Brendan O’Neill

The fury of the stop Brexit mob has finally been explained

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At last they’ve found a name for it. A name for the meltdown that has occurred in certain political circles since June 2016. A name for the daily Twitter-rage against That Referendum. A name for the clearly potty belief that we are heading for the End of Days and that it is all the fault of dumb voters who don’t like the EU. A name for the non-stop fuming about Britain’s ‘inferior’ people and the almighty mess they have apparently landed the nation in.

It’s called Brexit Anxiety Disorder.

At least that is how Tom McTague at Politico sums up the findings of two psychological experts who have looked into post-referendum craziness. And we know how much Remainers love experts, so no doubt they will fully take on board this expert diagnosis of their malady. Dr Philip Corr, a professor of psychological and behavioural economics at the University of London, and Dr Simon Stuart, a clinical psychologist, believe that hardcore Remainers are behaving in a similar way to those who suffer from chronic anxiety. From their insatiable anger at the state of the world to their spectacularly dismissive attitude towards Brexit voters, these extreme Europhiles exhibit many of the symptoms of an anxiety order, the docs say.

It’s all there. Witness how some Remainers have become prone to anger and despair. Or see their adoption of an Us and Them mentality in which they come to view the Them — Brexit voters — as a lesser form of life. Especially poorer, not very well educated Brexit voters, who are talked about by some Remainers in the most haughtily dismissive lingo. That is because psychologically rattled Remainers exhibit in-group love and out-group hate, say Corr and Stuart. ‘Standard psychological stuff’, they say.

Many Remainers are distressed because they feel a ‘loss of control’. It can be ‘psychologically very disturbing’ to feel as though your handle on politics, on the world itself, is weakening. Especially if you are from those liberal, educated, well-connected sections of society that are used to running things, whether it’s arts institutions, public debate, or the actual political plane. These people — the loudest, most moaning Remainers tend to come from this elevated social strata — have taken to wailing about everything because they feel that, virtually overnight, their uncontested oversight of British political life was scrubbed away. And scrubbed away by people who didn’t even go to university. The horror!

If we’re honest, this discussion of Brexit Anxiety Disorder rings true, doesn’t it? This is not to say that everyone who voted Remain is now an unstable crybaby. Far from it. More than 16m people voted Remain. The vast, vast majority of them are good, normal, democratic people. They are not part of any elite. Indeed, polls suggest that a significant chunk of them accept Brexit must happen because...well, because Britain is a democracy, which means when the majority asks for something, we ought to get it.

But when it comes to the Brexit-hating movers and shakers in the media, and the EU-pining Twitterati, and those permanently upset middle-class politicos who paint their faces blue and go on marches demanding that we keep Britain under the heel of Brussels diktats, this diagnosis of Brexit Anxiety Disorder feels kind of right. This is one of the great ironies of the post-referendum era: hardcore Remainers constantly accuse Brexit voters of being mad and ‘post-truth’ and more beholden to their rash emotions than to the bit of their brain that deals in logic — and yet they themselves behave more like this than Brexiteers do. Brexit voters are mostly just at work or at home, patiently waiting for their historically huge vote to be acted upon; it is influential Remainers who are fretting over economic apocalypse and the return of the 1930s, not unlike those ‘End is Nigh’ folk you used to see on street corners.

Of course we should always be sceptical of psychologising people’s political reactions to world events. Yet our experts have hit on something important with their suggestion that influential people who feel their influence has been eroded are now behaving in a rash, angry fashion, even indulging in ‘outgroup hate’. For this captures the true impact of Brexit: it dislodged, or threatens to dislodge, the clout and connections of Britain’s old liberal establishment. This is fundamentally why they are furious — not because they are psychologically at-sea, but because they are being politically challenged. That is why they hate Brexit — and why millions of other people love it.

Written byBrendan O’Neill

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked and a columnist for The Australian and The Big Issue.

Topics in this articleSociety