As a remainer, I always found it far too harsh when eurosceptic pundits occasionally compared some of my fellow voters to Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender. Now I'm less convinced that this comparison is always as unfair as I once thought.
Last week, I offered some thoughts on 'Why the #FBPE hashtag failed – and the general lessons from that failure.' It was intended as a discussion of the ways in which the Follow Back Pro Europe meme on Twitter backfired. It was a somewhat nerdy, technical discussion, focusing on how FBPE accounts actually just ended up talking to each other – and, in the process, failed to convince the other side to change their minds. But what I thought was a mild piece ended up rattling a hornet’s nest I assumed no longer existed. I was soon buried under a Twitter avalanche. FBPE types were not questioning the fine details of my article but rather the idea that FBPE had failed at all. This blew my mind.
Amongst a subset of remainers on Twitter, there is no acknowledgement at all of what the Tory victory in December meant for the Brexit issue. And I do mean, none at all. Within the replies, there was denial:
'We did turn people's perception regarding the EU but because of the outdated FPTP system in the UK and a weak Labour leader, the Tories got in.'
Then there was deep denial:
'You should have read up on what #FBPE is and not just following what prominent Brexiteers high on coke are saying.'
There was, well, a lot of deep denial, in fact:
'Our crowdfunded case making our EU citizenship a right that cannot be removed is just hitting the courts. When this wins the whole Brexit pack of cards will collapse.'
Possibly worse than all that though, there was an anti-British vibe that was beyond the scope of the most fervent Brexiteer’s imagination. Like the Japanese solider analogy, I always thought the crude accusation untrue that what some remainers actually have a problem with is their own country. However, one of the respondents’ common themes was that FBPE is not, in fact, a British hashtag at all but a Europe-wide one, with Brexit only a mere side concern of the hashtag in the first place. When I pointed out that my article was focused on how FBPE had operated in Britain in regard to Brexit specifically, one of the FBPE accounts put it so perfectly, it is almost poetic in what it reveals:
'Has it occurred to you that some of us don't care any longer about the UK?'
This to me is the ultimate failure of the FBPE hashtag as a political project, at least as it manifested itself in Britain. The whole point, at least I had thought, was to keep the UK in the European Union because that was considered to be the best thing for the UK. It turns out some people had a different idea of what it meant to be a remainer than I did.
I had always had problems with the hashtag. Early on, I saw its potential to do more harm than good to those of us who at least wanted a Brexit that kept us in an arrangement with the EU closer to Norway than to Canada. The meme was one of the key elements that turned Brexit into a culture war, an unhelpful element in British politics to anyone other than the Conservative party, which managed to exploit the division ironically created by things such as the FBPE hashtag perfectly. To be clear, I’m not blaming a hashtag for the current divide in British politics; I just think it was part of an unhelpful drive to bolster a social media culture that described anyone who voted for Brexit as 'gammons' or, worse yet, 'racists'. It has entrenched positions, making rational discussion on things like whether a no-deal Brexit is a good idea or not extremely difficult.
I suppose I can console myself with the thought that none of this matters anymore, really. The Conservatives’ thumping victory in the December 2019 general election settled the matter for the foreseeable future. The current government will decide what shape Brexit takes from here. As a remainer, I can dislike that but I should at the very least be able to accept that the elected government of this country has the power to act as the elected government of this country. I don’t have to like what they do and I can vote them out next time there is a general election on that basis. This is democracy and I am saddened to think that this basic detail is beyond the grasp of at the very least some of my fellow remainers. After all, if you can’t admit you’ve even lost the battle, how can you possibly come to terms with what that loss means?
Nick Tyrone is a writer whose new book, 'Politics is Murder' is out now. He was previously executive director of CentreForum, the think tank known for the Orange Book