Wounds are still raw in the anti-Brexit lobby, so it’s no surprise that things got heated earlier this week after one of the architects of the UK’s Brexit vote appeared to admit that the decision may yet turn out to be “an error”.
The comment was made by Dominic Cummings, former campaign director for Vote Leave, during a Twitter exchange with the legal commentator David Allen Green.
Asked if there was anything that could happen to make Cummings wish that Leave had not won the referendum, the Brexiteer replied: “[I]in some possible branches of the future leaving will be error.”
His remarks were seized upon with relish by Remain-supporting newspapers, activists and politicians, including Lib Dem leader Tim Farron who said Cummings had “let the cat out of the bag” and that “Brexiteers have sold us a pup and lied to the public.” Alastair Campbell and Gary Lineker quickly joined in, too.
By yesterday afternoon, the incident had sparked scores of furious and outraged statements and articles – all repeating the idea that Cummings had “confessed” or “come clean” on the looming disaster of his own making.
The pace with which smart (and admittedly, less smart) people pounced on the supposed admission was unedifying, misleading and unfair. A simple scroll through Cummings’ tweets reveals that he’s always talking about the theory of branching futures.
His tweets (like his fascinating if impenetrable blog) are largely devoted to advanced physics, cognitive psychology, machine learning, philosophy and complex mathematics.
In other words, his throw-away remark that some “possible future branches” exist in which Brexit is an error should be taken not as a gaffe or a frank admission but as a literal observation – in the same way one has to recognise a possible future branch in which Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister or Gary Lineker gets a regular slot on Question Time.
Neither of these things are remotely desirable but they do exist as possibilities. Cummings is the first person to admit that Brexit will be a complex and difficult process, that our politicians and civil servants are more than capable of messing it up, and that a vast range of potential outcomes therefore exist.
Rather than taking delight in trying to trip him up with his own tweets, Remainers should engage with his detailed and honest assessment of the state of the Brexit debate and the approach that the government is taking. They might even learn something.