There is a common view that the country is now divided between those who voted leave and those who voted remain. And there is a common belief that this divide is becoming so damaging to the country that it could take years to heal. And that, if and when Brexit is finally resolved, the reverberations could echo through generations.
— BBC Wales News (@BBCWalesNews) May 21, 2019
The great divide
But recent events suggest the divides go even deeper than just leave or remain. The best example of this was a video that circulated of a Brexit supporter seen berating a leave-voting politician during a TV interview because he just wasn’t Brexit-y enough. It didn’t matter that he campaigned and voted for leave, the fact he supported a deal of some kind made him a traitor and a betrayer of democracy.
And on the remain side, those who believe that some kind of softer Brexit compromise is necessary in order to enact the will of the 17.4 m people who voted for leave are derided by those want to cancel Brexit altogether. In fact, for those demanding that we revoke Article 50, even a second referendum or ‘Peoples Vote’ is not good enough.
So how did we get to this point? Are we now facing a situation where the leave and remain voters are set to turn on themselves rather than each other? And will Brexit end up eating itself?
The pursuit of no-deal
From the leave point of view, there are a number of people who now claim that a vote to leave meant a no-deal Brexit all along. The problem with this viewpoint is that the phrase ‘no deal’ was not used until well after the referendum when Theresa May first uttered the line: “no deal is better than a bad deal” during her Lancaster House speech in early 2017. And Vote Leave’s own campaign leaflet stated: “Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden step – we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any process to leave.”
And much of the Vote Leave campaign promised that we would get a favourable deal due to our strong bargaining position – it would be the “easiest trade deal in history.” But now, those who voted or campaigned to leave expecting some kind of deal to be struck are being called traitors. Despite this stance, bookmakers’ Brexit odds predict there is a greater chance of Article 50 being revoked in 2020 (2/1) than there is of a no-deal Brexit in 2019 (3/1).
So leavers who want a deal are being attacked by other leavers and remainers who want a deal are being attacked by other remainers, while both sides continue to attack each other. We have entered into a kind of cold civil war with many different factions, and the deeper these divides-within-divides keep growing, the harder it is ever going to be to reach a consensus – despite efforts to find common ground. And with no consensus, it is hard to imagine where this will all lead us as hardliners on both sides double-down in pursuit of their goals.