A nation divided: What UK celebrities said about Brexit

Brexit has been an emotional and highly divisive issue from the very start. [EPA/STR UK AND IRELAND OUT]

The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union has been a highly divisive and emotional issue from the very start, and the rhetoric around it rarely failed to attract attention or generate eye-catching headlines.

While most European readers remember the politicians who steered the process – from David Cameron to Boris Johnson – on the last day of the UK’s membership of the bloc, EURACTIV has compiled a list of Brexit quotes from British showbiz and sports celebrities, who have also been divided by the issue.

A nation divided

The acting and music community are mainly Remain supporters. A group of over 300 actors, artists and writers, including Richard Curtis, J.K Rowling, Benedict Cumberbatch wrote open letters ahead of the 2016 referendum urging a Remain vote. On the other side, actress Liz Hurley, stripped naked (except for a conveniently placed Union Jack) to back Brexit, while her ex-partner Hugh Grant was a Remainer.

The sporting community was more divided, though fewer were prepared to nail their flag to the mast. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and the Beckham couple publicly backed Remain. Ex-football star Sol Campbell campaigned for a Leave vote and then sought the Conservative party’s nomination to stand as London Mayor.

Cricket heroes Sir Ian Botham and Theresa May’s favourite son of Yorkshire, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, both came out for Brexit.

But the views of Britain’s celebrities were treated with the same disdain as the pro-Remain campaign efforts by economists, lawyers, academics and business leaders, all of whom published open letters urging voters to back EU membership to little avail.

That football hero Gary Lineker – one of the few British sportspeople to use a transfer abroad to learn another language – would be an ardent Remainer and a lead campaigner for a ‘People’s Vote’, aka a second referendum, was to be suspected.

Similarly, having sped around in a Union Jack liveried Mini Cooper in ‘The Italian Job’, 1960s Cool Britannia icon Michael Caine emerging as a Brexiteer was perhaps no great surprise.

The two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, were on opposing sides: Paul’s a Remainer and Ringo a Brexiteer, in case you were wondering.

Similarly, the Who’s Roger Daltrey supported the UK’s exit while Pete Townshend was as cryptic as ever but hinted that he liked the idea behind the EU and was confused by Brexit.

The 1990 World Cup team, which lost to Germany on penalties in the semi-final, was also split. Lineker and midfielder Peter Reid got into a spat, inevitably, on Twitter, with Brexit supporting goalkeeper Peter Shilton and winger Chris Waddle.

Hugh Grant campaigned, albeit unsuccessfully, for pro-Remain Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in the December general election.

Lineker has now admitted defeat telling the Guardian this week that: “It’s a done deal, so get on with it now. I don’t tweet about it any more. Some people keep going on about it – but I’m not going to bother saying: ‘I told you so’.”

Acceptance, even if you don’t like the result, is now the prevailing message.

“There’s only f***ing one thing worse than a fool who voted for Brexit. That’s the rise of the c**** trying to get the vote overturned,” said Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. And that was before Boris Johnson’s landslide election victory killed off the prospects of a second referendum.

With the Brexit question now settled decisively, perhaps the UK’s healing process can finally begin.

Below is a short selection of Brexit quotes from celebrities in showbiz and sports, which capture some of the logic and madness at the heart of the Brexit debate. Read/watch and see if there are any surprises…

///

Gary Lineker

“Bloody hell! U kip for a couple of hours and look what happens. What have we gone and done?”

Richard Branson

“Leaving the EU is a very sad decision that will do huge damage to Britain’s prosperity & Europe’s stability.”

Daniel Craig was pictured wearing a vote Remain t-shirt with the words “No man is an island. No country by itself”

Michael Caine 

“I voted for Brexit. What it is with me, I’d rather be a poor master than a rich servant. “It wasn’t about the racism, immigrants or anything, it was about freedom.”

Liz Hurley

“If it means we can go back to using decent lightbulbs (60-watt, peach-coloured, both bayonet and screw-in) and choose high-powered hairdryers and vacuum cleaners if we so wish, I’m joining Brexit for sure.”

Bear Grylls

“Europe has many flaws, but I also believe the way to help resolve many of those tough issues is from within.“

Noel Gallagher 

“There’s only f***ing one thing worse than a fool who voted for Brexit. That’s the rise of the c**** trying to get the vote overturned.”

“You take part in a democratic f***ing process – if you don’t like the outcome, go to North Korea.”

Liam Gallagher

“No thoughts on it, man. I love Europe”, he said. “I guess the borders have got to be tightened but all that stuff about going ‘this is my country’, I don’t get that. We all live under one sky. I certainly don’t sit there and go ‘this is my f***in’ England, stay out’, but I think we should definitely keep an eye on who’s coming in and out of the country”.

Paul McCartney:

“It was probably a mistake, the first referendum. I don’t think anyone quite knows what to do with it… I think we’ll come through this. I think it’s a mess and I will be glad when it’s over.”

Ringo Starr

“The people voted and they have to get on with it. I would have voted for Brexit, I would have voted to get out. But don’t tell Bob Geldof, ha, ha. I think it’s a great move, to be in control of your own country.”

Roger Daltrey (about remainers)

“If you want to sign up to be ruled by a f***g mafia, you do it. Like being governed by FIFA.”

In 2016: “I don’t think we should fear coming out. To get out would take probably two to five years. We should invoke Article 50 of the Treaty, and then apply to join these other trade groups. And why would they turn us away? Everybody needs to trade.”

Hugh Grant

“Brexit was a fantastic example of a nation shooting itself full in the face.”

Elton John

“I am so sick to death of politicians, especially British politicians. I am sick to death of Brexit. I am a European. I am not a stupid colonial, imperialist English idiot, I am ashamed of my country, of what it has done, it has torn people apart.”

///

A blank canvas

Britain’s future remains extremely unclear. What Brexit will mean in practice is still a blank canvas.

As so often, the younger Gallagher brother, Liam, speaks for millions of Britons who wonder how their country got itself in such an existential mess.

“I don’t know what Brexit is. Does anyone, really? All I do know is that David Cameron wants his bollocks fucking electrocuted for bringing it on in the first place.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Benjamin Fox]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.