Brexit and lessons for introverts

An Economist article on the current state of the Brexit debate carries lessons for introverts.

Not simply “shy”, introverts gain their energy from introversion – thinking and alone-time. In contrast to extroverts, they find people-time – parties, events, discussions and arguments – draining. Often, they keep a small group of deeply-trusted friends.

As the world gets ever shoutier and increasingly in-your-face, introverts can have a hard time. As Susan Cain observed in her excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, our western culture seems to have an Extrovert Ideal.

For many sovereign professionals who embrace a largely work-from-home or work-alone lifestyle, being an introvert can be a positive asset. And, of course, introversion brings many benefits. Often, it begets tremendous creativity.

But, introverts need to be aware of the darker side of their nature. They can tend to avoid the things they find such a drain, as the Economist describes:

As a lukewarm Remainer before becoming prime minister in July 2016, [Theresa May] could have embraced both sides of the Brexit divide and all parties when deciding how to implement the vote. She could have been upfront with the public about the trade-offs inherent in Brexit, which always pointed towards messy compromise. And she might have discussed options more openly with other EU  leaders, knowing that they have to agree the terms of any Brexit deal.

Yet she chose to do none of this. Without consulting even her own cabinet she decided in October 2016 to lay down “red lines” for Brexit, which amounted to leaving the single market and customs union, ending the free movement of people and escaping entirely the jurisdiction of European courts. These promises pointed inexorably towards a radical break with the EU. She then opted in March 2017 to invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty, which set a two-year deadline for Britain to leave, without being clearer on the detailed course that she wanted.

Along the way she ignored the advice of experienced officials and diplomats, losing her ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, in early 2017. Instead she fell back on a coterie of familiar counsellors less knowledgeable about Brussels. She also called an unnecessary election in June 2017, again without consulting colleagues, in which she lost her party’s majority, forcing her to rely on support from the DUP, hideously complicating the Brexit negotiations regarding Northern Ireland. And she then conducted the talks largely in secret, not informing her own MPs or even her own Brexit secretary (she is now on her third of them) about what she was doing.

Many of these failings reflect Mrs May’s introverted nature. She likes to rely on a small, closed circle of advisers and officials, many of whom she recruited during her six earlier years as home secretary. She is unclubbable, seldom seen in the tea rooms or bars of Parliament. She has few close friends in Westminster, even within the cabinet. None of these qualities is necessarily bad—indeed, the conscientious and hardworking Mrs May initially made a refreshing contrast to her predecessor. But faced with a challenge on the scale of Brexit, these characteristics have helped to land her in the mess she is in today.

Read the full Economist article, The Noes Have It, here.

Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash