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Thu 18 July 2019
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As the Brexit fuse burns to its cinder, what the UK needs more than ever, is a little more acceptance that many Britons are simply bewildered as to what the hell is going on. That doesn’t make them stupid – it makes them normal.

Shortly after leaving university, I landed a job as an English teacher in an international school in Suffolk. Up until then, I had considered myself fairly good at English – on account of having spoken it for 22 years and was solid on things like nouns and parts of the body – but soon I was being probed on other stuff.

Stuff I didn’t understand.Nobody wants to look stupid in front of 12-year-olds – least of all an unqualified novice teacher. So, when someone asked me to explain something complicated – I did what any normal person would do – and made up an answer. My students and I rubbed merrily along for a year – and at the end, they all screwed up their exams and I went and got another job.

I had failed – but it wasn’t entirely my fault. I was unqualified and should never have been given the job in the first place.

I was reminded of this personal fiasco while reading the Brexit YouGov opinion poll which came out this week. In case you missed it, that was the one where Piers Morgan and others were quick to leap on the findings as proof that “44% of the public want no deal”. In fact it said no such thing – as YouGov itself tried to point out.

The 44% figure was actually based on a question about preferred options should the EU not grant the UK a further extension – which is quite different from the “public wanting no deal”. Polling results are largely predicated on the way a question is asked and as only three choices – including ‘don’t know’ – had been given the end figure was artificially magnified. Morgan spent a day insisting he hadn’t been owned by people who understood numbers, but by then the other Brexiters were off – loudly (and falsely) proclaiming that 44% of the public wanted no deal. Polling is a complex business, not least because you must take it on trust that people grasp what is being asked of them in the first place. Unfortunately, in the case of Brexit most people no more understand it than I understood advanced English grammar during my teaching spell. You cannot say that out loud of course – which is why nobody does. For to suggest in the feverish mood of British politics in 2019 that people don’t comprehend the vast complexity of the EU referendum is to break a great political taboo.

Last week it was revealed that dozens of MPs are attending a seminar to better comprehend the customs union and there is ample evidence to suggest that many leading Brexiters still don’t understand basic aspects of the withdrawal process. If our political masters don’t get it – how are we to expect ordinary people to keep up?  

And understand it they don’t.

Challenge most people to explain the single market, customs union or common agricultural policy and they will stare at you blankly. Ask the average Briton what the EEA or EFTA are and most won’t have a clue. Query even the most avid Brexiter or Remainer on ‘common external tariffs’ or what proportion of our GDP is spent on membership of the EU and they won’t know.

This is basic stuff – but most Britons don’t know it. And frankly, why should they? In the past we elected politicians to make decisions on our behalf. Requiring the British public to vote in a binary referendum on a matter as complex as EU membership, was akin to asking a three year old to perform brain surgery with a stick of novelty cheese.

As the Brexit fuse burns to its cinder, what the UK needs more than ever, is a little more acceptance that many Britons are simply bewildered as to what the hell is going on. That doesn’t make them stupid – it makes them normal.

Perhaps it’s time to pay less attention to the polls and Piers Morgan – and more to those blasted experts.

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