Basketcase Britain: Two Years After the EU Referendum, the Tories Are Still Clueless and Racism Is Still Rampant

23.6.18

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Exactly two years ago, Britain went to the polls for what turned out to be one of the most depressing days, politically, in my entire life, as a small majority (51.89%) of the 72.21% of the population who could be bothered to vote expressed their desire to leave the EU.

The referendum was merely advisory; in other words, it was not legally binding, but the government never acknowledged this. In fact, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority, but the Tories ignored that as well.

David Cameron, who had called the referendum to placate UKIP and the far right of his own party, and had mistakenly thought it would be an easy win, walked off unscathed into the sunset, and after a short bloodbath the hapless Theresa May — who had spent six years as a horribly racist Home Secretary — was apparently the only senior minister left standing who could take over.

And because “the will of the people” apparently had to be respected, May has, ever since, been at the head of a cabinet that, essentially, represents the success of the kind of isolationist lunatics that even Margaret Thatcher recognized as needing to be kept firmly locked in a box throughout her premiership.

Out of his depth, David Davis heads the government’s Brexiteers, along with the vile Liam Fox, and the totally unprincipled Boris Johnson, whose cheerleading for leaving the EU played a major part in the Leave campaign’s success, even though Boris didn’t mean it, and was only going along with it as he jockeyed for position.

Weirdo Michael Gove is back too, and bizarrely even medieval throwbacks like arch-Leaver Jacob Rees-Mogg are getting serious media coverage these days — as part of the mainstream media’s extraordinary failure to question the Brexit narrative properly. Back in 2015-16, they behaved as though Nigel Farage was the King of England, or the Prime Minister, when he was the head of a party with, at most, one MP, and now the media fawn over the ridiculous figure of Rees-Mogg.

After the result, like so many liberal Remainers, I was actually quite depressed, as my articles from the time show; from the day after, UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, and, from June 26, 2016, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends.

I then followed the twists and turns as Parliament, generally in a depressingly feeble manner, made noises about needing the right to meaningfully participate in the Brexit process — which Brexiteers hated, even though the whole point of Brexit was to wrest back the illusory control that the EU had to restore British sovereignty, which, in the UK, resides with Parliament, and not with whichever clown is installed in 10 Downing Street.

But this is all just part of the Brexit madness that has existed for the last two years. When a legal challenge was mounted, the pro-Brexit tabloids — in particular, the Daily Mail under the execrable Paul Dacre, and the Sun under non-Brit Rupert Murdoch — accused High Court and Supreme Court judges of being traitors, and they continue to do the same every time MPs or the House of Lords do anything to rock their ludicrous fantasies about Brexit.

Leaving the EU, contrary to the Brexiteers’ blunt obsession with pretending that it’s as simple as shutting a door, is to undo 45 years of laws and treaties that have created an incredibly complex system tying us to our European neighbours — facilitating the seamless trade with the EU that constitutes 60% of our business, a fact that ought to provide a compelling reason for not allowing Brexit to proceed.

My analogy is that Brexit is like chopping a body in half, but then having only a few minutes for the surgery required to prevent the body from dying — an impossible task, but in our new fantasy Britain, the Brexiteers will be denying that we’re bleeding to death until they draw their final breath.

Brexiteers, meanwhile, have no answers to Remainers’ thoroughly valid sense of alarm, relying on simple-minded platitudes that fail to bear up under even the most minimal scrutiny. To be honest, I have found the whole topic so depressing that I have largely given up on it over the last year, although I always keep an eye out for the crucial analysis of Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, whose book Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? is required reading — and also includes some serious analysis of the elephant in the room that the Tories simply don’t want to properly acknowledge: that there is an intractable Irish border problem that can’t be wished away, and that may either cause a resurgence of war in Ireland (generally referred to quaintly as ‘the Troubles’) or the break-up of the Union (which is supposed to be absolutely central to the Tories’ political philosophy), with, no doubt, Scotland following if Brexit goes ahead. Such is the Brexit madness, however, that last week, when polled on this, a majority of die-hard Brexiteers said they’d be happy to lose Northern Ireland to preserve their Brexit fantasy.

Another baleful effect of the Brexit vote, which I must note, before I reflect on where we are now and what the future might bring, is that racism is noticeably on the rise in Brexit Britain. Whenever I have met an EU national in the last two years, I have apologised for the change in their treatment over the last two years, asking about, and always receiving confirmation that, since the referendum, they have been subjected to abuse, and being told to “go home”, that simply didn’t happen before. The cat is out of the bag, and what vicious, mangy creature it is.

So where are we now? Today, I’m glad to note, an estimated 100,000 people marched in central London to demand a second referendum. I wasn’t able to make it, as I had an important housing campaign meeting in Lewisham, but I also couldn’t quite face yet another incredibly polite pro-EU march, as I’ve been on many in the last two years, and I don’t think politeness is really working. I was, however, pleased to note that the Observer reported the following:

With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”.

A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.

Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp.

The Observer added:

Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving.

More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.

The only real way for that to happen, of course, is for Brexit to be scrapped, but despite today’s protest, it remains unclear how that can happen. Personally, I’m not sure I trust the electorate to deliver a second referendum result different from the first, given that the country is still, on balance, or for less balanced between Leave and Remain, with, still, millions of people who refuse to make any kind of commitment one way or another.

I actually think MPs should derail it, but I don’t hold out much hope for that either, as they have generally been so craven when it comes to rocking the Brexit boat. Resistance by the Lords has been more robust, but they lack the power to genuinely stop the government in an meaningful manner.

Do we really have to crash out of the EU, and destroy our economy, before we wake up, kick out the Tories, and ask the EU to forgive our episode of madness and let us back in?

I fear that the answer is yes, as I remember why it is that I’ve been so studiously avoiding engaging with Brexit for most of the last year. It’s simply too depressing …

Note: Anyone who’s seen my band The Four Fathers recently will know that we perform a storming song I wrote about Brexit, ‘I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, which we’ll be recording in about three weeks’ time, and then intend to release. Do get in touch if you want to be informed about its release.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    It’s two years since the EU referendum, when a small majority (51.89%) of those who could be bothered to turn out to vote (72% of the eligible electorate) called for the UK to leave the EU. Here are my reflections on the last two years, and my reasons for largely giving up on the whole Brexit madness, while lamenting what it has done to our politics as a whole, and how it has facilitated a truly appalling rise of racism. Today, 100,000 people marched in central London to call for a second referendum, but I have to say that I can still see no easy escape route from our collective suicide. I wouldn’t trust my fellow citizens in a second referendum, and I think it’s the job of Parliament should derail Brexit, but unfortunately I don’t think MPs, who were 2 to 1 in favour of staying in the EU, will put principles – even to save the nation from economic ruin – before their personal survival. What is to be done?

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Sharing, Andy.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. Two years of low-level dread, and all because of that little prat David Cameron, who shrugged it all off with a whistle and is now paid hundreds of thousands a night for after-dinner speeches …

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Awful, Andy. I am worried about Brexit and a domino effect for other EU countries. Also the large support for the Swedish Nazis and 2 affiliated violent groups.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, where to begin, George? The main thing that will put other EU countries off the road to separatism will be the UK’s economic collapse if Brexit goes ahead, but the rise of the far-right, and far right tendencies amongst people who actually think they’re reasonable people, is very troubling across the EU, with, as you note, fascist groups in Sweden, and quite serious problems with far right movement almost everywhere in the EU. It’s the normal-sounding, normal-looking young white racists who particularly scare me, George. I’ve seen some of them interviewed. You wouldn’t think their minds are the cesspits they are, as they look and sound so normal and decent. Troubling times.

  6. Tom says...

    Unfortunately many of the same things are happening here. Trump and his racist bots continue to try and accomplish their goal of literally getting rid of all people of color. Get rid of all immigration and asylum judges and defense attorneys. Can we just shoot everyone who comes across the border? Lock up tiny little kids in cages. Don’t touch them, don’t explain anything to them. If they fight back, pin them down and drug them against their will. Constantly move them around so the press and advocate groups can’t find them. If they’re moved to a military prison camp, everything is “classified”. Which is the perfect cover.

    Notice how desperately Trump wants to use the N word in public. It’s not like coded Reagan racism. His bots obediently see him and say great. Now no more of this politically correct bs. What Trump really wants to do is to put away all opponents in black sites. Under the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), if he says that you’re a “threat to national security” (in the broadest legal sense), you can be locked away forever. Don’t be surprised when his Attorney General try to use this to justify getting rid of all immigrants, Muslims, etc.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    I hear you, Tom. It’s very bleak in the US right now. Trump is such a disgusting racist, and it’s genuinely alarming to see where that’s taking us. The stories of children being separated from their parents, and the way they’re being treated, is heartbreaking.

  8. Tom says...

    This reminds me of an interview I saw with John Bercow. After he started as the House of Commons Speaker, he was stopped in the hallway by a hard right wing Tory member. The message? If it were up to me, people like YOU would never be allowed in here. Bercow is Jewish.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    There are so many unpleasant politicians, Tom, aren’t there? It’s always a wonder to find decent examples.

  10. Tom says...

    Is there a racial abuse prevention law in the UK? I know in Australia they’ve had one for a long time. But then some Liberal minister tried to get PM Turnbull to support scrapping it.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    There’s a law about inciting racial hatred, which the Tories introduced to deal with Islamist agitators. But of course they don’t tend to use it against white supremacists. It’s crossing a line into banning free speech, I think, and what’s actually needed is the ability to argue back against these kinds of people.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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