A cab driver’s dogged determination to support Brexit – Marius Oosthuizen

British newspapers are becoming a bit more hysterical every day as the deadline for Brexit on the 31st of October is coming closer. The group who wants to remain in the European Union, the Remainers who have the liberal media and most of the business sector behind them, warn of the economic consequences of leaving the European Union and they don’t have to look far for evidence; the pound is sliding. The Leavers find evidence of business sectors that would benefit from Brexit and greater autonomy and call the other side a bunch of Doomsdayers. Everybody in Parliament, business and on the streets of the UK has very strong opinions about Brexit. London cab drivers or any Uber driver in the UK for that matter like to discuss Brexit and if you happen to find yourself in one of those discussions, it is interesting to try to get a perspective on why they support or oppose the decision to divorce the country from the European Union. One told me that he voted leave because immigration is dragging down the company’s economy, but he was himself a very recent immigrant who appeared to think, “okay I am in, but we need to close the door on the rest.” Another who was a Remainer said he wanted to go on holiday in Europe whenever he wanted and did not want to queue at the border. Marius Oosthuizen, a scenario planner and futurist from the Gordon Institute of Business Science has spoken to one of the cabbies and he says the driver’s rationale for Brexit despite what consequences it may hold, explains everything. – Linda van Tilburg

A cab driver’s rationale for Brexit explains everything

By Marius Oosthuizen*

To understand the desire of some for Brexit, one must make sense of the dogged commitment some Brits have made to the idea of “leaving” the EU, irrespective of the outcome.

Marius Oosthuizen, GIBS profile picture
Marius Oosthuizen

In a cab ride to Gatwick yesterday my driver gave me the explanation I had been looking for. “We voted to leave”, he explained. The vote was “leave” or “remain”, and we chose “leave”, he said.

I asked him about the implications for the border with Northern Ireland, for trade friction and for the United Kingdom’s place in the world. He was surprisingly informed about the various issues, but masterfully deflected by saying, “the UK wants to choose for itself whether or not its sheep farmers should be allowed to export mutton, and how much of it, and whether they can choose to eat their own meat.”

He implied that the problem with the EU was regulatory overreach.

He claimed that the EU has been unreasonable and has cynically refused to give the UK a good deal, only he didn’t offer any concrete solutions to these issues until I asked about Scotland’s threat to leave the UK and join the EU.

It was at that moment that the skies opened and the light of clarity dawned on me. “Scotland can bloody well leave if they choose”, he asserted in a striding tone. “If they do, we will tell them that there is a border between us, and we will build a wall if we like”. For a moment he sounded exactly like the unreasonable EU bureaucrats he so loathes.

But he wasn’t sure that this would happen, and seemed upset by Scotland’s independent-mindedness.  “We’ve allowed a situation there where they think they can do what they want and we’ve given them too much, urgh, independence”, he said with indignant conviction.

“No, after we’ve left the EU we will go to Scotland and tell them that they will be governed from London as it used to be. We will tell them that the Pound is the Pound”, he assured me.

This was the moment that I, as a complete outsider, understood something of this man’s mind that has blindly committed himself to separation from the EU.

My take is that there is a deeply held assumption, a mythology, embedded in his self-identity, that believes that Britain should be both autonomous and in charge. Perhaps it is a hangover from the era of colonies and commonwealths.

This presupposition acts to turn the EU optically into a looming foreign power without legitimacy on British soil and a threat to the sovereignty of the larger-than-life island in the Atlantic. It also turns Scotland, in the view of the cab driver, into a stubborn underling who is preposterous in its assumption of independence.

“How dare the EU assume it can govern us, and how can Scotland assume that we will not govern them”, seemed to me to be the internal logic.

The inconsistency of his position is resolved by virtue of a sense of entitlement, both to autonomy and to lordship. It is of course illusionary, since the world has changed into a multi-nodal network of interwoven interests and shared responsibilities across nations. Only, this new reality does not seem to have dawned to the driver of my cab, yet.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, now ensconced behind his desk in 10 Downing Street, is the perfect politician to preside over the execution of this segment of the popular will. He too, being committed to spectacle over specifics, guided by an enduring north star of British exceptionalism, has committed himself to leaving the EU no matter the fallout.

To be fair to my cab driver, he assured me that if the outcomes are bad, “he”, “they”, the “remainers”, would “take it on the chin”. Borris, as the locals call him, seems happy to take the consequences for his actions.

Only, they will take it on the chin, along with the Scots and the Irish and those in society that have the vision to see an interconnected UK, participating in a world of interdependencies and shared interests with their neighbours in the EU.

If there was another referendum tomorrow, I expect the cab driver would again vote “leave”. If there were a referendum in Scotland, perhaps they would do the same, for obvious reasons.

  • Marius Oosthuizen is a scenario planner and futurist at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg. He writes in his own capacity.