Pulling Britain out of the EU has been far from a smooth process. Take a look at some of the most embarrassing, awkward and downright cringeworthy moments so far
Photo credit: Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.com
Leaving the EU means cutting through a lot of red tape and, sooner or later, someone is bound to get wrapped up in it. From Theresa May being left out in the cold as other European leaders happily chatted away around her to Boris Johnson’s pro-European treatise being unearthed, the three-year slouch from the referendum has been packed with humiliating situations.
But Simon Hill, CEO and founder at Wazoku, the idea management platform provider, isn’t surprised. “From the outset the whole process has been poorly handled,” he says. “The government has taken an admittedly difficult situation and made an absolute mess of it and there has been a succession of embarrassing moments.”
Indeed, there is a slew of cringe-filled and noteworthy moments to think back on. So follow us down memory lane as we relive the seven worst ones.
The imaginary reports
David Davis’ tenure as secretary of state for exiting the European Union was, much like the whole process, tumultuous to say the least. From getting slight castigations for not attending the entire first round of negotiations with the EU to misquoting Winston Churchill, Davis seemingly stumbled from one embarrassment to another. However, none can be as problematic as the one about the elusive impact assessments reports.
For the longest time, Davis maintained that the government had carried out 57 studies on 85% of the UK economy in “excruciating detail” about the impact of Brexit. Understandably, the rest of the government, particularly the opposition, was eager to read these reports. But Davis refused to give them up.
It even got to the point that Davis was warned about being held in contempt of parliament if he didn’t produce these reports. It was only when he was forced to face a select committee that Davis revealed no impact studies had actually been carried out.
Not a great moment for any politician and certainly not for the one in charge of the biggest political project since the Second World War.
In or out, Boris?
Few people personify the Leave campaign the way Boris Johnson does. The former mayor of London announced his allegiance to the cause on Monday February 22 2016. Since then he’s often and loudly repeated his devotion to yanking Britain out of the EU with his personal bombastic style. So it was slightly shameful when the Sunday Times unearthed and published a column stating the case for remain penned by a certain Boris Johnson on Saturday February 19.
In the unpublished draft, Johnson argued that Brexit could lead to further rifts between Scotland and the rest of the UK, strengthen Vladimir Putin and that access to the single market was clearly beneficial.
Johnson later said he wrote the column as a tool for his own thought process. While it’s understandable that people change their minds, it’s not a good look when the person who’s arguably the biggest Brexiteer out there seemingly wasn’t sure about it.
Brexit in a single shot
The European Summit of December 2016 was always going to be uncomfortable. With Britain deciding to exit the EU just months earlier, the prime minister would’ve been wise to expect a chilly welcome. However, no one was expecting to see the divide as blatantly out in the open as it was.
In a short clip dubbed Brexit in a Single Shot, May can be seen fiddling with her cuffs while other European leaders happily greet, air kiss and chat with each other around her. Even though there were other clips of the prime minister smiling and talking with other leaders, the clip was also seen as a demonstration of how the other 27 nations were ganging up on Blighty.
One word: awks.
On Saturday March 23 2019, Nigel Farage climbed up on an open top bus in front of 200 Leave campaigners standing at a pub parking lot. Speaking to the crowd who’d joined the March to Leave march a week earlier, the former UKIP leader was furious.
The reason for his rage was what he perceived as a mortifying betrayal of trust by the prime minister that Brexit Day could be postponed until after Friday March 29, the original day the UK was scheduled to leave the EU. Pointing at the roughly 200 listeners gathered outside of the Horse and Groom pub, Farage said: “There are 17.4 million here, can’t you see them?”
This may’ve had a bit more impact if it wasn’t for the fact that hundreds of thousands of Remain campaigners had joined the People’s Vote march in London on the same day. The detractors of Farage’s march from Sunderland to London were quick to jump on the discrepancy between the two protests.
The change of heart
Dominic Cummings served as campaign director of Vote Leave. He was the mastermind of the infamous red bus pledging £350m per week would go to the NHS instead of the EU if Brexit happened. Most recently, people may recognise him as the guy Benedict Cumberbatch played in the drama Brexit: An Uncivil War.
So you’d think he’d be devoted to the cause. Yet, he admitted in 2017 that leaving the EU might have been “an error.” Engaging in a Twitter conversation with a Financial Times reporter, Cummings was asked if there was anything he’d like to change with the referendum. He replied: “Lots! I said before [the referendum] was [a] dumb idea, other things [should’ve] been tried [first]. In some possible branches of the future leaving will be an error.”
When even one of the big thinkers behind the Leave Campaign has his doubts, then it doesn’t really spark confidence in the process.
Not in front of the kids
Everyone can get angry at times. But it’s usually a good idea to address the issues you might have with someone in private. This common insight didn’t stop May from confronting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker about him calling her negotiations approach “nebulous” in front of a room full of other politicians. Even worse, the whole argument was captured on film.
While the film itself didn’t have any sound, lip readers have stated that the heated exchange began with May saying: “What did you call me? You called me nebulous.”
Touching her arm and shaking his head, Juncker replied: “No I didn’t, no I didn’t.” Although, he actually had called her “nebulous and imprecise” at a press conference just hours earlier.
Not quite the inspiration one would hope for from our world leaders.
Failed friendship requests
Whenever relationships are at an end, the two parties reach out to their acquaintances, reminding them what important friends they are. Whether this is a genuine push for connection or just to ensure someone will help them move out of their partner’s flat remains debatable. And Britain has found itself in a similar situation after deciding to leave the EU – it needed chums to ensure it didn’t lose everything in the divorce.
So it was less than ideal when foreign minister Jeremy Hunt went to Slovenia to solidify the nations’ partnership and instead managed to offend the host nation. The gaffe occurred when Hunt stated how happy he was to be in the country before adding: “As a fellow European country, the UK is very proud of the transformation there has been in Slovenia, a really remarkable transition from a Soviet vassal state to modern European democracy.”
The only problem with that remark was that Slovenia never was a part of the Soviet Union. In fact, at the time it was part of Yugoslavia, which held on to its independence under Josip Tito.
Milan Brglez, former president of the Slovenian parliament, was quoted as saying: “The British foreign minister comes to Slovenia asking us for a favour – to discuss with the foreign minister how to avoid a no-deal Brexit – while arrogantly insulting us.”
Maybe Hunt needs to take a course in how to make friends and influence people?