The British people were promised an easy Brexit, not a nightmarishly complex one – iNews

The British people were promised an easy Brexit, not a nightmarishly complex one – iNews

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It was all very British: understated, polite, yet uncompromising. “Thank you for all you’ve done for us, dear, but I really think it’s time we move on. I know you don’t like Brexit, I didn’t vote for it either, but I just think we’d better make the best of it.”

‘Many decided how to vote on their way to the polling station. Most didn’t particularly want to be asked in the first place’

She was an elderly, Conservative-inclined voter whom I’d got to know over the years. I’d helped her and other residents on her quiet, tree-lined street in one of the more prosperous parts of South West Sheffield with some traffic calming improvements a couple of years ago. She thanked me for what I’d done and hinted that she’d voted for me in the past. But not this time.

“Better make the best of it”. That, I realised the instant she said it, said it all.

People hold their views lightly on Brexit

One of the enduring myths amongst the political and media elites of Westminster is that the argument over Brexit is won or lost by polemic and emotion alone. Fire must be fought with fire. That may well be true of convinced pro Europeans such as myself, or ardent Brexiteers like Nigel Farage. But the great, decisive swathe of British public opinion is wavering, indifferent and stubbornly uninterested in Brexit hyperbole. Some voted Remain, some voted Brexit – all hold their views for or against the EU pretty lightly.

They were asked to vote in the referendum, so felt duty bound to do so. Many decided how to vote on the way to the Polling Station. Some now say they would vote the other way. Most didn’t particularly want to be asked in the first place. “Better make the best of it” perfectly sums up how they feel. No wonder they weren’t receptive to a Lib Dem campaign valiantly trying to keep the European question open – no wonder I lost that nice, elderly lady’s vote.

Weary frustration

But – and here’s the sting in the tail for Farage et al – understated, polite, yet uncompromising sentiment can swing the other way too. And it’s happening right now, one year after the Brexit referendum. Because there is a new, softly spoken phrase I hear more and more these days. And if I was an arch Brexiteer, it would send a chill down my spine.

‘There is no way removing the egg from the omelette can be done in two years’

Pascal Lamy

It’s a typically British phrase spoken not out of anger, but bemusement. It is not the fury at the whopping fib from the Brexiteers about £350 million per week for the NHS. It isn’t even the resentment at Brexit-induced price rises. Instead, it is bewilderment at the complexity of it all and a weary frustration at the sheer incompetence of the whole Brexit saga.

You see, voters were not only promised a pain-free Brexit – no price rises, no downturn in growth, no slowdown in investment – but also an instant, quick and uncomplicated Brexit. So just imagine how you’d feel – believing what you were told by Messrs Johnson, Gove et al – as you now watch those chancers flail around cluelessly?

A lot of bother

No wonder people are beginning to mutter: “it’s all quite a lot of bother, isn’t it?” It’s the kind of phrase you wouldn’t normally pay much attention to. But it holds a greater clue about the future of public attitudes to Brexit than any economic statistic, any tabloid headline, any verbal punch-up in the House of Commons. Because it reveals an unmistakeable, steady rise in the tide of British impatience with what the Brexiteers are up to.

There is only so much incompetence and squabbling between members of the Cabinet that people will put up with. There are only so many months of uncertainty that people will endure. And when “it’s quite a lot of bother, isn’t it?” becomes “isn’t this too much bother?”, everyone from Daniel Hannan to John Redwood should start to get really worried.

‘Half of my task is running a set of projects that make the Nasa moon shot look quite simple’

David Davis on his role as Brexit secretary 

They only have themselves to blame. They said Brexit would be as simple as turning on a light switch. They told us that the EU needs us more than we need them, so we can simply flounce out overnight.

The people who knew it would be complex

They refused to listen to those who knew what they were talking about, like Pascal Lamy, one of Europe’s leading EU authorities, who predicted that Brexit would be as tricky as “taking the egg out of an omelette”.

Or the Norwegian fisheries expert who warned that “managing cod stocks is not rocket science – it is much more complicated than that”.

Or the British bakers who worry that their cakes and biscuits will suddenly be subject to a multitude of European tariffs and rules based on the proportions of milk fat, milk proteins, starch, glucose and sugars in each product.

Or the UK fashion industry, which fears that European designers will stay away from UK fashion shows because their creations will no longer be protected by EU copyright law.

Or EU citizens living in the UK who were promised, like the rest of us, a bonfire of EU red tape who now face the bureaucratic indignity of enforced ID cards instead.

Or the experts who warned that there are more than 700 international agreements we’ll need to renegotiate. Or the family lawyers who warn that child custody rulings by UK courts will no longer be automatically recognised in other European courts.

Faced with this maze of interlocking law, standards and practice which over four decades has seeped into the very fabric and minutiae of our everyday life, perhaps it’s no surprise that David Davis admitted earlier this week that Brexit makes “the Nasa moon shot look quite simple”.

People were promised a walk in the park to Brexit – not a death defying moon landing. We shouldn’t be going on the political equivalent of space travel with no idea whether we’ll land safely or not. That is certainly a whole lot of bother beyond what most voters expect or want.

Never underestimate the power of quiet, brewing British disgruntlement. You can hear it grow today. “It’s quite a lot of bother, isn’t it?” That question could be Brexit’s undoing.

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