The Times’ survey, published this morning on the eve of the latest (and probably final) deadline to decide a deal, shows Britain as divided as ever over Brexit. Most of us can relate to the four categories and would by now have worked out where to put themselves and their friends and family. I know where I stand and I am n0t falling out with anyone in other categories. Life and COVID are too hard and too energy sapping right now to go to wave my flag outside parliament.
But what is absolutely clear is that the promised of an oven-ready deal which was made to us this time last year was a false promise. There was no acceptable deal then and if we get a deal today, it will be a lot “wetter” than the dry-hard terms promised in Boris Johnson’s election campaign. It is the deal we will have to live with.
What has happened in the last 12 months to sentiment?
The Times’ poll suggests that Brexit , far from eating the middle ground, has created a new middle ground shared by die hard and cautious optimists whose positions seemed to have coalesced. It looks like many die hards are now cautious while the number of accepting pragmatists has dwindled with opinion amongst remainers hardening towards devestated pessimism.
Overall there appears to be a small shift towards regretting the decision the nation took nearly four years ago but the overwhelming trend appears to be the inexorable rise of pessimism (now as high as at any time over the past four years).
My position has been accepting pragmatism, mainly because I live in a household where die-hard optimism for a post Brexit Britain predominates but also because I have not got the economic imagination to understand what life will be like without the EU.
What could be worse than no deal?
If we had been asked this question this time last year, I suspect most of us would not have said – “a year of pandemic lockdown” but right now, relative to the strictures created by COVID-19, most people will regard the immediate implications of no-deal as second order.
What is really going on in our heads?
Have we discovered a new resilience or are we so punch-drunk that we have lost all sense of that economic imagination needed to think ahead?
I suspect that this capacity to think ahead is linked with age. The Times found that virtually nobody surveyed had changed their mind on how they’d have voted in 2016 and that a major divide between remain and leave was age.
I guess my generation (55+) has a different dream for Britain than our kids. Is this fired out of a nostalgia for a past we can still vaguely remember or simply for a rejection of the present. Do our kids yearn for utopia or simply fear the dystopia of an unknown unknown?
Where you live matters in how you think.
The dividing lines between young and old are clear, as are the dividing lines between regions. Regions with high-dependency on EU support (Scotland and Northern Ireland) are also regions with low allegiance to a central Westminster led Government. Maybe not enough thinking has been done on the divisiveness of being a member of the EU to the idea of Great Britain, will a post-Brexit GB re-emerge or will it simply make the calls for nationalism in Scotland and Wales stronger – and how will it feel to be a Northern Irish protestant?
It is very striking that the sense of Britain-alone is strongest in the north and the midlands and that – at least emotionally – they are the winners. It is not often that they have won any political advantage since the last world war. I don’t get much sense amongst those of us in the South that we owe our northern neighbors a say in the peace dividend – though they have the same vote as we do. “Regional supremacist” is not a title that sits happily on my southern shoulders.
The Times poll shows us that we are divided as a nation over Brexit but consistent in our divides. The young and old differ in opinions as do the north and south of England. Other nations within the UK differ from England – though Wales seems to swing both ways.
We are getting a better idea of how we differ, but we are not coming together. We may be united in frustration about how the negotiations have been handled but we are not calling for another referendum.
What saddens me is the inability of either side to understand differing positions and accept their validity. Those who want to leave argue for taking back control of our national identity while those who want to remain argue for economic advantage, there seems very few of us who can see self-determination as having a price worth paying or that we can’t go it alone at any price. But these are precisely the questions that are being negotiated. Whatever comes out of these negotiations – even if it is no deal – is what we as a nation will have to live and work with
On that basis , the bottom blue line (on the chart of the top) is the line that has most scope for growth. We will have to move from being a nation with dogmatic aspirations to a nation of pragmatic acceptance, within a few days.