You don’t hear much about Brexit any more. Every night I watch the headlines in vain, but all I see is stuff about “the transfer window”, “England’s cricketers” and “coming up next here on Sky Sports News”.
That said, who could blame anyone for wanting to block out Brexit? All Out War, the Brexit referendum history by Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman, begins with a timeline of events that includes the following entries for the two days of 15–16 June 2016. Remember, this is just two days:
15 Jun — Cameron calls Angela Merkel but does not ask her for anything. George Osborne unveils an ‘emergency budget’ to plug a £30 billion black hole in the event of Brexit. Sixty-five Tory MPs vow to vote it down. Vote Leave unveils a ‘Brexit Queen’s Speech’. Flotillas led by Nigel Farage and Sir Bob Geldof clash on the Thames
16 Jun — Farage unveils ‘Breaking Point’ immigration poster. Labour MP Jo Cox murdered. Both campaigns suspended
Jesus! Even for someone looking on from another country (albeit the one right next door) this is gripping and terrifying stuff. Fortunately, Shipman is up to the task of recording and interpreting this collective craziness.
Shipman has the contacts book and the interview notes to bring a breadth and depth of insight and revelation to the Brexit story. We meet a David Cameron torn between lancing the Tory Eurosceptic boil and spearheading the Remain campaign; Michael Gove and Boris Johnson using Brexit as a testing ground for their prime ministerial ambitions, only to blow it on the run-in; Jeremy Corbyn not being particularly bothered; Theresa May keeping her head down and powder dry.
There’s also a rich supporting cast of special advisers, financial backers, pollsters, journalists and spouses who all had a profound influence on the most critical and divisive political campaign in British history. These vivid characters are the means by which Shipman tells this complex story in a clear and engaging narrative.
At over 600 pages, Shipman’s book would do serious damage to the head of any intruder. Fortunately, the physical weight of All Out War is leavened by Shipman’s fizzing, sparkling prose style. Those 600 pages zip by.
Spoiler alert: Leave won. This means Shipman’s tale inevitably shows how Leave got it right and Remain got it wrong. However, if you live in a social media echo chamber of virtuous Remain and bigoted Leave, it’s refreshing to see the motives and reasoning of the more mainstream and socially acceptable Leavers. That said, even Shipman is both fascinated and appalled by how so many people believed an unsubstantiated Leave claim just because they saw it up on the side of a fucking bus.
Anyway, now for the EU-UK negotiations, which will no doubt pass peacefully and without anyone making an absolute show of themselves. Here’s to an equally-entertaining follow-up volume by Shipman sometime in, oh, let’s say March 2019.
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