Brexit extremists? Only on the Remain side


YouGov have released some polling results this week which they claim examine ‘Brexit extremism‘. The headline grabbing statistic from their research is that 61% of Leave voters would be undeterred by ‘significant damage’ to the UK economy as the cost of leaving the EU.

This has resulted in a spectacular outpouring of contempt from Remainers on social media for Brexiters who judged that repatriation of numerous policy areas, not to mention the ability to directly elect those who would presume to legislate for us, was (hypothetically) worth paying an economic cost. The New Statesman even published a grotesquely smug and ignorant piece in which it claimed that ‘baby boomers hate their children’. A conclusion they drew from the results that 39% of leave voters judged the loss of their job, or that of a family member, to be worth it if it meant withdrawal from the EU.

It’s worth noting that the same poll found that a third of remain voters judged significant economic damage to be a price worth paying for staying in the EU. Frankly, when it comes to these results, I don’t see what the fuss is about. That both Leave and Remain voters would stick to their principles and sacrifice material gain in order to achieve loftier goals seems admirable to me.

However, the really shocking result from YouGov’s research, is that 19% of Remain voters consider “significant damage to the British economy after leaving the European Union to be a price worth paying to teach Leave politicians and Leave voters a lesson”. To put it another way, one in five Remain voters actively want the economy to tank, just so they can gloat about it.

This is a step beyond judging some economic turmoil to be a price worth paying. It is a text book example of removing one’s olfactory senses to spite one’s face. Had the result gone the other way, I find it hard to believe Leavers would be actively hoping for huge strides towards a federal Europe just to be smug about it.

Wider problem

Unfortunately this speaks to a wider problem with the Brexit debate. The die hard Remainers have spent as much time as is humanly possible bemoaning the result and seeking to overturn it. Not that that stops them from, in the same breath, complaining that the government’s current Brexit approach fails to take into account the 48%.

You’ll get no argument from me that the Tories’ current approach to Brexit is devoid of coherence, vision, or even a fundamental grasp of the issues at hand. But in seeking to frustrate Brexit, rather than help shape it, those Remainers who shout loudest have denied the hard Brexiteers currently forging the government’s position a united opposition.

Instead, those liberal leavers who see remaining in the single market via an EFTA/EEA position as the optimum means for our withdrawal have been left fighting a battle on two fronts, against the hard Brexiters on one hand, and against Remainers refusing to acknowledge the result on the other.

Were the latter inclined to honour the instruction given to the government by the electorate last June, they would find many an ally on the liberal Leave side. Moreover they would find themselves advocating a position preferred by an overwhelming majority of the country. The ‘Norway model’ is preferred as our post-Brexit position by two to one, with 54% of respondents backing the option in a poll just prior to polling day.

Similarly, the two biggest factors for Remain voters in opting for that box on their ballot paper, were concerns about the hit to the economy by leaving the single market. The main Brexiteer goals of ending ECJ jurisdiction, reducing budgetary contributions, and gaining greater control over immigration, are all achievable under the Norway model. An EEA solution then, is one all sides can live with, whilst still honouring the referendum result and leaving the EU.

“La la la, I’m not listening”

However, when you try to have a constructive conversation with these Remain extremists about finding a sensible way to implement the democratic will of the people, you often hit a brick wall. I made such an offer on Twitter last week and was inundated, for nearly three days, with responses along the lines of ‘your mess, you clean it up’. Each time I put forward the arguments for a Norway style Brexit I was shot down with the argument that Brexiters wouldn’t go for it. This, despite the fact that there I was, a Brexiter, advocating it.

I quite happily stipulated that the current approach could end in disaster, but any attempts to discuss how to avoid that whilst still implementing the will of the people were dismissed out of hand. Not only does this make a ‘Brexit at any cost’ much more likely, but nothing is quite so extreme as to cling to your defeat and opt for disaster, rather than engage with the victors in an attempt to find common ground.

‘Brexit at any cost’ may seem like an extreme position to those on the Remain side, but Brexit was always about much more than economics. Few Leavers, and none worth taking seriously, painted Brexit as a path to immediate and infinite riches. A little short-term instability was seen as a price worth paying for the medium to longer term opportunities. More than that though, Brexit was about a fundamental question: by whom are we governed? Sovereignty was the number one issue for Leave voters, and it should come as no surprise that 61% of them believe that you cannot put a price on that. I may be an advocate of a softer Brexit, but I’m inclined to agree.


  1. Why would a Remainer want to help shape Brexit? As a Remainer myself, the obvious approach is to sit back and let Brexiters figure it out and if they succeed, great, if they fail, emigrate. Easy.

    Brexit is far too complicated a process to engage with unless you really want it. For me, trying to shape Brexit would be a bit like trying to get a PhD in Astrophysics. Incredibly complicated, incredibly hard work and all for something I have no interest in achieving.

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