Does Bregret exist?
It’s a good question and – as with so many things – the answer you’ll receive probably depends on who you ask. Remainers hope it does, Leavers hope it doesn’t; and each will frequently spin on that basis.
But does it? Well, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence; be it tourist anger at getting less than €10 for £10, frustration at the temporary loss of Marmite, or a simple expression that they “didn’t think they were serious”. But it’s very hard to quantify. (Personally, I know at least two friends who regret voting Leave and another three who are having serious doubts. Yet I know no one who remotely regretted voting Remain. I appreciate that this is far from a representative sample but there does appear to be much less anecdotal evidence of that.)
There have been some polls on this issue – the largest one was the British Election Study held all the way back in July. This said that said 6% of Leavers regretted their vote and a further 4% were now in two minds. So nothing definitive (and there 1% of Remain voters regretted and 1% were in two minds). Of course, polls are not the same as real votes – as we’ve seen at virtually every recent election – but this becomes an important question when so much is talked about the “will of the people”. We should therefore be more confident of exactly what that is.
People voted Remain or Leave for many many different reasons (enough to fill a short book) and I’m not going to go into that in any detail here. For some, the vote was an excuse to give the government and/or the “political elite” a good kicking; and they didn’t care about the result (or thought it would matter). But for most of us, this was a vote about the future. People voted for what they considered to be the best future for them, their families and communities. And – as ever – people would have voted on a form of cost-benefit analysis.
- Some saw Leaving as lots of benefit with no cost – I think Andrea Leadsom quite happily declared it to be a silver bullet to all our ills. Personally, I never believe it when anyone says that. The world just doesn’t work that way.
- There were those who saw some benefit but still no cost. This group would have seen some things as nice to have – though not essential – and if it doesn’t cost us anything, well, why not give it a go? Which is a perfectly reasonable position to have.
- Some saw it as finally balanced and came down after a period of judgement one way or the other.
- Others saw some benefit; but a big cost and so voted against Leaving but maintained a deep desire to change things as they could see the benefits and issue behind it that Leave expressed (I confess to being in this group myself. For me the big cost was economics; but I agree that there could be more democracy and limits on what the EU does)
- And finally there were those who thought there was no benefit in leaving whatsoever and that it was all cost.
Where you were in that range is going to drive how you react to the evidence as it appears.
As evidence – one way or the other – filters in, people are going to react in different ways. If it confirms their view, they may well be tempted to instantly say “I told you so”, which is understandable; but not very helpful. More importantly, is what happens if the evidence consistently builds up against what we had thought.
Now it is inevitable that there will be evidence because the claims both sides put forth in the referendum were about what would happen in the future. Ultimately, the future becomes the present and a catalogue of possibilities become a single reality.
- Are we going to be in the single market or not?
- Will investment increase or decrease?
- Are jobs going to be created or destroyed by Brexit?
- Will the economy boom, grow less, or even go into recession as a result?
- Are other countries going to prioritise trade deals with us over the EU?
- Will there be more money available for the NHS?
All these questions will – over time – be answered. The important thing to look out for is how people react.
If you are a true believer in any cause, facts are inconvenient. Ask such a person for a forecast or predictions and then go back to them when it doesn’t happen, and you will get a massive long list of reasons of why they weren’t really wrong. Sometimes that can be true. For example, a forecast based on something happening is unlikely to come true if that thing doesn’t happen. But if such a person constantly finds more and more extravagant reasons, you know that they are being driven by belief. This is up there with the conspiracy theorists whose explanations get more and more extreme.
Others listen and mull over what they hear, often quietly and privately as they try to see and understand what is happening. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, after all; but if you see dozens of them swooping at you, you may have to concede that it is.
Admitting you’re wrong.
None of us like doing this and yet we all are from time to time. Personally, I prefer to admit it as soon as I realise that I am – or at least start to moderate my position if it is becoming less certain – i.e. more of those swallows start turning up.
With Brexit, I’ve made my opinion – my judgement of the forecast cost and benefit – very clear in previous posts. Now if that was proved to be wrong and Brexit becomes a glorious success, with the UK economy booming and everyone trading with us while the EU sinks into stagnation and collapse, I would have to concede it was the right thing to do. I wouldn’t like doing it because none of us like being wrong – especially if we’ve invested a lot of energy and emotion in it – but I would nonetheless.
But the evidence would have to be very, very strong – a whole flock of swallows. As the first inklings of things not going as expected came in, I would get a little nervous; but I would initially stick by my guns. As more came in, I would get quieter and more unsure – and, if asked, I would start to hedge my views. And once it’s glaringly obvious, I’d certainly concede.
The state of Brexit
At the moment, I would say that there is daily mounting evidence that Remain’s predictions are looking broadly right. Timing might be off and of course we haven’t actually left yet; but the broad movement is heading in that direction. Diplomatically, economically, politically, it’s moving slowly in that direction. But but but… Yes there are a lot of reasons that can be given to explain that and how things will come right in the end; but I promise you that there are many people – even the ones who are saying this at the moment – who are starting to have doubts. The ones who have gone quiet are having the most doubts and, as more evidence trickles in, those doubts will grow.
This is not wishful thinking. Rather it is based on two things. Firstly, a simple reading of the actual predictions made by each side (and I mean the actual predictions rather than what the other side said they said – which are often very different) and the developing reality. This is something we can all do and I’m sure most of us are.
The second thing is personal. I’ve been wrong before. We all have. And I know how I’ve reacted as I’ve slowly had to absorb the fact that I have got it wrong. It’s not nice. If it’s a subject you cared about and spent time defending, it’s horrible, in fact – a sinking feeling that sucks at you and makes you feel like an idiot. You worry about what caused you to make the mistake, what others might think of you, or even become annoyed at yourself for doing it. For all those reasons, it’s a slow grudging process. If you’ve squared up to a fight with all your strength and emotion – how can you back down from it now? The sad truth is that some people never will. And this why you’ll probably hear more and more outlandish explanations over time.
Many people believed that Brexit was all upside and there was no cost to it because that’s what they were told. So one has to remember that if a cost arrives – especially a large cost – then these people are going to feel that they have been made fools of. They are going to be angry. Therefore, gloating won’t help and it certainly isn’t a nice thing to do. Instead, everything should be done to make them welcome.
I think Bregret is out there; and I think it will grow with every passing week as Leave’s predictions and promises fail to be fulfilled. When that poll was done in July there was some surprise and disappointment that there was so little Bregret. There shouldn’t have been. To me, what was surprising about it so soon after the referendum and before we had even discussed Article 50, was that there was so much! Enough to change the result; and that must give everyone pause for thought.
Four months on and with more predictions becoming reality each day (for one side or the other), I can guarantee there are more out there having second thoughts. Some won’t discuss it, many will be looking to see how things pan out; but they’ll be doubting. If the current trend continues and more evidence tips the way Remain predicted, then I implore everyone to be welcoming to any such doubters and discuss how we can work together from now. Don’t back anyone into a corner, be understanding, gentle and constructive. It is a big thing for anyone to admit they are wrong.
And if things reverse and Brexit starts being a success, then please be patient and gentle with me as well. I’ll come round. I just won’t like doing it.
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