How do you take your Brexit?
Hard? Soft? Low fat and spreadable? Do you ask for one sugar, or is your Brexit already sweet enough? Can you freeze a Brexit upon purchase? Do you like it burnt to a crisp or bloody as hell? Large? Small? Now? Later? Poached? On the rocks? Tell me how you like your Brexit. There are other customers waiting.
Rhetoric is funny, isn’t it. The Brexit narrative has a very particular relationship with language, manipulating, moulding and making words and phrases to best narrate a story in which the plot is rewritten daily. Jargon, slang, the vernacular; they’re all key components in a verbal back-and-forth between politicians, powers and people. Playful language was king in the build-up to June’s referendum and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. DIY terms help us put things into boxes, draw links and digest weightier concepts. Take the term ‘Brexit’, for instance. Why waste your days regurgitating “Britain’s decision to leave the European Union” when you can say something that rhymes with ‘sex it’. It’s short, snappy and makes for a mean tweet.
The stars of the show in terms of post-June dialogue have been ‘Hard‘ and ‘Soft‘. As Brexit buzzwords, their significance is unopposed. Uh, just look at them. Two single-syllable adjectives, both representing an opposing sphere. In four, teeny-tiny letters, they encompass deep, complex political stances in regards to Britain’s terms of departure. To sum up: ‘Hard Brexit’ equals storming out and slamming the door, while ‘Soft Brexit’ sees us leaving with a smile on our face and and a fuzzy sense of relief to accompany it, knowing that although there’ll be awkward moments down the line, we can remain friends. We’re either taking the pictures of us and the EU embracing at the top of the Eiffel Tower and burning them, or calmly removing them from our wall and placing them in a shoebox under the bed, as I’m Like A Bird plays softly in the background. Hard, or soft.
Only, you know that’s a joke. You know that’s me – the writer – trying to make you – the reader – do a giggle. You weren’t sat there thinking “wait, did the EU low-key cheat on us“, or “wow, who knew that bureaucrats smashed their Nelly Furtado” – you were always well aware that it was just me engaging in a bit of the old jest. See, nobody knows what the fuck ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ refer to – and that’s the real funny here.
Terms, such as these, become so engrained into our cultural consciousness that we never stop to think about what they actually mean. Austerity is a good example of this. We all know about Austerity Britain, Osbourne’s austerity measures and anti-austerity protests, but if you were to stop one of these protesters mid-march and ask them to provide you with an in-depth definition of the economic policy they were protesting against, chances are you wouldn’t get the most articulate of descriptions. We know it’s bad, we know the working class are getting shafted – and that’s all we need. Hard and Soft Brexits are the same. Hard is the big, bad, fire-breathing Brexit, Soft is Brexit with a please, thank you and promise to write.
We don’t care about the nitty-gritty, because it’s long, boring and probably scary. Westminster understands this, so they entertain us with it. They’re more than content to throw around these phrases, because it lets them get away with not actually telling us anything. It diverts our attention away from the very real fact that they don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on, either. Our acceptance is the discarding of our opposition. Ignorance is bliss – especially when you can slip it into a 140 character limit.
I don’t know, you don’t know and they most certainly aren’t any closer to knowing. None of us are any the wiser, but it feels good to pretend that we are. As far as the Brexit saga is concerned, it’s lights out and business as usual. Heads down, as you were.
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Words by Niall Flynn