Brexit may be simple — but it sure as hell ain’t easy

No, the two things are not the same. And it’s the failure to appreciate this that has driven a wedge into the western world

You can fuck off as well.

Why are the UK and US suddenly so divided, so angry, so broken, when a mere matter of months ago, civility and relative prosperity reigned? Could the explanation be as trivial as a difference in interpretation of a nuance of meaning? Ha ha, obviously not, but let’s run with it anyway.

On Wednesday 16 May 2018, former stand-up comedian Lee Hurst posted this tweet:

That’s correct. In response to an article about a serious skills shortage caused by the overzealous application of immigration targets, Hurst, failed mayoral candidate, former warm-up man on Have I Got News For You? and veteran of literally several appearances on BBC1’s gammon-pleasing panel show They Think It’s All Over, piped up with the suggestion that the UK simply source the necessary workers from among its own citizens.

Why, you demand breathlessly, is Mr Hurst languishing in obscurity ranting to 46,000 racists on Twitter, when he should clearly be in City Hall — or even Downing Street? Well, I can see one potential objection.

Labour shortages have been around for as long as civilisation. Did this 10th-dan dipshit, this walking cerebral vacuum, this hasbeen-who-never-quite-was who is now routinely blanked by all who once called him friend and whose greatest hope of glory these days is a retweet from Julia Hartley-Brewer, seriously imagine for a moment that his “idea” had never occurred to any of the 100 billion or so people who had preceded him on this earth? That he, Lee Hurst, with all the wisdom conferred by three months’ work as a telephone engineer, a few years being heckled on the east London standup circuit and a short spell presenting Shark Tank, had somehow produced the flash of genius that would rescue not just a nation, but a civilisation, from guaranteed doom?

Here are seven (no doubt someone with a brain could provide more) glaringly obvious reasons why Hurst’s plan is the most moronic plan since Baldrick had a brain embolism while trying to translate his stupider cousin’s plan from Mandarin:

1) Unemployed British people might not want to do that particular job.

2) Unemployed British people might not have the aptitude for that job. You can’t just turn anyone into an IT genius with a wave of a magic wand, or even several years of training.

3) Unemployed British people might not want to, or be able to, move to the area where that job is based.

4) Training people takes time, and those jobs need to be filled now. This rebuttal goes double for all those Brexit twats insisting that we can simply replace all the departing EU doctors and nurses with British equivalents. TRAINING MEDICAL STAFF PROPERLY TAKES UP TO EIGHT YEARS. WE HAVE LESS THAN ONE. I DO NOT WANT DAZ FROM BASILDON PERFORMING MY CORONARY BYPASS AFTER A COUPLE OF AFTERNOONS WATCHING YOUTUBE VIDEOS.

5) There are undoubtedly people far better qualified for the job located elsewhere in the world who would enjoy the role more and be more effective in it.

6) What level of enthusiasm, commitment or productivity would you expect from a British person who didn’t want to take the job or move to the area in the first place?

7) What criteria will you use to select these people? A pin in the phone book? You know that in a free society, people choose jobs and not vice versa, right? That a society where citizens are told what work to do is … communist?

This sort of top-of-the-head chaff has been reeled off by belching illiterates in pubs up and down the land for centuries. But suddenly, thanks to social media, it is undeservingly reaching a wider audience. Now that the campaign to discredit intellectuals and experts has been running for several years, every jackass with a finger and an internet connection feels the need to make their voice heard on everything, regardless of their mastery of the topic. Most of the time, these (largely far right, but there are plenty of culprits on the left) self-appointed arbiters of everything offer nothing constructive to address the problems at hand, content merely to sneer at and abuse those who are giving it their best shot.

When they do make a suggestion, you can guarantee it’ll be entirely lacking in any of the substance or detail required to put it into practice. Donald Trump’s so-called policies; Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign to kill all drug dealers; Leave.UK screaming “Just leave”.

This, my populist friends, is the end result of the process I’ve been banging endlessly on about. This is common sense, unconstrained by reason, in action; the system 1 brain, impatient at the slowness of system 2’s results, elbowing it out of the way and … fucking everything up even more. So it’s way past time, I think, to revisit a basic, but often overlooked, distinction in the English language.

The words “simple” and “easy” are often used interchangeably, but the difference is crucial. When something is simple, it requires little intelligence or effort to conceptualise or to articulate. Something that is easy, meanwhile, describes an action that requires little skill or effort to actually do.

Some examples to illustrate.

“Lose a stone!”

“Run a marathon!”

“Build a house!”

“Eat my shorts!”

“End world hunger!”

“Travel back in time!”

“Make Lee Hurst funny!”

These instructions are all eminently comprehensible — even John Redwoodcould understand them — but when it comes to actually implementing them, they range from difficult to downright impossible.

Simple cares only about the end result (usually some deliberately vaguely defined “better” state). Easy cares about how you get there.

Any idiot can shout slogans — indeed, that’s all most of them do — but it takes nous to apply them successfully, as Trump, and the Conservative government that the UK electorate has baldly ordered to “leave the EU”, are discovering. Moreover, there is no guarantee that, even if they do manage to realise these plans, they will be remotely effective.

When simple people propose simple solutions, they tend to omit two salient factors from their plans. 1) How exactly would you go about this? Implementation requires details. 2) Actions often have consequences beyond those intended. How do you know that you will a) achieve your stated goal and b) do so without causing even worse problems? George W Bush’s instinctive, system-1 reaction to 9/11 — the simple solution that the majority of people were demanding — was to bomb the crap out of the Middle East. Did that solve anything? No, it made things worse, killing millions, radicalising millions more, and causing further terror attacks, civil wars and regional instability.

Society’s unresolved problems are unresolved for a reason. The simple solutions have been suggested, and tried, time and time and time again and guess what, Lee Hurst? They haven’t fucking worked once.

Let’s look at some of the major problems still facing humanity, and at some of the fixes that the far right (and left) are proposing, and examine some of the possible hurdles to implementation. Into small, digestible chunks. You know. Keeping it simple.

Solution: End freedom of movement in the EU

Why the solution sucks: In terms of implementation, ending freedom of movement is perfectly feasible — it’s just doubtful whether or not it would be remotely effective. Hardly any of the people who have committed terrorist acts on British soil were immigrants. Some were Muslims, but all were born here — and in any case, the migration of people from Muslim-majority countries has sod all to do with EU membership. What’s more, the UK already has more control over its borders than any other country in the EEA, having secured an opt-out from the Schengen agreement. People will still travel to the UK from Muslim-majority countries, and since few terrorists accumulate long criminal records before they blow themselves up, there will be no way to tell the good from the bad. It’s very hard to see how adding a few customs checkpoints and lorry parks is going to change that.

The real flaw here, though, lies in the repercussions.

Knock-on consequences: Less money for everything else. Reduced trade. Reduced opportunities in travel, education and employment, especially for younger people. Reduced tourism, both ways. Fewer “desirable” migrants (99.99% of them) filling skills shortages. More hostile environment for immigrants. Requires abandoning the EU’s single market and customs union, as well as putting at risk countless lucrative collaborations and agreements including Erasmus, Euratom, Horizon 2020, European Atomic Energy Community, European Medicines Agency, etc etc ad infinitum.

There are a thousand more effective ways of combating terrorism than slamming the doors shut: education, attacking their funding, tackling social isolation and online radicalisation, improving links with minority communities, the Prevent programme, taking out the leaders.

Solution: Stop immigration

Why the solution sucks: Common sense suggests that expanding the workforce, and thus creating more competition for jobs, will drive wages down. Alas, as we have established, when it comes to complex issues like this, common sense is as useful as an umbrella in a tsunami.

The true figures show that immigration has minimal negative effect on both pay and employment. In fact, in the longer term, it increases the average standard of living, because those immigrants pay taxes and spend money in their host country, stimulating the economy and creating yet more jobs.

Knock-on consequences: Less money for everything else. More hostile environment for immigrants. Less mixing of cultures, leading to greater distrust between nations, and an increased likelihood of war.

Solution: Stop immigration

Why the solution sucks: If too many new people move into an area in too short a time, local services can indeed feel the pinch. However, in the UK’s particular case, immigrants tend to be younger and fitter and require little care or support, and work disproportionately in exactly those areas. Losing immigrants would do more harm than good to healthcare and social care.

Knock-on consequences: As above.

Solution: Ban guns

Why the solution sucks: In the interests of fairness, I’ll debunk a cause more often championed by the left. (The right don’t tend to bother offering any ideas at all for this one, apparently considering thousands of innocent children’s lives an acceptable price to pay for the protection of the second amendment.)

Yes, gun control advocates, history is on your side, insofar as both the UK and Australia have seen a big drop-off in mass shootings since tightening their gun laws. However, America’s situation is unique. A blanket ban on guns would be incredibly hard to enforce and probably would result, in the short term, in more civilians being unable to protect themselves from the criminals who had failed to turn in their weapons.

Knock-on consequences: Sizeable hit to the gun economy.

Solution: a) Drain the swamp, b) lock her up, c) build the wall

Why these solutions suck: a) There are no doubt plenty of corrupt people on Capitol Hill. There always are near corridors of power. However, in the grand scheme of things, America was cleaner than most countries. The system was, if not perfect, then at least functioning.

b) Locking up Hillary Clinton would entail finding real evidence of a crime she had committed, which is impossible, because the charges were made up by Nazi conspiracy theorists.

c) Building a wall all the way along the US-Mexican border is cripplingly expensive, both to build and maintain, and will not in any case prevent much illegal immigration.

Knock-on consequences: a) The drained swampwater needs to be replaced with cleaner “water”. So far, the substitute looks like concentrated raw sewage.

b) Everyone thinks you are a bunch of gullible twats.

c) Less money for everything else, etc, etc.

Solution: Stop immigration

Why the solution sucks: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, racist, but most people don’t consider any solution necessary here. Most of us believe that immigrants enrich our lives.

This is your problem, not the problem of the government, or of non-racists, or of immigrants. I suggest you deal with it by learning a foreign language, by making an effort to get to know someone from another country, or failing that, by topping yourself.

The last bit

People have complaints. We get that. Everyone (well, everyone normal), left and right and centre, wants life to be better, for there to be less disease and poverty and suffering and murder. We just have very different approaches.

As 10,000 years of slavery and sexism and famine and war should have hinted by now, there are no easy solutions to any of the above. But the fact that we have reduced all those things from everyday occurrences to vanishingly rare ones should be a huge encouragement.

How have we achieved this astonishing reduction in violence and increase in quality of life? By dismissing simple solutions and digging deeper, for complex ones. Solutions that involve detail, flexibility, compromise, sacrifice. And forgiveness. The pattern of history is unarguable.

And if we are to continue this trend, we need to acknowledge the difference between simplicity and ease. We need to recognise, while pledging eternal gratitude for its value in keeping us alive in trickier times, that instinct, the system 1 brain, is no longer in the driving seat of human destiny. Like cockfighting, trepanning, leeching and human sacrifice, common sense must now be consigned to history, and people with two functioning halves of a brain be allowed to take the wheel again.

Newsperson and scriptwriter. Blogs at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store