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HomeNewsRob Slane: Brexit can mean whatever you want it to mean

Rob Slane: Brexit can mean whatever you want it to mean


(Based on the thinking of A. Fudge, Emeritus Professor of Pedantry, Obstructionism and Kicking the Can Down the Road at Hull University)

Brexit means Brexit. That is the first thing I want to say. But of course it does. How could it not? In the same way that egg means egg, cormorant means cormorant, of course, Brexit must mean Brexit. And just as a denial that eggs means eggs would be patently absurd, likewise a denial that Brexit means Brexit would be equally ludicrous.

But, though eggs means eggs — no-one is disputing that — of course, it still begs the question: what actually is meant by an egg? I mean what really is it? I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the answer to that particular question, but in the same way, though Brexit may mean Brexit, as it most surely does, we must ask ourselves what exactly is meant by Brexit. Yes, that’s what we really need to be asking ourselves.

But it is not such an easy question to answer, is it? You see the problem is that there is no — and no really does mean no — clear, objective definition of the word. That is the fact of the matter. That is the actualité. As I understand it, the word was only coined a year or so ago, and we scholars could have a field day debating its real meaning. Of course, we know that Brexit means Brexit —  yes, we do know that much. But as to what is actually meant by Brexit — well, that is a whole different kettle of fish.

Let me here deal with an objection. Some would say that Brexit means pulling out of the European Union. But I see no compelling reasons why it necessarily should mean that. You see, when the people actually cast their vote on June 23rd, did they really vote for Brexit? I mean, did they really? There are those who would say that this is exactly what they voted for, since the question put to them was, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” which was then followed by two “options”: Remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union. But did you notice what was missing? A glaring omission, some might say. Conspicuous by its absence, I would say. Yes. No mention of Brexit, whatsoever. And so we can easily deduce from this that while Brexit indeed does mean Brexit, the idea that it actually means leaving the European Union is, in fact, really quite tenuous.

The real issue, however, lies in the somewhat facile view some have of the whole idea of questions and answers. Questions may well have answers, and there may well be answers to questions, that much is true. No one is attempting to deny that. Yet it doesn’t necessarily follow that the one asking the question is under any obligation to do anything with the answer. So if I said to you, would you like a peach or an apple, and you answered “a peach,” would I be under any obligation to give you one? Of course not. My question may well have been asked out of mere curiosity. And so I might follow it up with, “Oh that’s nice. So you want a peach. Good, good. Most interesting. Very pleased to hear it. Now on your way, there’s a good fellow.” And of course, in that situation, the meaning of peaches would not alter one jot. Peaches would still mean peaches, even if there were none on offer.

In the same way, it is entirely possible that the question being asked on 23rd June was also asked out of mere curiosity. “Ah, so that is what you all think,” the Government would be more than entitled to say. “Well thanks for telling us. Certainly useful to know. Now run along and get back to your business.” And just as peaches would still mean peaches, Brexit would still mean Brexit. Wouldn’t change the meaning one bit.

But there is an even more fundamental issue to the whole question, which is this: what if those people who thought they were voting for Brexit were simply unable to understand the question itself? That is not a hypothetical question, since we know for sure that all those who voted that way must have been ignorant, absurd, stupid, racist and foolish. So the question arises as to whether they actually understood the question they were being asked? Actually, the question answers itself. Since only ignorant, absurd, stupid, racist and foolish people could have voted that way, isn’t it a safe assumption that indeed none of them did actually understand what it was they were being asked. I mean, how could they?

Now if that is the case, one might ask if it would actually be morally right actually to give them what they thought they wanted. Would it actually be acting charitably to go ahead with implementing the answer to a question which they couldn’t possibly have understood? I submit that it would not. In fact, a good case could be made that it would be the height of cruelty, since those who voted that way can only have done so from a position of sheer ignorance. And so the really charitable thing to do — I mean the really kind thing — must surely be to ignore the answer entirely.

But would that not, I hear you ask, change the meaning of Brexit? Not at all. How indeed could it? Brexit means Brexit, and it will always mean Brexit. Nothing you or I do can change that. But as to what Brexit really means, well I think that’s another question altogether.

(Image: US Embassy London)

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Rob Slane
Rob Slane
Rob is married to Alina, and they live with their six children in Salisbury. He blogs regularly at

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