Brexit, the power of a word!

When initially coined, the word ‘Brexit’ made the whole experience sound like a bit of a jaunt supporters and demonstrators could get behind to oppose or promote their view with chants such as;

‘Brexit means Brexit’

‘No to Brexit’

‘Hard, Brexit’

‘Soft Brexit’

Now, however, the word has started to become a boulder around all of our necks, every outlet is talking ‘Brexit’.  The news and all media outlets, in fact, are dominated with it. Parliament seemingly does nothing else but discuss ‘Brexit’ options without coming up with any tangible solutions.  Many are starting to despise the word and the chaos it has come to represent.  The phrases; “If I hear that word one more time, I will ……..” and “Why don’t they just get on with Brexit, it is what the country voted for” appear to be amongst the most common sentences you hear uttered in Britain today.  There is no doubt the word has power and is a rallying call to arms for Leavers (who are now of course even called Brexiteers) and a point of focus for Remainers, but does it really have a detailed definition? What it actually means is more difficult to pinpoint and maybe this ultimately has played a major part in moving us towards the position we find ourselves in today a position of flux.

Commonly, if you ask a ‘Brexiteer’ what they voted for when they voted to leave the EU, many will simply say Brexit. If you subsequently ask them what Brexit is, you will find a mixed response:

“Leaving the EU”

“Taking back control of our Borders”

“Having control of our own laws again”

“Democracy, taking away control from the bureaucrats in Brussels”

“Saving all that money we waste sending to Brussels”

“It will allow us to trade with other nations”

“I want a blue passport back”

The reason the majority were motivated to vote to Brexit suddenly becomes less clear.  When you probe a little deeper and ask them whether they want to lose certain benefits of EU membership such as;

  • Free and easy holiday travel in Europe
  • Cheap fresh food from Spain
  • No need to get visas when visiting
  • Monetary support for our deprived zones
  • Protected status for specific products such as Scotch Whiskey and Cornish pasties
  • Increased Health insurance costs for travel
  • Protected employee rights
  • A say and influence in crucial European decisions
  • A free border in Northern Ireland

More often than not, they would opt to keep most, if not all of the benefits of remaining.  What I am trying to highlight is that it is easy to agree on support for the word ‘Brexit’ without actually having any idea of what that really means or how it would be achieved.    The phrase is so catchy, there is no doubt that it probably influenced the original referendum vote, having a sexy catch phrase always helps to elevate a campaign.  I am not saying that Brexiteers are not rational or intelligent, but their cause is not a unified one, there are splinter groups.  The ignorance of some of the voters in the referendum was relevant to both sides, but what the Remainers voted for was specific as the EU was already defined, you may not exactly like or know the details of what you were getting but there was no argument about what you voted for; more of the same. 

The problem however is now that because no real definition was made for the Brexit phrase, it is easy to argue that Brexit was ‘your’ specific style of many different views and courses of action.  As such, Brexit could represent a complete removal from everything to do with Europe or could be limited to changes such as removal from the free movement of people, or the political arena or virtually nothing.  This plethora of options has meant that no one group can dominate the argument sufficiently to gain overarching support for their own view.  In a rational and reasonable world, this would normally result in a position of compromise being made, thus moving the issue forward.  Unfortunately Brexit is such a divisive word, positions are so entrenched, and views are so diverse and polarised even within political parties that the concept of a consensus through compromise is at present unrealistic.

The word even causes problems if there is a decision to move to a second referendum, as the choice would be similar to last time, should we leave or stay? However, this time the British public would be far more informed and would want to know what a ‘Brexit’ leave would actually entail. How a Brexit ‘No Deal’ would be defined is anyone’s guess…

One thing I think is certain – Brexit is a word that is here to stay – historians will be using it for decades at least and possibly even centuries, it would be interesting to know the answer to the future ‘A’ level history question;

“Brexit – positive or negative?” appears to send shivers up and down most people’s spine…


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