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31 January 2020

I expected to be angry about Brexit Day. But now it’s here I find I’m just sad

This final, valedictory Evening Call was meant to be an example of what my colleagues have taken to calling my “howls of rage”. But rage doesn't feel the right register. 

By Jonn Elledge

So. It’s over. At 11pm, to the peals of silence from Big Ben, Britain will leave the European Union and take a step into the unknown. The forces of national sovereignty (to its fans), or reactionary nationalism (to the rest of us) have won out; those of liberal internationalism or an out of touch elite (again, delete to taste) are in retreat.

The single transferable take that seems particularly popular in the wild today is: this is all the fault of Remainers. Had they been more compromising – perhaps willing to accept a softer Brexit rather than pushing on to an election that the Leave side was, thanks to its more widely distributed support, always destined to win – perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess.

On this matter, I’m torn. The election was, in retrospect, a catastrophically stupid idea and its cheerleaders should almost certainly have shut up. (Sorry.) And perhaps a softer Brexit, through that process of indicative votes which failed to find a majority for anything, would have been possible.

But then again – it’s not massively fair to expect only some factions to put their immediate political objectives aside in the national interest, and it’s patronising in the extreme to suggest that the other side can be expected to know no better. And Theresa May, remember, had over two years to find a compromise with the nearly half of us who weren’t happy about Brexit. She instead spent that entire time trying to placate the right and crush the liberal left, while being pointlessly unpleasant towards foreigners as a sideline. 

What’s more, it is striking that such takes tend to come mostly from liberal Tories or the hard left – two groups which have a very obvious motivation to shift blame from their own allies onto somebody else. And there is something just a little bit victim blamey about the idea that Brexit is the fault not of its supporters but of those who always thought it a catastrophe. “Look what you made them do” is not a political argument: that’s the logic of the abuser.

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This final, valedictory Evening Call was meant to be an example of what my colleagues have taken to calling my “howls of rage”, about the mendacity of the people who’ve messed up my country, and the stinking, sulphurous pit of hell they’re intent on dragging us down into with them. I like writing angry; anger is so much easier to combine with jokes, and let’s be honest that’s what we’re all here for really, isn’t it?

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But I’m not sure rage is the right register today. Partly because I’m not really feeling angry: instead I just feel sad, and frightened, about what this means for my country, its economy, and our political culture.  

And partly too it’s because, for many people, Brexit Day is a day of victory, of popular democracy, sovereignty and freedom over a corrupt and undemocratic superstate. For them – perhaps for you – this is independence day. Raining on their parade is just not a good look, and however appalling Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson have been in how they got us here, those voters who wanted this have as much right to enjoy their victory as we would.

I really hope that they are right, and I am wrong. That everything Remainers fear about Brexit, that it will trash the economy and is rooted in fear and prejudice, and will make the lives of our friends and neighbours and careworkers harder for, turns out to be just as ridiculous as they’ve always told us it is. That all the promises of a new golden age turn out to be true and the rights we are giving up feel a small price to pay for it.

I don’t believe it will be. But I’m often wrong about stuff, and perhaps, if we’re very, very lucky, it’ll turn out I’ve been wrong about this, too.

Good luck, everyone.

Good day for…

Anger about Brexit. Okay, I didn’t manage a howl of rage, but Martin Fletcher has got your back. “Brexit day is no cause for celebration,” he writes. “This is a moment of profound national shame.”

Bad day for…

The British car industry, which, Anoosh finds, is concerned Brexit could lead to its total collapse. More here.

Quote of the day

“I’m not a great believer in omens but my producer’s tube train caught fire this morning.”

LBC host James O’Brien, sharing a text from his producer on Twitter. Despite Brexit, most trains in Britain have not so far burst into flames today.

Everybody’s talking about…

Whether Brexit means the breakup of the union. The key to winning the argument for Scottish independence, writes our Scotland editor Chris Deerin, is for Nicola Sturgeon to focus on governing and show that “patience and respect” are more than just words.

Everybody should be talking about…

Bojack Horseman, because it’s a comedy cartoon about a talking horse, which also manages to be one of the most powerful pieces of television about mental health the world has ever seen – and honestly that’s an incredible achievement.

Anyway, it’s ending. Sarah has written a lovely piece about how.


One of the things I wanted to do with this email, besides having an excuse to make a bunch of jokes about the news underneath a picture of my face, was to use it as a platform to showcase all the excellent work done by the many brilliant people who write for the NS.

Well, this is my last day at the New Statesman – and so also my last Evening Call. So please forgive me a moment of indulgence. In my nearly six years on the staff of this fantastic magazine, I’ve had the opportunity to think and write and talk about topics of a variety that few journalism jobs can offer. Here are some of my favourites.

In Scranton: could the blue-collar birthplace of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden really vote for Trump? – On the road for the last presidential election, I got to meet the Queen of the Deplorables herself (November 2016).

Why I still love Aaron Sorkin – On my complicated relationship with the writer of The West Wing (December 2014)

Skylines: Walking With Elizabeth (October 2018) – The day I spent walking the length of the Crossrail route with the Guardian’s Jim Waterson, and we made a podcast as we went.

As a man with no daughters, here are my views on feminism (October 2017)

Britain has built a national myth on winning the Second World War, but it’s distorting our politics (August 2017)

How many King Edwards has England had? Why I am irrationally enraged by regnal numbering (May 2016)

Why does the liberal left find Daniel Hannan so uniquely infuriating? The last of my long series of columns on one of the MEPs behind Brexit (June 2017)

What explains Warrington’s economic boom?  Some actual reporting for CityMetric (October 2018)

Virgin Trains let me ride up front with the driver, so here’s everything I learned that day – an actual dream fulfilled (December 2016)

An official and objective ranking of London’s 14 major rail terminals (August 2018)

And finally – the column I wrote about the death of my father, and the effect Brexit had on our relationship (March 2019)

And that’s your lot. Thank you all so much for reading these emails, and replying to tell me what you think. If you want to stay in touch, or are interested in reading what I do next, then you can find me on Twitter, or Facebook.

Thank you.