finance

Brexit’s ‘done’, what will we talk about now?


What are we all going to talk about now? For three years, Brexit has dominated conversation. Now there is a gaping hole where the Irish backstop used to be.

No one will have just returned from a People’s Vote march. Remainer friends will not be falling out over whether to back the revocation of Article 50 without a referendum or whether the Norway option wouldn’t be better.

Anyone who had the chance of securing another European citizenship has already got it. It no longer feels quite so urgent whether the Russians did fix the referendum or if Cambridge Analytica transmitted Brexity thoughts directly into our subconscious.

With the threat of a no-deal exit pushed back at least to the end of 2020, we can’t even discuss emergency stockpiling. It will be nice to get the spare room back. God knows what I’m going to do with all those tinned tomatoes.

It turns out that, at least in conversational terms, Boris Johnson really could get Brexit done. Already you feel it dropping out of the debate. Admittedly, I live in deepest Remainia, where the grief levels are palpable and posters of Donald Tusk are wedged into dressing-table mirrors.

But even three years on, there was always at least one person at every gathering who still wanted to share. Until last week, barely a weekend went by without someone raising the issue; now it is already just a fact of life.

Leavers used to mock what they called Brexit Derangement Syndrome, although, to be fair, it seemed to claim victims on both sides of the argument. Now we will have Brexit Withdrawal Syndrome, where we try to remember what we chewed over before 2016.

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What did we use to talk about? Was it movies? Have there been any films since Brexit? I think there was a Scorsese one called The Irishman, about a guy trying to get a European passport. We could, I suppose, start watching Love Island or return to recommending box sets to each other. Have you seen Top Boy? No, neither have we.

This is not going to be easy. If it’s back to discussing house prices and children’s education again, I’m through that cycle. The spawn are all but done with school and the next house move is so far away that it is likely to involve downsizing and stairlifts.

With the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn, we won’t be able to listen to our wealthy friends telling us to which country they might move their money. On the upside, we won’t have to keep pretending that we are angst-ridden about inheritances now that wanting to leave money to your children is no longer a sign of dangerous bourgeois revisionism.

It is really quite hard to remember the time when politics seemed dull and when conversation meandered lightly across life. Brexit was before even Trump, in an era when Obama was president and British political leaders seemed decidedly vanilla.

Of course, those who supported Brexit often lacked that same sense of contentment but they did not escape the past three years of debate either.

There are, I know, people who are limbering up for round two of the Brexit conversation. But “we told you so” cannot inflame the same passion — especially between Remain voters — as was ignited when people still believed the entire process could be stopped.

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Others will have signed up to the Rejoin campaign but I’ve earmarked 2039 for that conversation and don’t want to ruin it. I suppose we could talk about the environment but how animated can you get about plastic bags and new boilers?

Obsessives will always find ways to discuss politics but Brexit brought it to so many otherwise happy tables. Normal people talked about Brexit until everyone went a bit doolally. We were spoiled for conversation.

If we tired of Brexit, we still had Corbyn. Soon we won’t even have him, though some of us are finding ways to bear up under the loss.

The truth, as so many of us discovered, is that there is an upside to politics being dull, to dreary contentment and lands that don’t need heroes. It may not make for lively conversation but it is better for the blood pressure.

Happy New Year.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley or email him at robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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