Former Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler was in Bath on 27th November to talk about his book ‘Brexit without the Bulls**t’. Addressing a packed audience at Widcombe Social Club, he said he’d debated the title long and hard and wasn’t even sure if Brexit existed without ‘bulls**t’ as lies and undeliverable promises have infected the debate from the onset.
He was inspired to write the book because of the normalisation of lying which he said was bigger than Brexit and now seems an accepted part of political life. ‘The lengths our leaders have gone to, to avoid letting us have the truth,’ he said, referring to the Yellowhammer report, an assessment of leaving the EU without a deal. The government tried to suppress it, with Michael Gove claiming in September 2019 it was an ‘old document’ when it had, in fact, been written just a few weeks before.
What concerns Gavin is the way major lies – everyone remembers the Leave campaign’s claim of ‘£350 million for the NHS’ emblazoned on the side of a bus – have filtered down to street level. At Conway Hall, London he was told by a woman, ‘I voted for a clean Brexit, to leave the EU without a deal on October 31st, 2019.’ He lamented the fact that once ‘we were the country of enlightenment’, where the facts of truth and science, that make a country great, have fallen aside. ‘If we continue to push ourselves on a path of denial – climate change, vaccinations – how will we end up?’
Gavin was keen to dispel the mantra being pushed by Boris Johnson to ‘Get Brexit Done’. He dismissed the slogans which are being sold to the public as total nonsense as ‘Brexit is not an event but a process. We still don’t know what Brexit is and what ‘done’ means.’ He was equally dismissive of the promises of trade deals with the US that would be advantageous to the UK saying that chlorinated chicken was the tip of the iceberg and that the US food lobby would be keen to foist meat containing banned products such as ractopamine on us.
Peppering his talk with anecdotes, he referred to his time in the 80s and 90s as the BBC’s North American correspondent where he met Bill Clinton whom he described as one of the great communicators. At the heart of a successful campaign is the emotive message and Gavin despaired of the facts that Remainers are ‘good at looking at facts but not at looking at the emotive impact.’ On a final note he said Remainers must make the patriotic case that Britain is better than Brexit.
Gavin Esler is a broadcaster, journalist and author of both fiction and non-fiction books. In addition to hosting Newsnight for twelve years, he also presented BBC News at 5. He’s currently Chancellor of the University of Kent and stood in the 2019 European Elections as one of the London candidates for the Change UK party.