Brexit is not a haircut

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Boris Johnson’s promise to “Get Brexit Done’’ has been appearing all over the place lately, and we can expect to see and hear a lot more of it in the run up to the General Election.

As a slogan, it’s masterful- the one-two-one syllable pattern is a jab-right hook-jab on the cerebral cortex (which handles language and reasoning) and the limbic system or “lizard brain” (which handles more basic stuff related to survival, like eating, having sex and running away- not necessarily in that order). It’s instantly understandable, memorable, repeatable and re-tweet-able. Kudos to the copywriter.

It’s a particularly powerful message in the current political landscape, with a weary public who’d like to move on. To the lizard brain, “Get Brexit Done” says, “Come on, let’s get out of here”.

On the surface, “Get Brexit Done’’ does make perfect sense. The UK goes from being in the EU, to not-being-in-the EU. Simple.

But once unpacked, “Get Brexit Done’’ is misleading nonsense.

When I speak to Leave voters they usually say, “I know what I voted for.’’ They don’t want to be in the EU any more. Fair enough.

But getting Brexit done is not like getting your hair done.

When I go to get my hair done, I go in, sit down for half an hour, and walk out with better looking hair. It’s a short, sharp, clearly defined process, with a clear, positive outcome.

But Brexit is merely the starting point in the process of leaving the EU: once the UK is no longer an EU member, there will be a long period of further negotiation on the trading relationship, and a huge amount of legislation will need to be debated and passed through Parliament. That could be extraordinarily difficult with another minority government, coalition, or even with a majority, because it will depend on the size of that majority, the number of Tory rebels, the strength of the opposition, and a whole host of other unknowns.

When Boris Johnson repeatedly tells us that he’ll Get Brexit Done, he’s performing a rhetorical trick: he’s making a false substitution of the outcome of non-membership of the EU (“I know what I voted for”) for the long, drawn out process of leaving.

And the Prime Minister simply cannot know how fast or easy that will be.

The difference between getting Brexit done and getting your hair done is that when you leave the hairdressers, the process has come to an end. Brexit is not a haircut, much as the Prime Minister might need one. Brexit is more like base camp on a previously unscaled Himalayan peak.

When speaking to the lizard brains of voters, “Let’s get out of here” is a lot more appealing than, “Please attempt this incredibly challenging mountain with me”.

I am not saying it shouldn’t be attempted: just pointing out that if you decide to follow Boris up there, pace yourself and take plenty of supplies.

Creative director, consultant, speaker and judo player. I write about business, lifestyle, technology, and philosophy.