Here are my Brexit regrets. What are yours?

BY Iain Martin | tweet iainmartin1   /  1 March 2019

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt is the new book by Arthur Brooks, the American free market academic. Brooks was in London last month talking about it pre-launch and he was, as ever, a captivating speaker. In essence, the argument is that we need to find better, that is more polite, ways of disagreeing with each other. People are especially angry at the moment and social media fuels the fury. It doesn’t get us very far, and it is destructive. I plead guilty.

I mentioned Arthur’s book in my latest column for The Times, which you can read here.

As well as attempting to make the modest case in that column that life will go on for Britain after Brexit, I tried to acknowledge that Brexiteers (having authored this latest chapter in Britain’s story) have the greater duty to acknowledge error and listen to their opponents in a constructive spirit. That is, if we want the country and its discourse to recover from what has been – and may be for some time – a testing period.

The argument in Love Your Enemies (I draw the line at loving A.C. Grayling), and a particularly testy exchange today with someone from the FT whose work I respect, got me thinking about my personal mistakes, as someone who has argued for leaving the EU.

What are your regrets about the Brexit process? Email us at and we’ll consider it for publication in our new letters page.

In the meantime, here are my Bregrets as someone who wants to leave the EU:

1) Putting too much faith in “keeping the show on the road” in the negotiations, in the hope that it would produce a great moment of compromise, or a moment at which May tested the EU. Never came. The surrender by the government on sequencing was a catastrophe and I didn’t appreciate why until later. I was too blasé about the December 2017 declaration, thinking the UK’s concessions could be argued out later.

2) Paying too little attention to the complexities of world trade. A government minister (not Liam Fox) likes to tell me that “bureaucrats and trade nerds love trade deals, but business just gets on with it” and I know what he means. But still, the architecture of global trade and its rules-based order is something Brexiteers paid insufficient attention to. We’re getting an education now.

3) Not believing David Cameron and George Osborne when they said arrogantly that they had made no plans for what should happen if they lost the referendum. I assumed they would so obviously have allowed detailed behind the scenes work on what the options were if they lost their referendum. Wrong.

4) Being persistently too sarcastic on Twitter. Being on Twitter at all during Brexit, come to think of it.

5) Not being rude enough about President Macron. But getting too annoyed when the rather smug Dutch bloke comes on TV. Also, enjoying way too much the sight of England beating Ireland in the Six Nations which felt at the time, thanks to that marketing campaign by the Irish bookies, as though it was a proxy for the Brexit negotiations. Wrong, and shameful, but secretly still quite enjoyable.

6) Thinking, as a fan of Germany and its culture, that Germany would at some point turn up. Wrong, so far.

7) Attending a dinner pre-referendum with Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore, rather than informing the authorities and calling in a drone strike on the restaurant.

8) Ordering beer on trips to Brussels. Most of it seems to be about 8%.

9) Being too critical of the European Union. It’s an absolutely terrific organisation and I really regret that Britain is leaving it. Okay, I don’t mean this one.

10) Sending Chris Kendall, a leading Brussels-based voice for Remain, a message this week saying Happy Brexit on his 50th birthday, rather than Happy Birthday. A genuine mistake, due to Brexit overload, which he forgave.

Leavers and Remainers, email your “Bregrets” to – I  will rule out entries which in essence amount to your regret being that your opponents have failed throughout to agree with you and in doing so have failed to appreciate your brilliance. But we know you’re brilliant really.


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