When I mentioned on social media recently that I’d lost friends because of Brexit, I was quite surprised by the vehemence of the response. Lots of fellow Leavers had stories to tell about friends who now cut them dead or former clients who would no longer work with them. Many said they prefer to keep secret how they voted in the referendum for fear of the repercussions.
This intolerance is especially bad if you’re a student. One undergraduate described to me how his politics professor had opened a lecture with a slide reading ‘Brexit is shit’ — apparently ‘to the cheers and adulation of the entire lecture theatre’. Another student interviewed by the BBC a few months ago, described how she had overheard two students talking about her as they left a lecture: ‘I just want to punch that Brexit bitch.’
If you do what I do for a living, you learn to treat this level of aggression and vitriol as a badge of honour. But non-journalists, quite understandably, find it hard to get used to such unpleasantness. This is why I so greatly admire the group of academics who have just outed themselves by launching a website called Briefings for Brexit. One of its purposes is to counter the prevailing orthodoxy that people only voted Brexit if they were really, really thick.
I know Professor Robert Tombs, one of the two Cambridge dons who founded the group. He’s a delightful chap — modest, mild-mannered and definitely not the type wantonly to court aggro or controversy. So it must have required huge resources of courage and moral principle to stick his head above the parapet in this way — especially when he lives and works in one of Remain’s biggest strongholds.
Will his former friends who voted Remain ever forgive him? Not in my experience they won’t.