Conservatism, Character and Constitution

We need to take the heat out of Brexit

After watching Bridgerton, I can only assume most normal people spend their late teens and early twenties attending dances and promenading around parks writes Kirsty Lewis.

But for oddballs like me and many of my friends, politics dominated. We spent our time exploring which party, which faction, which position on the political compass best fit our new-found, strongly held opinions. If you’re my age, your early twenties will also have been dominated by the Brexit debate.

So many people now like to pretend they’ve been lifelong Remainers of Brexiteers. The truth is that before 2014 the vast majority of the British public wouldn’t have been able to say which camp they belonged to, let alone why. This was even the case with MPs. While a number were Eurosceptic, until then there were only a handful who had openly spoken about their desire to actually leave the EU.

Yet for the last four years it has seemed impossible to have a normal conversation without someone having to weave in the way they voted in the referendum. You can all picture it. For that one person, it has become more than politics – they see it as a personality trait. They puff up their chest before proudly telling you how they voted. They think it’s something that signifies more about them than just one vote. It’s now considered a sure-fire way to judge someone’s moral stance on a variety of issues – often entirely unrelated to the European Union itself.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who has started dating someone new. He gave me her name and then straight away followed it up with, “She’s a Remainer”. As if that in itself was her defining feature. Why would I need to ask if she was funny, kind or clever? For him, everything you needed to know about her could be summed up by the way she voted in a referendum almost five years ago.

Excuse the dreadful caricatures but I often think about stances on Brexit as a scale from one to ten. One would be the most ardent Remain voter; the FBPE Twitter user who has dressed in only blue and yellow since 2016 and spends their evenings weeping into a deli board, staring at their Jean-Claude Juncker lock screen. Ten is the biggest Brexiteer; someone who makes Nigel Farage look like a wet and if granted three wishes by a genie would use one to force the UK to trade on WTO terms.

The rest of us are all somewhere between four and six. Maybe we love our European friends but have always felt different. Maybe we saw the benefits of a close, economic union but can also see a future without it. Maybe we voted to Remain but respect the result. Maybe we are sympathetic to friends who voted Leave. Maybe we just want people to stop banging on about it.

Of course, the process of actually leaving the EU has only just begun. There will be plenty of technical details to pore over and new pathways to forge. We are all eager to see how it plays out. We can hold politicians to account over the decisions they now have to make and continue to debate our future relationship with other countries. But can we please, for our own sanity, make 2021 the year where Tinder bios no longer contain references to a vote now done and dusted?

The labels we attach to ourselves and others when discussing Brexit are often toxic and divisive. I’d also say that they’re swiftly becoming irrelevant. There will undoubtedly be new political debates to fill the void it leaves behind, but let’s not allow the new sides we take to become so mixed up with our personalities and morality. We are all so much more than our vote. We all remain British, we all remain European. There the labels should end.

Kirsty Lewis is a senior researcher in the House of Commons and Welsh Conservative member.

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