Sometimes we just have to state the obvious. Brexit is a bad idea. It has already split the country and gave voice to all manner of nasty beliefs once thought dead and buried.
It has already made life harder, more costly, for a country that’s had to put up with seven long years of government cuts. That’s even before we factor in how Brexit will wreck manufacturing, drive out foreign firms like Nissan, and gut our financial sector, which has propped up the UK since the 1980s.
So, racist, skint and cruel? Perhaps it is the spirit of the times. It will also diminish the UK on the world stage.
The Irish taoiseach has already proposed what, for Britain at least, had once been unthinkable – a united Ireland. The UK’s reputation as a world power, already long in doubt after the colonies had the good sense to kick us out, has been further diminished.
“When the ends justify the means,
every dark impulse finds its expression.”
The trade deals will not flood in. Our good name and influence were squandered just so the likes of Boris Johnson and David Davis can have jobs. Questions have been asked, not without justification, as to whether the UK should even keep its seat on the Security Council.
The end of its 71 year place on the International Court of Justice might be a harbinger of a far less important, much more obscure future. We will end up old, poor, and ignored, like the mad git at the end of the street who shouts at children for being too happy.
The Utopian Urge
Why, then, do so many Brexiters still stand by this total folly? In part, when one has bet the farm on a political position, it is hard to admit it has failed. Ask a Blairite.
For others, Brexit has become a magical blue passport to a happy (white) land where you can leave your back door open and the relentless flow of history will finally be called to a halt. This odd mix of nostalgia, derp and low bigotry does, of course, echo the rise of Trump and other far-right chancers across the world. But there is one other factor at play.
So why do so many “patriots” support Brexit? The truth is stark. When you believe in something to the point of zealotry, nothing else matters.
We see this all the time. Evangelical Christians want the Rapture. ISIS want a Caliphate. Pol Pot sought Year Zero. Hitler drew up ever more outlandish schemes in der fuhrerbunker, even as the Soviets parked their tanks down the strasse. Silicon Valley nerds still believe in the libertarian trainwreck that is social media… It all comes from the same place – an avid belief in a utopian ideal has rendered them not just blinkered, but nihilistic.
This is not hyperbole. Fundamentalist Christians in Alabama were more than happy to come out and vote in droves for alleged sex case and avowed racist Roy Moore. It was one step closer to God’s Kingdom.
Likewise with their support for Trump, a man who would surely burst into flames if he ever walked into a church. All other considerations were cast aside. Common decency. Pragmatism. Reason.
Which brings us neatly to Brexit. It is clear that many Brexiteers have no interest in the social cost of their mad scheme. The giddy-headed dogma and wide eyed zeal of the goal is enough.
True, they can rationalise it to themselves with the promise of ‘restored sovereignty’ and ‘control over our borders’ (neither of which we ever lost in the first place), and some Blimpish dream of ruling the waves once more. But the urge is a kind of kamikaze postmodernism. The goal must be achieved at any cost.
Who cares if Northern Ireland tears itself apart or young people lose the chance to find work and education on the continent? Who cares if Britain gets poorer and ever more isolated, chlorinated chicken gives us the runs and some Polish bloke gets kicked to death down a side alley? We are once again a free, sovereign nation! Whatever that means.
‘From The Mouths of Berks…’
There is no surer proof of this than the words and deeds of the key Brexiteers themselves. Boris Johnson and Daniel Hannan’s blatant lies. Gove’s disdain for knowledge. Kate Hoey’s odd belief that the Commonwealth will run to our rescue. Nigel Farage’s many, many indecencies. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s gimpish absolutism.
Or how Theresa May moved from Remain to Leave en route to Downing Street, with a sheer contempt for ‘citizens of nowhere’ and a cavalier sneer towards truth and empathy. Like James Hogg’s Justified Sinner, they drive down the highway to hell with a big antinomian grin on their faces. When the ends justify the means, every dark impulse finds its expression.
“So, racist, skint and cruel?
Perhaps it is the spirit of the times.”
The patriotism of Brexiteers is suspect at the best of times. You can’t wrap yourself in the Union Flag and set fire to it at the same time. But it is also a cover for something darker.
The Brexit hardliners don’t care about Britain, about you or I, about anything other than the fulfilment of their dogma. They will lead their followers off a cliff and drag the rest of us down for good measure.
It is of course good to have something you are willing to fight for. But that does not give us the right to sacrifice others. Least of all, for a one-way ticket to 1972, and Britannia on its knees, begging for a mercy it has never saw fit to render.
Foreground image by tao lin @ Flickr. Used and modified under the terms of the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.
Background image by Nicolas Raymond @ Flickr. Used and modified under the terms of the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.
Alexander Hay is a writer and polemicist based online and in print.