Why does Brexit stir such emotions? British politics is a traditionally relatively moderate affair, so why this change?
I posit a very simple answer — we’ve all, unknowingly, become members of a tribe. And as with all tribes, our allegiances are emotional, rather than factual.
You might think these tribes are Brexiteers and Remainers. But I think that’s too simplistic an analysis. In many ways it’s an analysis that’s been foisted upon us by those trying to stir up divisions for their own agendas. Those labels are too blunt to represent the complexity of our opinions.
Having studied the opinions and reactions of many friends and acquaintances, I’ve identified seven distinct tribes. Each have strong opinions, but all subtlety different and for different reasons. The logic that drives all of these tribes is sound — even though they have come to very different conclusions. And so we find ourselves with seven groups of equally opinionated people. Even those without an opinion, but who just want the whole thing finished regardless of outcome, tend to express that opinion strongly.
A whole swathe of invisible and unsung heroes brought Catholic and Protestant traditions together in NI. Maybe something can bring my Brexit tribes together. As ever, the answers to division lie not in the centre, not the extremes.
🗣 “The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.” Eisenhower, as quoted by Theresa May. 👏👏👏
I’ve purposely not given my groups memorable names, because I believe strongly that labels are more often used to divide than to unite. So here, unceremoniously, are my entirely unmemorable and instantly forgettable Brexit groupings.
Group-1 are strong believers that the referendum needs to be honoured. They also believe that if the EU see that we really are prepared for no-deal, they will crack at the last minute and offer a deal. This group doesn’t believe no-deal is good, but that it’s a useful mechanism to force the EU’s hand. Group-1 think those getting excited about no-deal are over-reacting and don’t understand how negotiations work. To be credible, we need to show that no-deal is a credible option. Those arguing against, are seen as undermining our negotiating position. Group-1 aren’t bothered by forecasts and projections about no-deal, because they think the EU will offer a deal.
Similar to Group-1, group-2 are big believers in executing the will of the people. They believe that no-deal won’t be that bad, that “things will work themselves out” — and so they’re relaxed about getting a deal or not. All the bad omens are “project fear”. They think there’s a status-quo that people find hard to think past and that the “establishment” are too caught up in how things have been to see how they could be. Group-2 think others are over-reacting about no-deal and that we just need to stay-the-course and things will work out just fine. Group-2 tend to disregard all economic forecasts and analysis of no-deal impact as being from those with little imagination and from an inherently biased perspective. Their tribal allegiance relies heavily on an inner self-belief, rather than external facts.
Actively believe that no-deal is a good thing, because it will create a crisis that can be used to justify emergency responses. Severe cut-backs and privatisations of the NHS, Education, slashing of the Aide and Environment budgets, slashing of tax for higher earners, etc — these things can all be justified on the basis of an emergency requiring extreme measures. All the things a hard-right politician dreams about, but never gets the chance to enact in a broadly politically-centrist UK, suddenly become possible. Group-3 disregard all economic forecasts and projections of no-deal impacts because they don’t matter. Any short-term pain, no matter its impact, is worth paying for the long-term gain of a hard-right revolution. Group-3 tend not to talk about their motivations a lot because they know their ideas would not be popular and might scare some who would otherwise support the Brexit cause. For these reasons, Group-3 often masquerade as Group-1 or Group-2, so they can be hard to spot.
Believe that no-deal will be an economic disaster and the EU will not buckle at the last minute. They believe that groups 1 & 2 are misguided in both their complacency and mis-reading of EU politics. They see the threat of group-3 gaining influence through a crisis as being an undemocratic concern. Group-4 see forecasts and warnings from establishment bodies such as the Bank of England, the Treasury, the IMF, etc as being broadly sane assessments of the probable impact of no-deal. They view Boris Johnson’s crowning by Conservative party members as being undemocratic and therefore consider that he has no democratic mandate for extreme policies. Group-4 are really hoping the talked about “rebel army” can emerge and helps us avoid a no-deal. Group-4 would prefer a second referendum or general election in order to resolve the current impasse.
This group is very centrist in its opinions. It believes the referendum should be honoured, but not at any cost. Not Brexit die-hards, their support for it is based not on a like or dislike of Brexit, but on a respect for the democratic vote. But group-5 are very aware that at the referendum time there was no talk of no-deal. People cast their votes in the belief that a deal would be easy and that Brexit would bring benefit, not economic downside. They are concerned by talk of no-deal, because they don’t think it reflects what people voted for. Reluctant in their support for Brexit, group-5 are similarly reluctant in considering the need for a further democratic vote.
Group-6 are just fed up with the whole thing. They are bored by the arguments and just want Brexit finished with — one way or another. Group-6 are perhaps interesting, because of their potential to be swayed by other groups. As ever, British politics are heavily influenced by those in the centre with no strong opinions either way. But when they do decide to vote, those votes can often be decisive.
This group believe the referendum was fraudulent — that dirty money and shady tactics swung a vote that was too close to call. Their opinion is bolstered by the emergence of no-deal as a likely outcome in recent days. This was never mentioned as a realistic prospect during the referendum, further undermining its credibility as a democratic instrument. To group-7, the only logical answer is to withdraw the article-50 notification. The people were lied to.
Do you recognise yourself here? Maybe you feel that you straddle more than one group — that’s perfectly OK and just proves my hypothesis that pigeon-holing people is a futile effort. We are all unique and long may that be so.
You may notice that I’ve studiously not said which tribe I claim alegiance to. Some of you, who know my opinions on Brexit, could no doubt guess. But you would only be guessing — there are several tribes you might think I could swear allegience to. And this proves my point, that Brexiteer and Reaminer are irrelevent labels only used divide. They cannot adequately represent my views, any more than yours. The nuances between the the tribes are too important to be glossed over. So next time you hear those labels being used, stop to wonder if they are being used to create an “other”. For if they are, you know to avoid the label-giver.