On the morning of Friday 16 August 2019 I made my first appearance on Good Morning Britain, the ITV breakfast show which covers the full breadth of life and news across Britain.
I’d been asked on to discuss whether or not I’d ever date someone who felt differently about Brexit to me. Whilst my opposite debating number said he didn’t care what the other person he was dating thought, I shared that I would struggle. You can see the segment here:
I avoided reading just about all of the comments on the main GMB feed that day as I knew they would inevitably be filled with hate-filled trolls, aggressive insults and rants about “sovereignty”, “remoaners” and “intolerant bigots” – suffice to say that the quick scan I did didn’t disappoint on any of those areas.
But I thought I’d share a few extra thoughts here as a few minutes of debate didn’t really do it justice, nor did the fact that not only was my opponent (the ultra-myopic Tom Harwood) firmly against me but it appeared so was everyone else.
Brexit is divisive. Even the most ardent supporters of it will surely agree with that. It has caused arguments amongst friends, alienation within families and even divorces across the country. According to eharmony, 1.6 million relationships broke down over Brexit, with Relate saying one in five couples cite Brexit as an issue in their relationship.
These aren’t small numbers. These aren’t a handful of super opinionated people with deep seated and long held political views deciding enough is enough – these are millions upon millions of people who have been forced to ask questions of themselves and the person they are with and who haven’t liked the answers.
This isn’t a piece on the merits of Brexit. I am FULL of opinions on it, on the risks and the danger and the damage that has already been done as a result of a faction of a political party’s desire to cling to power within its own party and over the country at large, but my actual stance is somewhat irrelevant. What’s more relevant is how fundamentally different my stance is from the other side of the debate and whether or not the two could ever live harmoniously.
I’m a relatively laid back person. I’ll either have happy, lighthearted debates on things that differentiate me from another person or will simply live and let live. For example, I am a passionate Tottenham supporter, but happily hang out with people who are just as passionate about Man Utd, West Ham or even our arch rivals Woolwich. I love Formula One and chat all the time with people who see it as a pointless playground for the uber-rich. I am an atheist, but simply don’t discuss religion with my nan (though I admit to finding that difficult at times).
Brexit, however, is something I find very difficult to stay quiet about. As a passionate Remainer I hate to the very core of my being the situation we find ourselves in as a country. The hatred, the arguments, the lies; it is not the same country it was even a few short years ago.
The referendum has normalised hate speech, xenophobia, racism, homophobia and more in a way that harks back to the darkest days of history. For me to sit back and just say “ah well, more people who voted went against me so I must be wrong and just have to accept things” is anathema.
Brexit represents so many of the things that I loathe that it is impossible for me to see past the bad and find any nuggets of good for the future. That’s not only in reference to the actual vote – even more so it’s in reference to those who, even after all of the evidence stacking up and so many of the predictions coming true, still think Brexit is a good idea.
I simply couldn’t be with someone who ignores the experts and listens to the tubthumpers. Someone who ignores facts and goes with guts. Someone who ignores the tangible, provable negatives in order to solely focus on the hypothetical positives. That mindset and the attitudes it represents may well work for some, but they don’t work for me.
It is very frustrating to me, of course. I know that – at best – I’m a London seven and am in no position to turn attractive people down for just about any reason. Luckily, however, the argument that “you’re turning down half the population” simply doesn’t ring true for me. Most of the people I’ve dated have been London based, where 28 of the Boroughs voted Remain. Not only that, those in the age brackets I would be looking to date were far more likely to vote remain, with something above 65% voting the same way that I did across the whole country, let alone in the capital.
Were I looking to date someone over 55 who lived outside of a major city then I would be ruling out far more people, but as it is I’m actually not ruling out all that many at all. And since the referendum the swing to Remain amongst that age bracket has, if anything, become even more pronounced. Yes, I’d be ruling out a lot of otherwise great people but nowhere near as many as some people think.
On another note, people tend to associate with others who share their beliefs. This would mean that my Brexit supporting partner would probably have a group of Brexit supporting friends and family. I’m self-aware enough to know that I could not spend loads of time around them all without sooner or later responding to the issues Brexit is creating and sharing my opinions.
I am not someone who backs down in an argument when I believe I’m right, and know that I would annoy them with evidence-based opinions which differed entirely with their own. That wouldn’t be comfortable for either of us or anyone else involved.
And how could I introduce them to my own friends knowing the same would be true of them? I wouldn’t date a shy, retiring wallflower, so would expect them to be able to hold their own. What would I say to those friends of mine who feel forced to leave the country through the words and actions of others? To those who are returning to their country of birth sadly, after decades in the UK, because they have been harassed in shops and streets and bars in places where previously they felt safe and welcomed? “Hi, this is my new girlfriend, sorry she still actively supports something which is forcing you to uproot your entire life and causing you untold pain, but she’s really hot, so……”?
I know I will end up arguing at times with my partner, but I’d prefer to argue about something which doesn’t really matter. What’s better, Star Wars or Star Trek? Should milk go into tea before or after the water? is Love Island brilliant entertainment or a sign of everything that is wrong with modern celebrity culture? I love fun debates, and will happily even discuss differences of opinion on more serious matters too.
I don’t care (within reason) what political party you vote for. I’m a centrist and a liberal at heart, and have friends from across the political divide. I debate with them all the time, and often end up agreeing to disagree. But Brexit cuts through all parties and all social groupings. It represents so much of what is wrong and outdated in society that I would struggle to build a romantic relationship with someone who supported the other side of the debate to me.
In that segment on GMB I also mentioned that my own marriage broke down in part due to Brexit. I didn’t gt a chance to elaborate so, to briefly explain, it wasn’t that she was a Leave voter. How she voted wasn’t the issue, it was how we both reacted to the results that caused problems.
My response, after a period of shock and anger, was to want to get involved in repairing some of the damage already done and to start helping build a better future than the one that I foresaw ahead of us. I started getting more interested in politics, joining a political party and starting to get involved in things locally.
I was already a Parish Councillor and my party were talking to me about potentially standing for Borough elections, possibly County and eventually perhaps as an MP. It was all a long way down the road, but I wanted to be part of the solution rather than ignoring the problem.
I spoke about this with my ex a lot, but she didn’t want to get involved. In fact, she not only didn’t want to get involved herself but she didn’t want me to get involved. She didn’t support me at all, though never asked me not to do it. Instead she simply pointed out the amount of work it would require, how she didn’t like the idea of public life and that she didn’t think it was worth it as I wouldn’t succeed anyway.
In hindsight of course that must have been her way of asking me not to, but at the time it simply felt like how she always reacted to change and evolution; a mix of apprehension and aversion. I didn’t read the signs, which contributed to her feeling we were on different paths. The time I spent learning about politics she wanted spent together, sitting on the sofa watching the latest Marvel or DC tv series. I felt a need to do more than that. To do something important. To be part of something bigger.
Brexit wasn’t the reason we split up; her affair was. But her decision to have an affair was contributed to by Brexit and our different reactions to it. Brexit has already caused me such anger and upset, and has contributed to my heart being utterly broken; I am not prepared to be with someone where I know from the outset that it will be a major issue again, no matter how attractive in other ways they are.
At the end of the day, I’m sure my Brexit-supporting counterpart probably feels the same about me.