I did something unusual this week. I saw something wrong, stupid and annoying online and didn’t get into a fight with the person who said it.
It’s something I’ve found myself doing more and more lately, and it becomes a little easier each time, although it never feels completely natural.
Wanting to correct misinformation or to stand up against liars, cheats and bullies is a natural instinct. It’s the right thing to do. More than four years on from the Brexit referendum, though, I’ve lost almost all will to fight with Brexiters. Don’t get me wrong – they’re still infuriating in their wrong-headed, often spiteful self-destructiveness. It’s just that there’s no point. We’ve said everything that can be said in every possible way it can be said, and none of it is going to change what’s coming.
We might want to fight Brexit, but it’s already happened, and will continue to happen for a while yet. There’s only one way to fix it now, but we’ll get to that later. First things first: Talking to Brexiters about Brexit long ago became utterly pointless.
I spent a few years, until very recently, wading knee-deep into the debate. Since our family business is built on a close relationship with European customers, we’re at the sharp end of the damage our messy and pointless departure from the EU is going to bring. So any time a Leave supporter dismissed any of that damage as Project Fear, I knew for a fact they were either misinformed or deliberately lying, and I told them so. Often, and at length.
In all that time, I only encountered one who accepted and acknowledged that Brexit would be damaging, but that was early in the debate, before the big lies had really taken root, and even he continued to insist the sacrifice (other people’s sacrifice, obvs) would be worth it in the end. Every other Brexiter I’ve spoken to has been convinced that their faith in the gospel of St Nigel outweighs anything those of us bracing for the impact might actually know.
I’d keep wading in, though. Sometimes just to lob sarcastic jibes at the Brexit elites, sometimes to counter some particularly ludicrous claim by a Brexit grunt, even knowing that doing so would embroil me in hours of pointless, aggravating bickering which would leave no one any happier and, certainly, no one on the other side any wiser. When did you last leave a conversation with a committed Brexiter (and they’re all committed Brexiters these days) feeling that you’d actually been heard?
Recently one of the most creepy, unpleasant and self-satisfied of the Brexit elite tried to organise a Twitter pile-on after he vanity-searched his name and found a tweet in which I’d taken exception to some of his more simple-minded claims. There was a time when I would’ve felt obliged to hit back, answer each bot, troll or idiot he sent my way as it lumbered into view and generally spend days of my life putting the record straight. Only I didn’t. I blocked him, blocked everyone who liked his post, everyone who retweeted it and then the few of his grunts who managed to escape a block and tweet their drivel at me directly.
Scottish comedian Limmy came up with the perfect philosophy for these situations: BAMO. Block And Move On. Time is precious, happiness more so. And any encounter with a Brexiter is certain to rob you of your time and your happiness.
I’m still fascinated by the psychology of Brexit, by the things people will pretend to believe once they’ve committed themselves to something so awful led by people so transparently revolting and self-serving, and my natural urge to take the piss will occasionally – all right, often – overcome me, but I’m finally finished talking to Brexiters about Brexit. They know it’s going to be terrible. We know it’s going to be terrible. We can point out the dangers and try to replace lies with truth wherever we can, but any further debate is a waste of time.
Brexit is going to harm a lot of people who could really do without any extra trouble in their lives, but our votes, marches, arguments and pleas didn’t and can’t stop that. The Brexiters won. We did our bit and they won anyway.
What they’ve won isn’t worth winning, of course, and it’s going to make their lives miserable. Most of them have spent the past four years shouting down anyone who tried to warn them about the dangers. We tried, we really did. They know the truth as well as we do – they’ve just spent so long committing themselves, very publicly, thanks to social media, to Brexit and all its attendant offal and excreta that they simply can’t back down now.
Now, our household is as ready as it can be for Brexit. We’ve reduced our expenses, paid off our mortgage and put together a nice little stockpile. It’s a safe bet very few of the Brexiters I’ve crossed swords with over the past few years have done the same, but that’s their call and I will attempt to take no pleasure in it.
The only way out of the mess they’ve dumped us all in is to go through it. All we can do is look out for the people around us, help those in need and let those who pretended they wanted all of this wade through every painful second of it. That’s the only thing that’ll change their minds and make them realise what they’ve done. Even then, they won’t admit it – but we’ll know. And they’ll know.