The Brexiteers have become exceptional at the process of expectation management. Think back to the Brexit campaign when various proponents of Vote Leave would take it in turns to shout about how much better Britain would be after Brexit and how easy it would all be. ‘There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside,’ David Davis, former Brexit secretary and Vote Leave campaigner, analysed. Michael Gove, during the referendum espoused that ‘the day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.’ Liam Fox, trade secretary at the time, invoked the same reasoning as his comrades, haughtily declaring that ‘the free-trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.’
Brexiteers since the referendum have began to climb down from their considerable pedestal. No better example of this is when Nigel Farage said, whilst on the defensive, that he ‘never promised it [Brexit] would be a huge success.’ Of course, he did nothing but promise that our country would tower over the EU, proclaiming that the Europeans would be begging us for a deal. ‘They need us more than we need them’, was the favourite attack line flaunted by the Brexiteers. The idea of Brexit, after the campaign was won by Leave, began to rapidly evolve from something offering absolute tranquillity for its enablers to offering them only sacrifice and struggle.
After Mrs May’s failure to get a deal through parliament, Mr Johnson and his government now seem to have completely backed down from seeking a withdrawal agreement with the EU. We’ll leave on 31 October ‘do or die’ blusters Johnson. The inevitable transformation of Brexit has now been completed; anything other than a no-deal is now not Brexit and, even worse, a betrayal, regardless of what was sold during the referendum. There will be no free-trade agreement that will be ‘one of the easiest in history’. Instead, Mr Johnson offers the country struggle, risk and perhaps even death – if the government’s ‘Yellowhammer report’ is proved to be the slightest degree correct. Brexit, then, has changed from the easiest thing we’ll do to now something unrecognisable.
All Mr Johnson must hope for is that a no-deal Brexit will not be as bad as the report suggests it could be. This will allow him to confidently say the detractors of Brexit were wrong. Of course, it will still be atrocious, however, that is now exactly what his followers expect and even want. They have entirely subjected themselves to the expectation that Brexit will mean self-sacrifice and struggle, with none of the benefits once promised by Mr Johnson himself. But they will get the Brexit ‘drums, flags and loyalty parades’ that they so desire.