‘We showed them,’ they croaked, spittle oozing down their sausage roll encrusted chins. Good old fashioned British drool mingling with cheap leftover lager. None of that continental rubbish. The drunken “Leave” voters—a merry band of Brexiteers—wave their cheap, tiny plastic Union Jack flags, much like their hero Nigel Farage on his last cringeworthy day in the European Parliament on the 29th of January. Giggling like a small band of schoolchildren on an exchange programme, while trying so very desperately to sound authoritarian and measured. Farage, the naughty ringleader, is a disgraced children’s television presenter turned disc jockey relegated to playing out of favour oldies. Thankfully, the European parliament’s Vice President Mairead McGuinness put the naughty boys in their place, cutting off Farage’s rambling and inconsequential Cromwellian speech.
“Put your flags away and take them with you,” she told them. “You’re leaving. Goodbye.” Not the last time an Irish voice tells a rowdy group of Little Englanders to leave and take their flags with them either. The next couple of years shall see to that.
Idly and solemnly their dim patriotic pride shadows the country’s withdrawal from the European project—a project that has for decades kept nationalists, dictators and despots from tearing the fabric of the continent apart. As the drizzly rain falls upon this hungover morning, the small, worn and dirty triangular banners of flags that bear the symbol of the Union Jack shall issue a wheezing and crackled relief.
In their victory, the Brexiteers failed their country. The remnants of the mythical empire that the Leave voters were tricked into thinking was still alive and relevant has faded along with the integrity of Tory spin doctor Dominic Cummings’ plan to “level up” the forthcoming budget on March 11th by ruthlessly sacking chancellor Sajid Javid and replacing him with a shill who will play ball with his plans for overspending.1 The British economy is soon set to nosedive. Within the time it takes for the British economy to falter and the union to crumble, all that shall remain is the madness, self-obsession, entitlement and OUTRAGE of the Brexiteers. Even the very moniker, Brexiteer, which cooked up allusions to swashbuckling sailors rampaging across the seven seas, is severely delusional and downright laughable.
And what of the good old Union Jack’s endangered post-Brexit future? Once Scotland votes in referendum to leave the Union and Northern Ireland and the Republic unify, Brexiteers will have to make do with waving a little plastic St George’s cross instead. Although the predominance of white in that particular flag will surely sit very well with many of the Leave voter’s preferences.
For the “Leavers,” the myth that the EU controlled immigration into Britain has been essential to fueling xenophobia. This was a bold lie. Britain has always had the ability to control its immigration and was never beholden to the EU.2 Without both skilled and unskilled migrant workers, whole sectors of the country’s infrastructure would be put at risk. The National Health Service (NHS) is key amongst these sectors. Support groups have been established for immigrant doctors, nurses and support staff in what are terribly worrying and uncertain times for them.
The disdainful “Happy Brexit Day” poster that was plastered around a block of flats in Norwich the day after perfectly encapsulates this racism and xenophobia. The poorly worded, grammatically incorrect rant stated: “We do not tolerate people speaking other languages than English in the flats.” And “You won’t have long till our government will implement rules that will put British first. So, best evolve or leave.” Ignorant and ominous nuggets of unwanted advice.
In a 2016 poll, 96 percent of the members of the Creative Industries Federation said they wanted to remain in the European Union and the strain of Brexit on the artistic community is being felt.3 With new tariffs and trade deals, the chaos and delays affecting the importation of artworks will negatively impact galleries, possibly forcing many to close. The implications of Brexit on musicians touring throughout Europe are also complex. Extra expenses due to new visa requirements and taxation on the transportation of equipment and merchandise will mean that many touring musicians may not be able to afford to leave Britain. British touring crews are already being held up at European border crossings despite the Brexit transition period running until 31st December.4 A petition has been set up by the Musicians’ Union “calling on Government and Parliament to back a Musicians’ Passport for working in the EU post-Brexit.”5
Brexit will not only impact British musicians wishing to tour Europe, but also foreign musicians performing in the UK. Home Secretary Priti Patel’s new legislation on immigration will negatively affect and effectively shut out many artists from touring within the UK. The creative arts and music industry brings in an estimated £111 billion to the economy a year and is the number one income generating sector in the country.6 This new legislation would strangulate an essential facet of monetary income and leave the UK music industry a shadow of its former self.
Artists who rely upon EU funding may also be left out in the cold. Karl Porter, an artist from Derry in Northern Ireland says, “People feel let down and have no clue what is happening with Brexit. Within the arts we deliver approximately 50 to 70 percent of our work to both [Unionist and Republican] communities. Funding will be severely affected [by Brexit], there are a lot of local jobs fully funded by EU initiatives. This will likely come to an end and all of the progress that’s been happening within the communities for years will be wiped out.”
Many automated kiosks at European airports are no longer accepting British passports. Increasingly, artists will face a Kafkaesque process of paperwork and diplomatic hoop jumping if they wish to have their work and craft seen outside the confines of the British Isles.
The tumultuous years ahead will see the replacement of the cheap Union Jack banners and plastic that decorated many a Brexit celebration. The True Patriot’s abode shall instead be decorated with intestinal fear, unemployment, financial ruin and dread uncertainty. The mistrust of the very establishment they were bamboozled into voting for shall be their loathe reward. Roasted over fires prepared by their overlords, they shall spit and fizzle like fine British hogs. Subservient to the very last. Manacled by lies cloaked in false nostalgia, the poor bastards shall waste away in an imagined hallucination, straightjacketed by a collective delusion.
Boris Johnson’s meaningless proclamation that Britain is the “greatest place on earth” will surely come back to haunt him. Nostalgia for the Second World War has reached rampant new heights—the idea of a Britain isolated and bullied by the continental Johnny Foreigner has been very effectively utilized in order to foment the trademark ‘us and them’ mentality. War films and documentaries stifle the air waves and each new anniversary is obsessively marked and rinsed.
I can only imagine the disappointment and disgust my own grandfather and many of his comrades would feel, seeing their efforts to keep Europe united and free from tyranny being co-opted and manipulated by the very type of despotic, narcissist politicos they took up arms against. The fascist, nationalist agenda that cost so many lives in the last century should have been discarded and buried in the 21st century, yet it persists within the very fabric of the UK’s society.
In this populist cesspool, institutional racism has once again been given free pass. This venomous perspective was brought into sharp focus when Boris Johnson recently hired Andrew Sabisky as an advisor. Sabisky’s eugenicist views correspond with the government’s racist actions and rhetoric. He has claimed in the past that black Americans have a lower average IQ than white people and are more likely to have an “intellectual disability.” He has stated that, “Women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s,” and suggested that enforced contraception be used to prevent the creation of a “permanent underclass.” Sabisky resigned when these revelations were brought to light but Johnson’s own refusal to condemn these views or to fire his newly appointed advisor speaks volumes about the Prime Minster and his own personal prejudices.
Sabisky and Johnson would have been a match made in the fiery depths of hell. Dancing around the Boschian pits as Thatcher looked on, cackling with glee as she flagellated the political strategist Dominic Cummings yelping for more “weirdos and misfits with odd skills.”7 Sure enough there shall be a bounty of miscreants and social vandals queuing up for their crack at the big time. Reality TV knockoffs more than eager to jump into the all-engulfing flame of far-right oblivion. After all, if it’s good enough for the President of the United States, then why not indeed.
This brand of nationalist sentiment is stretching across the Irish Sea where uncertainty and tension stirs once again. The dilemma of a hard border between the North and South of Ireland coupled with British government efforts to grant amnesty for military personnel who murdered civilians, including children, during The Troubles could set the peace process back immeasurably. According to local Derry musician, Declan Mclaughlin, Brexit is seen by the native population as another failed attempt to reinstate the border that undermines a relative and delicate peace. “Brexit is setting a bad standard amongst the Unionist community,” says Mclaughlin. “Flag waving and right wing chest-thumping has had a very negative effect upon the working class Unionists and what they see as their place in the UK. I would just like to see Ireland brought together as a country, and as a people.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s artists and creative communities are left in a state of perpetual free fall concerning what they fear will surely be a severe restriction on the open exchange of talent and ideas. Free movement throughout Europe has allowed the arts to thrive, integrate and cross-pollinate for decades and to stifle this essential facet of civil society would be disastrous on a social and cultural level. Barriers imposed by new taxes and regulations, the exodus of European artists from Britain, and the restricted mobility of British artists and performers throughout Europe will have a catastrophic impact on the arts and culture across the continent.
Commence the last year of the empire. Would the last person in Britain please turn out the lights.
Ben Rogers is an actor and musician, originally from the West Country of England, in the county of Dorset. He has divided his time between New Orleans, New York and the UK.