A lot of the chatter about Brexit online is pretty acrimonious, and much of it confused. At the moment, the Speaker appears to be a villain or a hero, depending who you listen to. Brexiteers and remainers alike have been praising or criticising him, and quite a lot of people are just confused.
So, I thought I'd just tell a few stories of my encounters with people instead.
It was a few weeks ago, and there had been some rumblings about the Irish backstop in the news. On a day off, so not visibly a vicar, I popped in to a local shop to pick up one or two things for lunch. As I came to the till, I heard an animated conversation between a woman paying for her shopping and the person on the till. As my stuff was checked through, the following conversation took place:
"Dictating to us...", said the woman, looking at me with an expression that invited me to join in.
It's important to note at this point that even when incognito, a vicar has to take care in how they express themselves. The person you're talking to might be at your next wedding/funeral/baptism and it helps if you're on reasonable terms.
"What's this you're talking about?", I said, buying time and checking that it was really the EU they were discussing.
"The EU. It's a dictatorship!", she said.
I decided to try the probing approach. "That's a strong word to use."
"Well it is."
The remainer in me stirred slightly. I had no desire to antagonise the woman, but I didn't want her leaving the shop assuming I agreed with her. So I came up with a question
"Can I just ask in what ways the EU has dictated your life? I'm not very aware of it personally."
There was a brief pause.
"Retail", she said.
At this point I realised I needed to bring the conversation to a peaceful close, which didn't leave her feeling got at, or me feeling I had misrepresented myself. I was also ready for my lunch.
"I see. I guess it's worth remembering our government supported a lot of the regulations we have, and my bet is that they'll keep most of them after we leave the EU. Anyway, I reckon it's out of our hands and we just have to wait and see."
This seemed to gain some consensus with the woman and the assistant, so I said a cheery goodbye and left.
Afterwards I reflected on this conversation. I may be doing the woman a disservice, but my hunch was that EU retail regulations weren't the main cause of her antagonism towards the European Union. But she clearly felt something very strongly, and the focus of that anger and frustration was the EU. I could have told her that only a modest percentage of UK regulations that came into force since 1997 were EU related, and of those only a tiny number were opposed by the UK. I could have pointed out that it's thanks to the EU that we know what contains palm oil, if that's a thing you're bothered about. I could have gone on at some length, but it wouldn't have served any useful purpose.
However, I don't think her grievance was about the mandatory labelling of aspartame. What it illustrated to me was how the leave vote tapped in to a sense of grievance, which was completely underestimated by the remain campaign. The so-called "project fear" did nothing to address or assuage that feeling; in fact it probably made it worse.
But here's my question: if and when the UK leaves the EU, and we get past the initial period of chaos and economic turbulence, will people like the woman in the shop actually feel they have a better life? Will they feel more empowered and connected to politicians? Will their local services be substantially improved? Will their retail be liberated? And if they are not, who will they blame?