One unwelcome development past the age of 30 is the two-day hangover. This year the United Kingdom is 310 years old – which presumably means its propensity to feel tired, grumpy and slightly nauseous after a big event is even more extensive. Two hundred or so days on since the referendum, are we finally getting over our Brexit hangover?
Since the New Year, we’ve been discussing how important underlying feelings of frustration and dismay or shock and awe might still be affecting the ongoing debate about how we should navigate the process of leaving the European Union. It seems to us that, whatever side of the argument you found yourself, it’s hard to let go. “We’re all Brexiteers now” but the way we feel about the brave new world still depends on how we voted last June. Psychologists have written extensively about confirmation bias – our ability to focus on those facts that fit our underlying opinions, filtering out alternatives and to therefore entrench our beliefs further once we’ve made a big decision. Pollsters have also found that few people have changed their minds about how they would vote.
And so it feels like people, politicians and newspapers who backed Leave are only interested in highlighting the steady performance of the economy, and the new opportunities that we can seize. On the other hand, those who voted Remain are reiterating indicators that all may not be well and maintaining that the forecast risks simply haven’t happened yet. It’s either: “Calm down dear, it’s not that bad” or “You’re all mad, the car crash is just up ahead”. And then there are those who are just fed up, don’t want to talk about it anymore and would quite like to go out for a descent fry up thanks.
Joking aside, newspaper editorials and – reportedly – debates around the table at the cabinet sub-committee on Brexit do reflect the emotional challenge of moving on. Even for Remainers who are intellectually on board with making the most of the result, it’s hard to feel emotionally uplifted by the prospect. Brexiteers waiting to realise the potential successes, should not blind themselves to the ongoing risks that must be managed in order to get there. Re-hashing the old debate means we are not addressing the new reality.
We don’t live in a counterfactual world, so we will never be able say how it would have worked out if the vote had gone the other way. As citizens with a vested interest, our collective responsibility should be to make the best of Brexit. And what of the much maligned experts? No matter what they voted, we need our best and our brightest to help us make the most of it. Can they live with themselves knowing that they didn’t try to sort the situation out? Or would they rather sit back and wait to say we told you so? More importantly, who will vote for them or buy their newspapers if they do?
It seems already that maybe the Christmas break and dawn of a New Year have given a spring to our collective steps, marking the end of any Brexit hangovers. All eyes are now trained on Theresa May’s speech tomorrow where more detail is promised. The reaction from the markets, the commentariat, Parliament and the public will indicate whether the bacon sandwiches and powerade are still required.
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