Brexit Regret: The Women Who Wish They'd Never Voted Leave

Designed by Serena Brown
The longer the catalogue of disasters that is Brexit rumbles on, the more fed up, frustrated and downright furious the British public is becoming. We should have left the EU by now, of course, and the ongoing parliamentary deadlock means the saga looks set to continue for some time yet. The petition to revoke Article 50, which went viral in March, crashing the government website and becoming the most popular ever on the e-petitions site, has now amassed six million signatures, while recent polls confirm people's dissatisfaction with the process – and not just among diehard Remainers.
Leave voters are increasingly suffering from Brexit regret ("Bregret"?) and vocalising their buyer's remorse. An eye-opening 80% of Leave voters now believe the government has handled Brexit negotiations badly (almost as many as the 85% of Remainers who share that view), and they're pessimistic about the deal they believe the UK will secure, with 66% of Leave voters thinking the country is heading for a bad deal (even more than the 64% of Remainers who believe this), according to a newly published survey from NatCen Social Research.
Leave voters are also slightly less likely to say they would vote the same way again than Remain voters (82% compared to 86%), and to top it all off, while we can't conclude with certainty that Remain would win if the referendum were to be held again, plenty of polls suggest that a majority would now prefer to remain in the EU, given everything we know. The average of six recent polls (excluding Don't Know answers) puts Remain at 54% and Leave at 46%, the BBC reported last week. Thus, the need for a space for regretful Leave voters to air their ire and disappointment is increasingly urgent.
Remainer Now, which is campaigning for a People's Vote, was founded in December 2017 for this purpose. The group of former Leave voters, "who want to say 'it's ok to change your mind' and that 2016 was a LONG time ago" (as they maintain on their website), has more than 21.3k Twitter followers and has raised over £11k on Crowdfunder to amplify the voices of other "Bregretters" across the country. While it's understandable, given the current quagmire in which Theresa May finds herself, that many Leave voters would be loath to share their stories publicly, others are doing all they can to rectify the impact of their vote on 23rd June 2016.
Emma Jiao-Knuckey, 38, from Southend-on-Sea in Essex, has been a passionate People's Vote campaigner since realising she'd made a huge mistake the morning after the vote. "I was 50:50 [Leave-Remain] during the referendum campaign, but the NHS and frontline service pledge [of £350m a week] on the bus, and thinking we'd stay in the single market swayed me. I have children with severe disabilities and the NHS has played an amazing role in helping them. I wanted to protect them the way they did us."
Emma Jiao-Knuckey
Needless to say, Jiao-Knuckey, who works as an external contractor for a local university, was bitterly disappointed. "Literally the morning after the vote, Nigel Farage said on Good Morning Britain that the NHS and frontline service pledge was a 'mistake' by Vote Leave. That stung! I felt so scared and cheated."
On top of this, it was witnessing how EU citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe have been treated – "poorly, hastily and they were promised 'unchanged' rights," she says – that prompted Jiao-Knuckey to be vocal about having changed her mind. "Everyone had their own reasons for how they voted and I respect that – but I don't respect the lies and seeing how so many are paying for it."
Jiao-Knuckey says she fully understands Remain voters' anger towards those who voted Leave, explaining that she regularly writes and talks to MPs and peers about being a "Remainer Now", and has demonstrated with campaign groups including Stand of Defiance European Movement (SODEM) outside Westminster. She's also grateful to other pro-Remain groups including In Limbo and Final Say For All, which "let me know it was okay to change my mind, didn't judge me, ensured I didn't feel isolated and helped me channel my upset into positive and peaceful action."

If we were told the facts – what it would be like right now – I’m sure all of us would’ve voted to remain.

Kayleigh White, 31
It was also the Leave campaign's £350m-a-week for the NHS bus pledge that spurred on Kayleigh White, 31, from Pembrokeshire, Wales, to vote that way – and the ensuing chaos that has made her deeply regret her decision. "Brexit has become a shambles," she tells Refinery29. "Trade and businesses are suffering. Food prices increasing and people are stockpiling food. The government is in complete chaos. We’ve become a laughing stock globally. It’s become a Brexit that I never voted for, I along with many others were sold a lie."
The fact that "medication is now being affected" has only hardened her resolve to spread the word of Remain by writing to the prime minister and her local MP Stephen Crabb, although she believes her pleas have "fallen on deaf ears". White continues: "My father takes a certain type of medication and the manufacturer has run out. I voted to save the NHS and it’s important to my family. If we were told the facts – what it would be like right now – I’m sure all of us would’ve voted to remain."

Brexit, if it means anything, is one of the greatest political scams to be played on our democracy.

India Soale, 21
Others who wish they'd never voted Leave freely admit to not having understood what they were voting for. "I voted Leave because I believed it was about ‘taking on the elites' by 'taking back control," admits 21-year-old India Soale, from Brighton, East Sussex. "I was also tricked by fear-mongering and propaganda, such as [warnings about] Turkey joining the EU or the EU becoming a federal state." For her, ultimately, "feeling won over fact" and she believes the Remain campaign failed to capture people's imaginations. "[It] was too much about facts and not enough feeling."
Soale says she regrets having "misunderstood" the EU and would either vote to Remain or abstain in the event of another referendum. "The EU as a whole isn’t just one body, it’s multiple institutions, and it’s thanks to institutions such as the European Court of Justice that British bills such as the Investigatory Powers Act are held to account for deteriorating British human rights, like privacy." She now believes that the most prominent Leavers, like Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg, "have no interest in improving the lives of many who voted for Brexit," and were instead merely attempting to further their own political agenda.
"Brexit, if it means anything, is one of the greatest political scams to be played on our democracy," Soale attests. "Anyone who told Leave voters that Brexit meant this or Brexit meant that was deceiving them. No one knew what Brexit meant and no one cared because no one thought it would happen."

It didn't take long to realise the gravity of my mistake.

Claire Tromans, 38
Claire Tromans
Others' reasons for experiencing "Bregret" are tied to the context of where their lives were at in June 2016. Claire Tromans, 38, from Dudley, West Midlands, says she was in an abusive relationship, during which her "access to TV and the outside world was severely restricted," she tells Refinery29. "As such, I relied heavily on Facebook for media and I wrongly believed a lot of the advertisements from the Leave campaign. And although my vote was part protest at the government at the time, believing the adverts meant that I saw no downsides of Leave winning. More money for the NHS, cheaper goods, what was there to dislike?"
Her political awakening came in July 2018, when she "broke free" from the relationship. "I can only describe it as opening the curtains. I was suddenly flooded with information relating to Brexit," she explains. "It didn't take long to realise the gravity of my mistake. [There was] uncertainty for manufacturing business and agriculture, fear from the EU citizens who'd been here for decades, especially in the light of the Windrush scandal... The impact of Brexit was beyond anything I could have imagined."
Many Remain voters have thanked Tromans for her honesty, she says, with only a few behaving angrily towards her. "Many of us were totally unprepared for a referendum with consequences of this magnitude. I've become vocal among my friends... Many now feel the same as me and totally let down by our mainstream media and politicians." She recently met Green Party MP Caroline Lucas as part of her Dear Leavers project and joined Remainer Now on the People's Vote demonstration in London on 23rd March. "I desperately want a People's Vote to rectify my mistake. I'm far from alone."

More from Global News

R29 Original Series