’ to vote for. Leave Europe for what? The terms of leaving were unknown. I have always said that a second referendum would be sensible – whereby people had a choice between voting to remain or voting for whatever departure deal the UK government had struck with the EU. Alas, this is not going to happen now that Boris’s gung-ho Brexit government has a sizeable majority. I sincerely hope that when Brexit comes to pass, as it surely will, it proves good for the UK. I doubt it very much but I hope so.
What galls me, though, is the triumphalism of those people who see Brexit as a guarantee of future well-being and prosperity. Why can’t they admit that after Brexit there will be a long road ahead fraught with difficulties? Why can’t they see that there are powerful arguments for staying in the EU? Why don’t they realize the future of the UK, with or without Brexit, is unknowable? Why are they so damn sure of themselves?
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