This Twitter thread by Holger Hestermeyer caught my eye yesterday:

Holger is one of those brilliant people who I’ve encountered thanks to Brexit, one of a whole community of people who have painstakingly pointed out all the technical, legal, political and practical headaches with what the UK Government has been trying to do since 2016. Someone who is a genuine expert, and is gracious and generous with his time as well.

Harwood who he quotes is exactly the sort of ideologically-driven fact-free grifter, lacking any professional skill or integrity, that Britain’s post-Brexit politics has boosted. The sort of person who will go – in response to detailed and forensic critique like that from Holger – “So what if it was off? I am owning the libs”. And it will be Harwood, not Hestermeyer, who keeps getting the media gigs, keeps boosting his network and following. There is absolutely no consequence for someone like Harwood being repeatedly wrong, and shown to be wrong.

So what do you do, at a human level, when faced with this?

For the past five years or so I have invested loads of time and mental energy explaining and diagnosing all of what’s wrong. The Brexit diagrams were the maps of what would happen next. And yes, sometimes I lost my cool a bit, and ranted. And then tried to get back to a more measured tone. Once in a while I tried some humour too.

But there’s a book on my bookshelf that makes me think I have been doing is all wrong, at least in the past 15 months. That book is Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate” by George Lakoff.

When there was something to fight for – a 2nd referendum for example, or even the prospect of electoral change at the 2019 election – there was an alternative political future to look towards. Something to make the hours slogging away over diagrams and Twitter threads worthwhile. Now that is all gone. The Harwoods and Boris Johnsons and Daniel Hannans have won. They frame the debate. Even politicians who ought to know better are saying we ought to embrace Brexit.

There are two ways to react to this. Steve Peers and Fionna O’Leary who I likewise count among the brilliant people doing thoughtful critique of what’s happening in UK politics see no option but to continue. It’s “valuable to me to point out the truth for my own mental health, even if it has no impact on public policy” were Steve’s words. In other words, fight.

But I think I have personally reached another conclusion: flight. Or – more precisely – use my time and mental energy on something else instead, something where the politics is not so sour. Where having a solid grasp of the facts counts for something. Where, after some months or years, it might be possible to have seen some change for the better.

That’s not to say all my work on Brexit has been without purpose. It has been something akin to a pathology of a dead political system, diagnosing what went wrong. But with neither hope nor expectation that something better could come afterwards.

So that is pretty much it from me for the moment on Brexit. Sure, I will keep half an eye on it, and on UK-EU relations, but if you want a take on every twist and turn you are not going to get it from me with the degree of obsession, meticulousness or detail I was capable of in the past. There will still be a few tweets, perhaps a blog post once in a while. But nothing like the intensity of the past.

In the next couple of months I am going to instead be developing a project about cross border railways in Europe, something that – were it to work – might literally bring Europeans together. Quite the change after these years diagnosing a political process that sought to push Europeans apart.

40 Comments

  1. Jams O'Donnell

    Good luck with your future projects Jon. I really appreciated your Brexit flow charts, and the huge amount of work that went into them.

  2. Matt Wardman

    I can see the sense in switching projects when you think allowing burnout will not help progress from your point of view. Find a new hole to dig in 🙂 .

    I can see there are going to be a lot of interesting conversations wrt to Green policy in Germany and also the EU deciding what it actually wants to be, especially with the Eastern Rim of the EU deserving more weight. And – as we have seen – if EU wants to security, how will it actually *do* security.

    Anyway – all the best with the next project, and with the next bee in your bonnet.

    I had blog-burnout myself back in 2012, and stopped.

  3. Ian Christie

    Thanks for all your work on Brexit. I understand the decision to give up arguing the points any further. As a Germanophile Remainer stuck in the UK, I am at a loss to know what to do next. My view is that the priority is to promote an anti-Tory alliance that can form a coalition government and implement electoral reform. Without that we will have minority rule by English Tories in perpetuity, which will be no good even for them. I suspect there is no way back into the EU for the UK, but we could and should have a far friendlier and more stable partnership between UK and EU members. I’d say that there are big two issues to look at closely (as well as the railways): first, how does the EU respond to the rise of authoritarian right-wing parties in Hungary, Poland, France, Italy?; second, what forms of influencing and reconciliation can the EU use in its contacts with UK citizens to help counteract the provocations and aggressive resentment on the part of the Johnson government?

  4. thanks for your great work Jon – and I share your passion for trains too so will keep reading!

  5. Alan Paxton

    Thanks for your good work on Brexit, Jon. You have been one of the best guides; yes, ranty on occasion maybe but generally clear-headed and well-argued. The British-in-Germany perspective has been a valuable one, too. You are right to stop now rather than succumb to burnout. You are right, too, to work to stop Germany going down the same road. I was in Jena a couple of years ago and an academic at the university said to me resignedly, if Germans had had the same choice, maybe they would have made the same decision. An eastern perspective, perhaps, but worth considering.

    For those of us stuck in Blighty it’s not so easy…

  6. James Newman

    Hi John,

    Completely understand & I 100% feel you. Along with other campaigners, British in Europe, ppl from Cakewatch & Remainiacs etc it can feel useless at times. Especially when ppl living in Hartlepool would rather just listen to ppl like Tom Harwood than anyone with the slightest intelligence. I for one, have never understood how anyone can report on Brexit with as much detail as you have done due to mental health!!!! It’s one of the most depressing & pointless exercises ever…….so kudos for doing what you’ve done, I’ve learnt a lot from your blogs.

    Cut a long story short, I live in UK & don’t have an EU passport so it will sadly be harder for me to “flight” even though it’s still an option, it will just be a lot harder. Either way, all is not lost, and the only way moving forward is to campaign for a progressive alliance. It is the only light I can see at the end of the tunnel as it were. If you feel & if you want to of course then I feel that’s something which is worth putting energy in. But of course it probably means either joining the labour party or if not, then spreading the word on media channels which will hopefully force Labour to put PR on their manifesto to finally change the electoral system. It’s the only way of having any chance of beating Tories. Brexit is sadly a slow burner, it’ll be with us for another decade, perhaps a generation. Although I really do think however, in the long, long, long run things will be better judging by this article:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/09/brexit-crisis-global-capitalism-britain-place-world

  7. Thanks a lot for sharing all your knowledge and patience, Jon.

  8. Niall Martin

    Thanks for your insights. and looking forward to more of your railway expertise, not to forget insights into German politics

  9. Gail Parker

    THANK you for all your hard work, you made many things clearer and easier for me to understand. Like you, I’ve found many people whose views and integrity I respect hugely and I count you amongst them. I wish you well and will continue to look forward to your tweets and blogs.

  10. Paul Hearn

    You will be very much missed and your flight is understandable. Regrettably, what you are doing (you have to do what is right for you) is part of the process that governments rely upon when they embark upon extreme policies. Reasonable people who strongly disagree with what they do in our names are silenced by unreasonable people who don’t need to provide any evidence for anything they say or write. The attention span of most people is far too brief to listen to reasoned argument that explains in detail why a soundbite is wrong.
    Holga Hestermeyer’s reasoned arguments against Harwood’s blatant lie is a good example. Currently, the arguments are ‘liked’ by half as many people on Twitter who prefer the lie.

    For me, I agree that there is little point resisting ‘Brexit’, even though it looks nothing like the ‘Leave’ that 37.4% of the electorate voted for. Despite that, I learned a great deal about how representative democracy is supposed to work. That knowledge came somewhat belatedly to me – I’m a bit older than you. So, I now focus my energy upon trying to stop representative democracy being further eroded in the UK. We can’t correct errors of the past, but we can prevent them from being repeated in future.

    Whilst I will continue to do my bit to prevent the UK falling further apart – unless that occurs democratically ( 😉 ), I love that you are focused now upon bringing Europe together. My sincere best wishes with your new project and I look forward to future blogs and the occasional Tweet.

    • You’re exactly right about that point, but there is a slight difference for me at a personal level – as I am based in Germany I can do a little bit to prevent Germany going the way the UK has, while in the UK I cannot see how I can do that. In other words the battle is still on here, in the UK it is not.

  11. Linda Lower

    I’m very sad to hear this but can fully understand your reasoning! I feel exactly the same. I’m now putting all my energy into pursuing my quest to get Italian citizenship for myself and my family (having to go through the Italian Court in Rome to achieve this).
    Thank you for all your very interesting and informative blogs. Wishing you all the best!

  12. You contributions to the issue have been extremely valuable Jon. I’ve found great insight and pointed others toward them too. I too noticed the futility of certain political themes I’ve been engaged in the past. There does come a point where you have to step away and take your energies elsewhere. Projects you care for where you can effect change.

    Ones own sanity needs it

  13. Regina McLennan

    Another way to look at it is that leaving the field leaves those who are left—those who promoted Brexit and now have to implement it—without their preferred ‘ enemy’–the ardent remainer. Those of us who campaigned and tried to change some part of the outcome now have no reasonable goals in that respect. Better to put our energies somewhere they can effect some kind of change or positive outcome and be free from the posturings and false narratives of the Brexit side. Let them argue among themselves now—-let them eat each other.

  14. Thx for all your fine posts about Brexit. I fully understand your choice, and instead I look forward to posts about the railroad project and european politics 😊💪

  15. Patrick Taylor

    A good decision explained well.

    My experience campaigning about Which? the public arm of the Consumers’ Assocaition also after several years of considerable effort and money spent left me wondering was it worth it. I will write a book to highlight the bizarreness of a consumer charity being controlled by multimillionairre business people and the relationship with an EU decision on a cartel of Unilever, P&G and Henkel.

    It is a shame that a charity gives a £2.24m bonus to four mebers of staff, that it embarks on commercial businesses that within 7 years are closed with total losses of £40m. Curious doings indeed.

    • Ah now that’s an interesting one, and something I have had on my mind in relation to Brexit – how organisations like Which? and the CBI seem to have been coopted to the Brexit cause in ways their counterparts in other European countries would not have been… Do write that book!

  16. John Speed

    I understand your position fully, Jon, it is more or less my own. I have followed your Brexit blogs closely, you are one of the most clear-thinking and incisive commentators around, and it has been good to read your stuff.
    And I will continue to read your blogs on European railways, it is an area where the EU really needs to up its game. Living in Luxembourg with a summerhouse ion the west coast of Sweden I would love to use the train to go between the two. It is possible, but it’s not easy and takes far longer than it should.
    So, thanks for all the stuff on Brexit, and I look forward to the fruits of your railways project.

  17. Amazing contributions from you, Jon. Thank you and wishing you well with your new projects. Glad, however, that you will keep half an eye on developments.

  18. Donal Carey

    I look forward to your work on cross border railways and I sincerely hope it includes work to bring back night trains and sleeper carriages. One of the most pleasant experiences of my life was an overnight train from Brussels to Milan and then on to Verona, now sadly stopped. They are making a comeback and I for one would welcome a great pan-European network. The time is right, I hope.

    • Yes, it will look at that. In short: there’s a lot of talk about night trains, and new cross border connections – but other than to/from Austria rather little action. That’s what I am going to be seeking to change!

  19. Claudio VdA

    As European I am deeply interested in a development of European railways: I have relatives in Italy, my family lives in Germany, I have friends in several other European countries.
    I think, the major problem of European railways consists in the fact that they are still organized as a sum of national systems, badly intertwined.
    On the other hand, I appreciated your hints, proposals and ideas about.
    But ideas need someone able to make them happens. That’s why a couple of posts ago I asked if you proposed your idea of a blanket ban on trains being scrapped to some MEP (you are member of Die Grünen, maybe you have contacts), just in order to make it real 🙂

    • Thanks Claudio! I have a pretty clear idea in my head about how European railways ought to be organised, and then there are a bunch of smaller parts of that – like a ban on scrapping, some issues about data and ticketing, others about services that can be addressed individually. There’s a lot to do, but the time is right to begin to do it!

      • So, the action plan is very easy: you become German, you candidate for the European Parliament, I vote for you and we are going to enjoy well-organized European railways.
        It’s gonna be easy! 8)

  20. Thanks for your work Jon, much appreciated. Good luck with your future projects. Personally I will continue to fight it, but I have means which will lead to some moving manufactured production to EU countries. CE and trans EU certification being important for UK companies I can see small ones stopping or leaving. Johnson reneged on things like the Unified Patent Court etc, lack of IP protection copyright and so on is a real pain.
    Local MP (D Hinds) will not reply to any queries!, wonder why?. ‘Exact same benefits’ was the promise in Parliament.

    Meantime it will be interesting seeing Scotland leave and rejoin…

  21. I have read some rubbish in my time but this one just about tops it all. You really are a pillowk. When are you people ever going to understand that we had a referendum in the UK where I have to accept that there was a lot of misinformation given from both sides, however the vote went ahead with a full legal binding to implement the result whatever way that went. No matter what the result was or how near it was made absolutely no difference, there could only ever be one winner and one loser. Had the result have gone the other way as was expected we would have not heard one word from you people. It would have simply been expected to implement that decision. But because the result went the other way (Incidentally due to all of the supposed clever ones being so far detached from what was actually going on on the street) all we then heard for the next 4 years was a load of absolute bolax and rubbish about why this legally binding democratic decision must not be allowed to go ahead. From all quarters so many of these supposed credible people done nothing but bellyache so bad it nearly destroyed the country. What a shower of bad losing idiots you all turned out to be. You never had any reservations about the referendum going ahead when you were certain you would win the vote, so why have them when you lost. It should simply have been “Get used to it” but no you cried like a load of babies. What you are waking up to today when you wrote this piece you should have accepted in 2016. Instead you tried to distort democracy and done what you done, and in doing so inflicted enormous damage on the UK, and Europe in fact because the farce that took place exposed so many fault lines in Europe they have never healed and probably never will. Do your self a favour and every one else, simply do what you should have done nearly 5 years a go. Just shut up. Thats it no more of your ridiculous waffle.

    • Thanks for that. Exactly the sort of response that makes me realise Britain’s debate is broken, and not worth my time.

      Anyway, piece by piece.
      “When are you people ever going to understand that we had a referendum in the UK where I have to accept that there was a lot of misinformation given from both sides, however the vote went ahead with a full legal binding to implement the result whatever way that went.”
      Did I say the Remain side was perfect? No. Was misinformation worse from the Leave side? Based on what we know now, yes it probably was. But this is not all equivalent. And it was not a legally binding referendum, it was legally advisory, but yeah, what was it was saying in the blog post about factual accuracy?

      “Had the result have gone the other way as was expected we would have not heard one word from you people.”
      Thanks for that. Given I’ve been writing this blog since 2005, long before the referendum, what makes you think I’d have stopped had it gone the other way?

      “From all quarters so many of these supposed credible people done nothing but bellyache so bad it nearly destroyed the country.”
      Interesting. Normally it’s the people who make the decision and implement it who are responsible for what happens, not those who lost. So how about, well, owning what you have done? No, not your style?

      “Instead you tried to distort democracy” Oh, interesting. Do tell me how.

      “in doing so inflicted enormous damage on the UK, and Europe in fact because the farce that took place exposed so many fault lines in Europe they have never healed and probably never will” Errr, the post-Brexit reaction of Remain people in the UK is endangering the EU project? This is… well, quite the leap.

      “Do your self a favour and every one else, simply do what you should have done nearly 5 years a go. Just shut up. Thats it no more of your ridiculous waffle.” Thanks, given this is my blog, I will write what I want to here.

      And DAVID WATTS here is what I want to write to you: GO AND FUCK RIGHT OFF.

  22. Pete Johnson

    Don’t blame you. And look forward to yet more insightful stuff on railways – where there really *is* a future.

  23. Nick Byrne

    I hear you and yet shed a tear…what a mess it all is.

  24. Philippe A

    Agree. Thanks in any case for the sound analysis you did make at multiple occasions. It was impressive to follow.

  25. Melanie

    I’ve greatly appreciated your insights and information. Personally I’ll miss your input, but I understand why you would wish to focus on other matters. Trying to understand the madness of Brexit would drive a good man or woman insane.

  26. Andy Squibb

    Thanks for all the analysis & commentary you have undertaken, it has been much appreciated.

  27. Sune Auken

    A wise choice. The whole Brexit process has been sanity breaking at times. I love the fact that brilliant Fionna O’Leary makes it into your post as well. She’s the trooper of troopers.

    Railways is a good topic. I’ll keep an eye out.

  28. Jose Garcia

    A wise choice, your blogging on the subject was appreciated.

  29. Paul Unwin

    I totally understand your feelings, and your decision but deeply regret it. Brexit has not yet ‘won’. Sure the liars, the conmen and the charlatans have risen to the surface but Brexit itself is dying from the inside out. Where we go, how we get there, and what is needed I don’t know but it will change… I hope.

  30. Chrysanthe Grech

    Thank you so much for investing so much time and effort into your intelligent commentary, Jon. Come back to us soon.

    With very best wishes,
    Chrissie

  31. René Barchmann

    Maybe to add one point:

    In the last few months I got the feeling that fighting over the Brexit fallout is sometimes counterproductive. UK Gov and Johnson love to reframe everything as Leave vs. Remain and take every fight (of course in a different bubble than Steve Peers and Fionna O’Leary on Twitter) as cover for whatever they want to do next.

    Before this fight hasn’t really ended, things will IMO hardly change.

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