This septic isle, this disunited kingdom


It’s been an interesting and instructive couple of days. Taking my cue from someone who posted that if you’re discussing the EU referendum on platforms like Facebook then you’re probably preaching to the converted i.e. your FB friends, I thought I’d take a Daniel-like plunge into the Brexiters den.

So, the other day I tweeted – half-jokingly – a picture of the front cover of my passport with the European Union and asked who’s going to pay for replacing all our passports. It got picked up and retweeted by @ivoteleave to their c. 5000 followers, and inevitably I started receiving dozens of replies from them. The following are a representative sample:

We won’t have any jobs to pay for travel if we don’t brexit and a fucking squatter will have your home on return.

You should be more concerned those words are at the top of our passports when nobody voted to join the EU!


The value of self-determination and democracy probably outweighs the price of a passport.

I can’t wait to get rid of the hateful EU “tattoo” on my UK passport

Ignoring the obviously insulting, xenophobic and racist individuals, I replied to several others with some factual tables including this one, produced by a reputable law firm, which generated another round of replies.


Needless to say, several pro-Brexiters took exception to this and starting to point out what they saw as factual errors. One of the conversations went as follows:

“Norway doesn’t pay a penny into the EU-budget. It’s incorrect. Withdraw the table.”

I reply with a link to the official webpage of the Norway-EU delegation which shows clearly that it does pay into the EU – and quite significantly.

“You’re wrong. It’s purely voluntary. Not part of the EU budget. Withdraw/delete the table”, and that is accompanied with a link to the list of countries that contribute to the EU budget and their actual contribution.  And there’s no Norway.

I realise immediately that it’s a list of just the members of the EU, and so of course doesn’t include Norway or any other non-EU country. Which doesn’t mean that they don’t contribute. So I reply with a link to the official EU budget page which states clearly that the EU budget consists of a) contributions from EU-member countries and b) contributions from  non-EU countries.

That provokes this: “So, you’re not prepared to admit you’re wrong. Withdraw the table!”

I give up at that point.

But another conversation starts, with another Brexiter, who takes exception to the bit in the table that says bilateral treaties (Canadian-style)  still include ‘have to allow free movement of people’, and he demands a link.

Now, admittedly, this is a bit trickier. While Norway has signed up lock, stock and barrel to the Schengen Agreement (unlike the UK), when it comes to other FTAs (free trade agreements) the ‘movement of people’ actually refers to the movement of labour.

What is clear in the various links I send him, is that the free movement of labour (though that itself can be bound with various qualifications e.g. only certain types/levels of workers and professionals), or, certainly, the freeing up of labour mobility, is a now a key part of all FTAs. All FTAs now have significant features beyond the purely economic that are concerned with labour mobility and social/cultural/legal issues.

I find an excellent and very recent article in the Law Gazette of Singapore. Here’s the relevant bit (my emphases):


Note the “free flow of trade and labour far outweigh any possible benefits that a protectionist attitude may have”. 

In the middle of this relatively civilised ‘tweetchat’ the following appears from another Brexiter: “You’re wasting you’re time, there’s nothing on this earth that would make me vote #Remain”

Thus endeth the conversation, and I sign off with: “Well, at least I tried. Bon chance, hüvasti, und gute Nacht. :-)”

So, what have I learnt? Nothing really that I didn’t know or suspect before, but at least I’ve had some of those suspicions confirmed.

One thing is very clear, based on the numerous, mainly insulting tweets I’ve received from Brexiteers – and as Boris, Gove and co. know full well, having watched and learned from Trump – is that the ‘facts’ are totally irrelevant. They are simply an infinitely mutable means to an end. And the more one provides facts, no matter how authoritative, the more they are dismissed. In fact, the more authoritative the fact the more it is dismissed as an EU conspiracy, produced by an EU lackey – even if they are a well-respected academic.

Brexit seems more and more about some delusional ‘this-sceptr’d-isle-let’s make Britain great again-(self)-Rule-Brittania’ fantasy, accompanied by paranoid illusions about “the 4th Reich EU”(sic), “Jackboot Junckers” (sic), “EU parasites” (sic) and being overrun by hordes of criminal migrants.

Also, like Trump in the US, the EU referendum has unleashed a very nasty, festering strain of xenophobic, paranoid bile. Whichever way it goes, it’s not only the economic and social consequences we’ll have to deal with, but the emotional damage.

The trouble is it’s all about who controls the narrative, and the problem is – as we’ve seen in other European countries as well as the U.S. – that ultra-nationalist, emotional, right-wing narratives are very powerful, especially in times of great uncertainty.

It’s perhaps time we put aside our false faith in facts, and started telling compelling European tales.