What Will We Talk About After Brexit?

Brexit has clogged the headlines for a very long time. The negotiations (or lack of them) have been draining most media bandwidth for almost two years, and that figure only increases when you remember all the business that led to David Cameron (where is he these days?) calling the referendum in the first place. It’s difficult to believe because so little appears to have happened in that staggering period of time, but nearly every day in British politics for the past few years has been led by Brexit. Even the World Cup struggled to shake off the Brexit chains – it’s impressive how self-obsessed it all seems in retrospect.

Of course, with all national attention on what is no doubt an important issue, a lot of other problems have gone largely undiscussed, or at the very least greatly neglected (I’m thinking of the Windrush scandal and ‘hostile environment’). Genuinely dangerous incompetence that, in a time of reason and common sense, would warrant a sacking after a single piece of evidence survives with a track record more comprehensive than some career criminals. The unacceptable has become the irreplaceable, and all the while serious issues are left on tick over, obscured from national attention by incessant living satire. Trouble that was growing before Brexit is now reaching shocking levels, best shown by the surge in knife crime across England, and against the backdrop of abstract trade negotiations it’s difficult to understand how this rising risk has been a secondary news story for so long. It also becomes near-impossible to justify the cutting of 20,000 police officers across England and Wales – whilst it would be ridiculous to claim that this surge would definitely not be happening if these police officers were still operating, it’s equally ridiculous to claim they wouldn’t have made any difference. We’re at the sharp end of years of austerity and public spending cuts, yet Brexit is the perfect distraction to cover it up.

I was not terribly interested in politics before the referendum, a combination of being too young to vote and far more interested in other things. Beyond knowing the important names and faces, I didn’t pay much attention. Upon hearing the well-quoted manipulative ‘facts’ and doomsday forecasts that dominated the campaigning, however, I discovered that, far from being a qualified and organised set of individuals, the British political class was no better suited to govern the country than football fans crowding a stuffy pub on derby day (a bit harsh, but watch one of the many House of Commons compilations on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean). It really isn’t a surprise that crises such as the rise in knife crime have gone mostly unaddressed for so long – without the public holding them to account, there’s little motivation within the political system for the government to do anything about it. Such is the purpose of democracy, or at least the advertised purpose.

What will we talk about after Brexit? Imagining a time beyond the squabbles of Brexit might be challenging, yet there is a vast backlog of urgent matters arising, increasing as often as the stock of soundbites from British and EU leaders. Leaving the EU is a parasite draining the life out of our trust in the political system, yet the very same quality that threatens to alienate us entirely from politics is perhaps the best thing to emerge from Brexit. The EU referendum sparked a level of engagement with politics far surpassing that of the years before it, particularly amongst young people – if we can keep that going after Brexit finally ends (and it will end somehow), then it becomes hard to see how scandals like Windrush, atrocities like knife crime, and liabilities like Chris Grayling can continue to be excused and obscured as they can be currently. I don’t know precisely what we’ll talk about after Brexit, but there’s a massive list of problems to work through – we just need to pick a place to start.