Be careful what you wish for. So explains the Brexiteer and Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie on why, four days on, he has buyer’s remorse over his vote to leave.
MacKenzie may be the one of highest-profile figures so far to publicly admit regret over his vote, but he is not alone. Hashtags such as #Bregret #Bregretters and #Bregreter have sprung up on social media, while a poll by Survation for the Mail on Sunday found 7.1% of leave voters expressed regret over their decision, compared with 4.4% of remain voters.
MacKenzie, in his column on Monday, described the “surge” he felt when he voted leave, “as though for the first time in my life my vote did count. I had power.”
But he said on Monday: “Four days later, I don’t feel quite the same. I’ve buyer’s remorse. A sense of be careful what you wish for. To be truthful, I am fearful of what lies ahead.”
Among the regretful leave voters who spoke to the Guardian, some expressed shock at the ramifications of what they had meant as a protest vote. Others expressed feelings of betrayal over the leave campaign’s rhetoric, the promises and the subsequent backpedaling by politicians.
Nigel Farage conceded early on Friday that a Vote Leave message on the side of a campaign bus promising to spend £350m European Union cash on the NHS after Brexit was a mistake, while Iain Duncan Smith has denied it was ever a promise in the first place.
Some disappointed leave voters expressed a hope that things could still be turned around, that a leave vote would not be final.
Adrian Cook, 46, a clinical researcher from Sheffield who voted leave as a protest vote, said he was now “so ashamed” of what he had done that he had issued an emotional apology to his wife and children.
Cook said: “Yes, I regret it. When I heard the result I should be elated but I immediately thought this is a massive cockup what have we done. I just thought my protest vote would give Cameron a kick up the trousers.
“I voted early on Thursday not even thinking about it, I was that convinced. Me and my wife have had a series of heated debates. I’ve mostly been reiterating things I’d heard on the TV.
“It was stupidity on my part. We’re told how badly off we are, how we need austerity and cutting local services and Brussels don’t do much for the man on the street.”
Cook said he believed it was a chance to “get rid of one of the tiers of power, but it turns out it was the wrong one”.
He added: “I’ve voted Labour for three or four general elections. But as I became a family person with a job I became more and more Conservative. Immigration was one of my reasons but not the main issue.
“I’ve apologised to my wife and two kids. It was emotional. I sat them down and said I’m ashamed of what I’ve done and I’ve cost this family financially. I thought if there was another referendum I wouldn’t vote at all, but now I probably would vote to remain.
“This country needs people like me to get together, people to say we made a mistake and want the right to take it back.”
Cook said he now hoped Britain could hold off an EU exit long enough for it to negotiate a rethink.
Others who expressed regret over a leave vote said they had not expected the result nor foreseen the political or financial ramifications.
At Kings Cross station, Yvonne Taylor, 63, a care assistant from Bradford, said she now regretted her vote to leave, as did some of her friends.
“I voted out for future generations because I thought it would be better for Britain,” said Taylor. “I don’t follow politics, so you follow suit, don’t you? The majority of my friends voted out. But I regret it.
“I’ve heard lots of people say they wish they hadn’t. They’re shocked. Everybody is resigning, the pound has gone down. I didn’t see that coming.”
Lianne, 36, from Leeds, who works in financial services and did not want to give her surname, said she had voted leave but felt she could easily have been persuaded to vote remain.
“I was very much on the fence, but in the end a lot of our industry has gone and been taken out of the country,” she said. “That’s affected a lot of families in Leeds. It was seeing that.”
She said that while she did not regret her vote, she felt that disinformationfrom both sides had cheated her of the chance to make a well-informed decision.
“I’m nervous of the future. We are headed for troubled times and it will not get better for a long time. We could have done with more hard facts rather than the claptrap we were given by both sides.”
Darryn Smith, a leave voter from Aberdeen, said he was unhappy about leave campaigners reigning back from promises they had made. “The only reason I voted to leave is because the leave campaign said that the £350m they gave to the EU will all go to the NHS, but then I watched that Good Morning Britain with Nigel Farage on it and he denied that he said the £350m would go to the NHS. So I’m very unhappy about that and it’s one of the reasons I regret my vote.”
There was a reluctance among those who expressed regret to be named. One leave voter from the Midlands said: “Overall, I am unhappy as I feel the political establishment should have spent more time spelling out more of the benefits. This may have swayed my opinion.
“Is it a disaster? I don’t think so. We lived this way for a long time before we were part of the union. Is it going to be better as a sovereign state? Who can truly say? I suspect it will be as good as we choose to make it.
“We need to be strong, liberal and magnificent rather than inward facing. I hope that the country can pick itself up, dust itself down and start to love and truly understand its people and its friends in Europe.”
This article was written by Karen McVeigh and Carmen Fishwick, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th June 2016 20.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010