Brexit Fanatics Don’t Argue in Good Faith

Rather than listen to Brexit skeptics, hardliners accuse them of hiding their true motives.

London England
Aerial view of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey in London, England (Unsplash/Ricardo Frantz)

John O’Sullivan’s latest column in National Review perpetrates all the mistakes of hardline Brexiteers and their sympathizers in the United States. He:

  • Ignores the risks of a no-deal Brexit;
  • Accuses the EU of being an “undemocratic empire” and a complete failure on all fronts;
  • Raises the success of Brexit to a test of democracy itself;
  • Accuses Tory “remainers” of wanting to keep Britain either in the EU or controlled by it; and
  • Totally mischaracterizes the motivations of Europhiles.

No deal

O’Sullivan is dumbfounded that the entire British “establishment” is working to “halt and reverse Brexit at all costs and by any political means.”

They aren’t, unless your only acceptable Brexit is a no-deal Brexit. Both the Conservatives and Labour have accepted the outcome of the 2016 referendum. Neither argues for remaining in the EU. The question is on what terms the United Kingdom should leave.

Despite O’Sullivan’s one-paragraph dismissal of seven decades of European integration, the EU hasn’t been useless. If it were, leaving it wouldn’t be so difficult.

Many British politicians recognize that a hard break with the EU would put everything from air travel to medical supplies at risk. The legal status of millions of people — Britons living and working on the continent and Europeans living and working in the UK — would be thrown into limbo. Trade would be disrupted. Customs checks would need to be introduced on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the consequences, at least in the short term, would be chaotic.


O’Sullivan doesn’t accept this. He doesn’t even consider the possibility that it might be the reason so many lawmakers have voted down a no-deal Brexit.

If the EU is a complete failure, and Brexit will be painless, what possible reason could they have to vote against no-deal?

It’s because they have traded their Britishness for a European identity. These cosmopolitans, writes O’Sullivan, see themselves as the vanguard of “a new European patriotism that has yet to spread deeply into any one country, Britain least of all, but which has taken root in their political and bureaucratic classes.”

There might be many reasons for this transfer of allegiance, some trivial, some deeply thought out, but the end result is that many remainers, especially those in high political positions, devote to Europe the emotions that most people reserve for their native land.

They have to keep it a secret, though.

Though both leavers and remainers are actuated by their devotion to preserving either British or European sovereignty, only the leavers can state that loyalty openly.

So it’s a conspiracy.

Fortunately, the likes of O’Sullivan can infer remainers’ true motives. Don’t pay attention to what they say; believe the Conservative whose solution to the Irish border question is to deny Ireland is a separate nation.

Bad faith

It’s a sad example of being unable to muster good faith. O’Sullivan — and Brexit ultras like him — are so convinced that the EU is a disaster, and Brexit the only reasonable way out, that they can’t imagine why anyone would oppose them except for dishonorable motives.

It’s not enough for them to be right; their opponents must be evil. Once you believe that, it becomes impossible to compromise.

That’s where Britain is: with remainers arguing for a soft, rather than no, Brexit and leavers rejecting anything but a clean break with the EU.