Whenever abroad, for business or pleasure, we Leavers need to evangelise about Brexit

Whenever abroad, for business or pleasure, we Leavers need to evangelise about Brexit

I’ve now been back in London just over a week since spending a prolonged time in the United States for the day job, though also the passion that made me put to bed my long-term ambition of standing for Parliament when I decided to take myself off the Conservative Party candidates list last Easter, as I explained for BrexitCentral here. This wasn’t the only reason, I made that clear at the time, but it was certainly easier walking away from the Tory catwalk knowing that I had an opportunity to throw myself full throttle into something big and exciting. And I’m glad I did.

But despite being dubbed, for the first time, as a “climate activist” on BBC News last week, I’m still a centre-right leaning Brexiteer at heart.

So what is it like being a Brexit supporter in America? I had the following conversation, unprompted, about five times in the past few weeks:

“Where ya from?”
“Aah man, you guys have got it as bad us us. Now ya got your own Trump! Sorry about Brexit!”
“Actually, I supported Brexit.”
“Really? That’s crazy! I’ve never met someone from England who supported Brexit.”

And then a conversation ensues. I talk about the fact that primarily this is, for me, about democracy above all other issues; about the fact that I’m pro-immigration, I just think we should have a fair level playing field that isn’t based purely on being part of a bloc of (all majority white) states; and the factor which really threw me into this was my anger at being falsely threatened that one of the most LGBT-supportive legislatures in the world would overturn my rights if we left what is, to be polite, a body with very mixed views on the rights of two people of the same sex being in a relationship.

But this post isn’t about making those arguments again. It’s about the forgotten factor in the three-year car crash we’ve been through: the fact that we have neglected – and when I say “we” I mean the Leave supporters – to effectively communicate what we want to those abroad.

Of course, we have form on this. The morning after our shock win in 2016, Remain supporters launched a viciously effective campaign attempting to paint the result as a vindication for racists and Little Englanders. We who had won, the vast majority being none of these things, bunkered down and felt that as we’d won the vote we no longer needed to campaign and defend our legitimate objectives for wanting to leave the European Union. It was a mistake, one that cost us hugely. The way in which we went in to win a war without planning or even contemplating dealing with the aftermath was almost Blairesque. Somewhat ironically so.

This narrative has now moved on in the UK – mostly. Whilst Remainers and Leavers at both extremes do their thing, the vast majority of normal fully functional and non-political citizens have reconciled with the fact that both sides have good and bad points, but the best outcome for now is we just move on: enact the result of the referendum, screw the more granular detail and get on with our lives.

But the rest of the world, not least the United States and Europe, don’t see that. And let’s not blame them for that. They have their own political issues to deal with, and frankly Brexit is really boring for those who don’t have a stake in it. It’s like a movie franchise that won’t give up, with only the most avid fans and enthusiasts tuning in.

The rather depressing outcome is that internationally Brexit is seen as an extreme right-wing anomaly, won on a dodgy campaign, no longer supported by the British people and something that they now regret and want to stop. All nonsense, as we full well know.

What a waste. What a terrible waste – especially given that this is the view of non-EU countries, countries for whom this was a vote in favour, a positive and brave vote for our enthusiasm in breaking out of our EU trade bloc bubble and leading the way in supporting genuine international free trade instead of friends with benefits, with conditions.

This will hurt us when we leave. Countries like the US are, by a vast majority, decent and open and supportive. If they feel our future is some nasty discrepancy, our brand – and brand is so important – will be tarnished. The cost of this is high.

Aside from the internal and EU-focused negotiations, those from both sides with a more nuanced view of why we voted for Brexit need to step up and talk to people when we are abroad on holiday or business. We need to make sure we do not pursue the same mistakes internationally that we did on our home turf. It might sound like a small thing, but it is not.

Two weeks ago I was in a bar in New York having one of the same conversations I alluded to above. I made all the same points. He stopped me and said:

“I’ve met you before?”
“Really. I don’t recall. Where?”
“Have you been to San Francisco?”

I’ve been once with my other half. For three days. I recall the conversation only coming up once. “Yes. But only once,” I say. It was the same person. Small world perhaps. But also an important lesson.

People remember when they meet British people with something positive to say about Brexit. Because it is so rare. So if you are out of town, and you have something positive to say, it’s time to start saying it. It won’t help with negotiations. It won’t persuade the courts. But in the long game, as we attempt to venture out into the brave new internationalist world, a bit of international campaigning – albeit talking to people in pubs – is an important thing.