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How do you convince a leaver Brexit was a bad idea? Make them stand in a queue | Zoe Williams

I hate the phrase “the architects of Brexit”, partly because I still long for an alternate world in which Brexit vanishes as a word and concept, and partly because to say it has “architects” credits it with a degree of structural soundness it doesn’t possess. Nonetheless, there is a man, Daniel Hannan, who has been hurling himself at this project of disintegration since his student days, so let’s call him one of its architects. Writing in the Telegraph, he casually dropped in that it would have been easier for all of us if we had stayed in the single market. Tell you what would have been helpful, pal: saying this with any kind of force between 2016 and 2019, when it might have changed or meant anything. This is just the way zealots are – it is pointless to try to hold them to account or pose any questions about their sheer brass neck. They will chase you off a cliff and then ask mildly why you didn’t think to pack your parachute.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to get that sour, familiar taste of injustice out of your mouth. Hannan is allowed to say this, since from him it is original, even novel; when a fierce proponent of this idiotic scheme says that maybe it went too far, that’s news, folks. If any of the rest of us said it, it would be repetitive, predictable, irrelevant – a faux pas, even, like telling strangers how many push-ups you can do or the time you dreamed about a fox.

When a leaver gets stuck in an airport queue in Málaga for three hours, while their EU counterparts glide through and swipe all the best hire cars, they are allowed to curse the forces of bureaucracy, but if a remainer did it, we’d be remoaning again. As the titans of the airline industry – Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, Jet2’s Steve Heapy – blame chaotic scenes at airports and stranded passengers on the combined forces of Brexit, the odd Tory schmuck will go through a rote denial, but their heart isn’t really in it. Their voices sound a bit tired and you know the day is coming when they shrug and say: “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all. Perhaps we should go back to the drawing board, start with a little light customs union. There, that isn’t so hard, is it?” And when, so choked with outrage that we can’t even breathe, let alone formulate words, we are reduced to conveying our disapproval with hand signals, our Brexit overlords will turn round, all innocent, and say: “Isn’t this what you said you wanted? Politicians who can admit when they have made a mistake?”

It was always going to be foreign holidays where the sharp point of reality hit the hot-air balloon of taking back control. The nightmare for EU citizens trying to figure out how to stay in the UK and whether to even bother, that’s a private matter, playing out in individual households. Staff shortages, supply chain problems, even tailbacks at ports, can all be filed under “other people’s problems”, at least for a while. Airports, though – families in Gatwick having their longed-for trip to Corfu cancelled with 15 minutes notice talking through their disappointment on radio phone-ins; students stuck in Mykonos; queues at borders that a thousand people will use the last 4% of their phone battery to post on Instagram – are moments that are just too readily dramatised. No amount of rhetoric can erase them and, sooner or later, there will be reverse-ferreting all over the place.

Looking back, I wish we had fought the entire EU referendum campaign on the hassle of it all. A bit less “Project Fear”, a bit more “Project Ball-ache”. Is that really what you want, for yourself, for your descendants? More admin, more queueing, more gigantic pains in your neck? Is anything worth that? We could have met every lofty soliloquy about “global Britain” with a half-raised eyebrow and a quiet, “You know what sovereignty really means? It means waiting for things and filling in forms. It means doing everything you least like in life, much more often.”

Oh well, at least we’ll know better for next time.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


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