This mess was, of course, both predictable and predicted. That’s why I was struck, visiting Britain this summer, by the curious political taboo against discussing how badly Brexit went, even among many who voted against it. Seven years ago, Brexit was an early harbinger of the revolt against cosmopolitanism that swept Donald Trump to power. (Trump even borrowed the moniker “Mr. Brexit” for himself.) Both ventures — Britain’s divorce from the EU and Trump’s rule in the United States — turned out disastrously. Both left their countries tired and exhausted. But while America can’t stop talking about Trump, many in the UK can barely think about Brexit.

“It’s so toxic,” Tobias Ellwood, a Tory lawmaker who called on his colleagues to admit Brexit was a mistake, told me. “People invested so much time and pain and agony for this.” It’s like an “injury,” he said, that people want to avoid picking. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, one of the few Labor leaders keen to discuss the consequences of leaving the EU, described an “omertà”, or vow of silence, around it. “It’s the elephant in the room,” he told me. “I’m upset that no one is talking about it.”

Part of the reason that nobody – or almost nobody – is talking about the consequences of Brexit lies with the demographics of the Labor Party. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of Labor voters supported Brexit, and these voters are concentrated in the so-called Red Wall – working-class areas in the Midlands and Northern England that once firmly supported Labor but swung right in the 2019 election. “These voters do not want to have a conversation about Brexit,” said Joshua Simons, the director of Labor Together, a think tank close to the Labor leadership.

Sheer exhaustion also contributes to unwelcome Brexit talk: Between the vote to leave the European Union in 2016 and the final deal in 2020, the issue has consumed British politics, and many people just want to move on. Simons argues that there is also a third factor: a sense that the results of a democratic referendum must be honored. He cites a point his mentor, the political philosopher Danielle Allen, made after the 2016 vote. “Finally, in a democracy, sometimes you all do crazy things together,” Simons said. “And what becomes more important is not whether the crazy thing was a good or a bad thing. It’s that you do it together.”

As someone from a much more polarized country, I found this idea somewhat foreign. If the Trumpist electorate had imposed such an expensive and ultimately unpopular policy on the country, I suspect there would have been a rush among Democrats to reverse it. But in Britain, referendums – which are rare and only held to deal with important issues – have a political importance that is difficult for an outsider like me to understand.

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