Brexit has been one of the most divisive issues Britain has ever faced in its history. What was once a issue polarised into two camps, ‘Leave vs Remain’, it has now escalated into a much more complex affair.
Britain has turned to tribalism. Both the electorate and Britain’s main political parties have splintered into all sorts of new groups. Our political parties are lost in a mirage, with members blurring the lines, disengaged with the core of the party to create their own identities.
The spectrum of these identities spreads far and wide.
UKIP, once a party determined to leave the EU, has turned into a far-right entity with the leadership of Gerard Batten. Not only are they supporting racist, anti-immigration groups such as the Football Lads Alliance, as well as being supporters of Tommy Robinson, but Batten wants a “complete and total withdrawal from the European Union”, whatever deal is agreed with the EU. Some might place Katie Hopkins in this group, who has stated that she ‘struggles to see a downside’ of a No Deal Brexit.
UKIP’s previous leader, Nigel Farage, leads the less right-leaning group of Brexiteers which includes individuals such as the Tories Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. These individuals also want to “regain sovereignty” and believe Britain can survive a No-Deal Brexit with the right economic direction. They’ve also gained the support of famous figures such as Sir Michael Caine, who stated he’d “rather be a poor master of my fate than having someone I don’t know making me rich by running it”.
Alongside the Hard Brexiteers are the DUP, propping up the government with their 10 pro-Brexit MPs – with the main intention of keeping peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by placing a border in the Irish Sea.
Within the Conservatives, we see many divisions. Theresa May, faces opposition to her Chequers Plan from from more central Tories such as Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve – both pushing for a People’s Vote.
Chuka Umunna has been the leading figure from centrist Labour who’s shared similar views with Soubry and Grieves, marching alongside Soubry at the recent People’s Vote march. Sadiq Khan has also been expressing his desire for a People’s Vote for the sake of London.
Many more significant figures have come out to support a People’s Vote, including comedians Matt Lucas and Steve Coogan, and Humans actress Gemma Chan. This is certainly a group which is growing in popularity, becoming more and more visible as a more moderate, less extreme way of urging the nation to remain in the EU.
But it’s the same story with Labour as it is with the Tories. Other progressives, such as Yvette Cooper, stayed quiet on the issue of a People’s Vote during the march. Those leaning to the left of Labour, such as Corbyn and his Shadow Cabinet, remained tight lipped on a People’s Vote, pushing for a different approach to Brexit negotiations. Corbyn avoided the issue on the day of the People’s Vote march, instead reminding us of his support for the people of Chile 20 years ago to the day, who faced the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Whilst this was a great achievement by Corbyn, he still shied away from addressing the elephant in the room.
Keir Starmer remains one to watch on Brexit, announcing at the Labour conference that “nobody is out remain as an option”.
This follows the lines of the Green Party, who are “campaigning for a People’s Poll on the final deal, that explicitly includes an option to remain part of the European Union”. Caroline Lucas was another figure present at the People’s Vote march.
The Lib Dems push further on this message, explicitly promoting an Exit From Brexit as their key policy. This is also a message shared by up-and-coming activist and co-founder of youth group Our Future, Our Choice Femi Oluwole. He’s been a prominent figure on social media, particularly demolishing Nigel Farage on his LBC radio show with his excellent knowledge on EU law and confronting Tory members on their hypocritical ideology on immigration.
Finally, the SNP who have now declared they will support a People’s Vote. But, of course, their greater intention is for Scottish independence.
I’ve not covered every single identity; for example, Owen Jones, who dislikes Brexit, has stated that he is opposed to another referendum because it might lead to a ‘viciously poisonous campaign’.
But where does this leave us as a nation? How can we move forward as a nation when there are so many Brexit tribes, so many Brexit identities, so many Brexit desires?
My answer: something has to give way in the next few weeks. One of these tribes will have to react to the realities of the situation and will give in to the desires of another. Boris Johnson has stated that Britain will become a “vassal state” if we agree to remain in the customs union and single market. But I think we have already reached this point internally; Theresa May has failed to lead this country towards a clear Brexit, and no one knows what we are going to achieve out of our negotiations. Because of this, every tribe has continued to push their own message in the hope of building support.
But what this has done has left British politics as a vassal itself. No one has made any clear progress with Brexit because no one has had the power to implement their ideas. And what’s worse – little progress with Brexit has meant little progress with any form of change to things that matter in our society. Britain is already a vassal state.
So when should something ‘give way’? There are plenty of opportunities for this to happen, from this year’s Budget, to the ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament. What’s most important is in what direction shall things give way?
An anonymous pro-Brexit MP has already insisted that Theresa May has a matter of days before a leadership challenge will be initiated. Then, the DUP have also threatened to vote down this year’s budget if it does not suit their own desires.
Because May does not hold a majority in Parliament, does this mean May will have to appease the right? Or will she appeal to those on the left to make sure she can pass through some form of Brexit policy?
Even if we were to have another general election, could these tribes still hold us back from making progress on Brexit?
What I think, and I hope, is most likely is that the importance of the People’s Vote march will revitalise British politics. It’s been claimed that 700,000 people marched in London – the biggest since more than a million Britons marched against the invasion of Iraq. Yes, you can argue that the march against the invasion of Iraq did not change Labour’s final decision. But will Labour want to make the same decision again? Would Corbyn, or even May, want to decide against another mass movement which could potentially taint their legacies as leaders?
We are not going to be able to please everyone, but a general consensus is needed at the very least to create some sort of progress. If Corbyn or May decide to appease the movement, these tribes will begin to coincide, and political divisions will start to heal.
What is certain is that we are only just entering the beginning of a long period of Brexit turmoil. We’ve had a confused leadership for two years. Now comes the time where we seriously scrutinise the direction of Brexit. Now comes the time where each tribe will come to the forefront to claim their ideological dominance. Now comes the hard part.
But, we have to hope that our efforts of showing our adoration for Europe will help soothe our Brexit woes. Now is the time for politicians to look at the reality of the situation, halt the madness of our political status as a vassal state and push forward with some sort of sensible decision on Brexit.