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JANE MERRICK: At least Danny Dyer knows what he stands for

Actor Danny Dyer pictured at the London Stadium - Credit: Getty Images

Sometimes it takes a voice far removed from the debate to change its direction. Queen Vic landlord Danny Dyer might have done that argues JANE MERRICK

When Theresa May and her cabinet ministers go into seclusion at their Chequers away day, they will be cut off from the outside world until they reach a united position on our withdrawal from the EU.

For the rest of us, however, there can be no isolation from the ongoing nightmare of Brexit. Another EU summit, at which real progress on negotiations was supposed to have been marked, came and went last week with that target missed. The Northern Ireland issue remains worryingly unresolved.

The cabinet is split on the customs union, with May having to present a third model at this week’s meeting. When there has been a lack of clarity for two years on Brexit, nobody should be surprised that the state of disarray continues this summer.

Nobody, not even the prime minister herself, can possibly truthfully say that Brexit is going well, therefore. But sometimes it takes someone from outside Westminster and the entire political and media class to sum up what the nation thinks, and point out just how much of a disaster we are living through.

Danny Dyer did just that on Good Evening Britain last week, describing Brexit as a ‘mad riddle’, that ‘no one
has a f**king clue’ what it means, and
that the man responsible for calling the referendum, David Cameron, was a ‘t**t’ for not staying around to clear up the mess.

This was not the sole little boy pointing out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes: after all, Remain supporters have been shouting this for two years. More than 100,000 marched on the streets of London last month to point out the imperial nudity of the Brexit process. But when these warnings come from the same prominent figures on the Remain side, as justified and legitimate as those warnings are, they are often preaching to the converted, dismissed as propagators of project fear, or just ignored.

Dyer’s comments, succinctly venting the frustrations of millions, carry weight because the EastEnders actor voted Leave two years ago. While his acting success may make him elite, he certainly cannot be dismissed by pro-Brexit politicians as metropolitan. If he can see the problem with Brexit, then he should be listened to.

It has been easy, for the past few weeks, to temporarily forget about Brexit and instead watch hours of World Cup matches, enjoy the heatwave or maybe even make a nightly appointment with Love Island to take the edge off the latest tortuous developments on Brexit on the 10 o’clock news. Sport, popular culture and our national obsession with the weather all allow an escape from politics, but with something as generation-defining and society-changing as Brexit, that escape can only ever be temporary.

This also applies to those stars of sport and popular culture, whether it is when the female contestants on Love Island (including Dyer’s daughter Dani) discuss their confusion over Brexit, when Gary Lineker tweets from the World Cup in Russia about EU withdrawal, or when Dyer goes on primetime television to call a former prime minister a ‘t**t’.

It is no coincidence that Good Evening Britain, a one-off spin-off of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, presented by Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid, featured a blend of politics, football and Love Island. Brexit is under the skin of all of us; it is entwined in our national life. But unlike the Russian tournament or the competition at the villa in Majorca, Brexit and its consequences will be permanent. And often it takes those outside politics to cut through the obfuscation of May and her ministers, the empty sloganeering of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and the lie of the ‘Brexit dividend’ to fund the NHS. Brexit is just too big and serious to be left to politicians alone.

Yet this should not make the warnings of experts – the experts Michael Gove and fellow Brexiteers have sought to delegitimise from the start – any less valid or urgent. When future generations look back at the summer of 2018, just as we now look back with nostalgia at, say, Italia 90 or 1966, they will remember an incredible World Cup. But they will also, as it stands, note that it was the final summer before Britain left the EU.

Whatever lies ahead for us now will be their hindsight, but will it include the realisation of the scenario painted by the head of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, this week about what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

Sir Simon told Andrew Marr that NHS managers and hospitals were undertaking ‘extensive’ planning for a no deal, particularly on the supply of medicines, equipment and staff. After all, it is not as if the NHS is a luxuriantly-funded service; it is already struggling to cope on the resources it has, with the staff it has, some of who could leave after March 2019. Sir Simon said hospitals are ensuring EU nationals working in the NHS know how to apply to stay in the UK. It doesn’t bear thinking about what the health service would do without them.

If, as expected, the UK leaves Euratom, the EU nuclear industry regulator, the way hospitals access medical isotopes for the treatment of cancer is in doubt. This emergency contingency planning by the NHS is sensible, but will it change public opinion about Brexit? Maybe if Danny Dyer can be persuaded to talk about this and every other Brexit issue on primetime once a week, the public will wake up to these warnings.

Dyer’s abusive language has attracted contempt from Brexiteers – yet those same Brexiteers cheered the foreign secretary when he said ‘f*** business’. His comments are powerful not only because his well-timed swearing was a spasm of anger felt by many in the UK. Nor were they only about Cameron, who of course should bear some responsibility for what has happened since he gave in to Conservative Party calls for a referendum.

Dyer’s comments also nail the lie that the 2016 referendum has settled the question of EU membership forever, the lie that the 17.4 million people who voted Leave now, two years on, have no regrets and are happy with the way Brexit negotiations are unfolding. Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and David Davis have taken their votes in vain, used them as a cover for any type of Brexit they fancy, the harder the better.

If Leave voters like Dyer are angry, what does it say for the rest of the voters? If May and the cabinet come out of their Chequers lock-in with a hard Brexit, or the end of these negotiations results in a no-deal, how will we ever know how many voted for it?

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