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Toffs, snowflakes and traitors: How Brexit has fuelled a cultural war.


Until Brexit Britain is broken, the culture war will continue to be waged by hard Brexiters through imperialist emotions to spread conflict and division.


In the chaotic climate of America pre-Civil War, the House of Representatives tabled a series of resolutions designed to restrict and prevent debate about slavery in the Capitol. Met with suspicion and derision, the ‘gag rule’ allowed pro-slavery supporters to block the abolitionist movement from any further ventures into the slavery debate.

It is as if a similar position has been adopted by hard Brexit politicians in their defence of a no deal Brexit. Indeed, the rhetoric surrounding the legislative decision making of Brexit has undoubtedly cast Parliament and the constitution as below the ‘will of the people’. Attacks on the media, as regularly seen from the right-wing newspapers, and vivid abuse and harassment of anti-Brexit moderates have heightened a growing fear that British politics has turned into battle royale. This culture of conflict has led to many politicians receiving death threats and personal attacks that overstep any previous resemblance of a ‘civil’ relationship with politics.


It was notable that in the EU Withdrawal Bill debates, the fiercely passionate Anna Soubry🗳️ remarked on an MP who was not voting with her conscience due to a recent death threat. Soubry herself has received such threats and has attacked the culture surrounding this now deadly debate. The House of Commons is a cutthroat and loud arena, but the single Pandoran moral that politicians had defended was the simple respect for their fellow parliamentarians. After two years of impassioned anarchy, it appears that ‘respect’ has dissolved into the abyss.


This is no longer just a political change. It has developed into a cultural war where the established procedure and constitutional conventions have disappeared. The largest example of such a conflict is the repeated tagline of hard Brexiters that the policy represents a ‘will of the people’. In philosophical terms, such a defence evokes Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the ‘general will’, where contradictions from individuals are overridden by an overarching feeling of power. Rousseau further aligns to the Brexit hegemony, by believing that obedience to the law is in itself personal integrity as one commissions their authority to the state. This talk of a ‘will’ in society can be described only as an archaic representation that fails to match our current societies.


In the Brexit example, the overriding will is not of a personable motive, but of selfish and often financial concerns. As seen from the actions of prominent Brexiters such as Lord Lawson🗳️ (“Brexiteer Nigel Lawson branded a ‘hypocrite’ for applying for French residency”) and Jacob Rees-Mogg🗳️ (“Jacob Rees-Mogg’s investment firm launches second Irish fund”), their egotist actions are no comparison to their espoused rhetoric. The 2016 referendum campaign was littered with such contradictions, where trade and sovereignty were simplistic guises for selfishness and greed.


The culture war also blends with national identity in a unnerving mix of xenophobia and nostalgic imperialism. Boris Johnson🗳️ loudly expressed his belief in Brexit’s primary goal – to get our country back. Moderates and realists scoffed at the tagline, used by groups who historically have uttered racism and discrimination in perpetuity. The tagline diffused the Brexit campaign and soon a key doctrinal feature of Brexit was a undeniably imperialist argument to Europe. The basic facts of EU membership were either ignored in favour of spin or denial, with David Davis🗳️ keen to ferment distrust between both actors.


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But it is this cultural war that is most harmful. The UK has dealt with significant ethnic and national changes in its modern history. But the current climate of anger towards ‘foreigners’ is clearly present and growing. In my own experience, passive harassment or abuse has been the most discomforting. Seeing heads turn and hearing whispered voices when a person of colour or in religious apparel is simply walking down the street, is something that is an abhorrent example of intolerance. Physical attacks and racial abuse incidents have increased by huge proportions. Recent reports suggest a dramatic increase in attacks since the 2016 referendum. Such evidence evokes comparison to 1970s Britain where racial abuse was prevalent.


The imperialist emotions are also incredibly prominent in the speeches of hard Brexiters. The International Trade secretary Liam Fox🗳️, has often allowed imperial language into his catchphrase repertoire. The post-colonial academic community has been struck by this vehement return to pre-Macmillan Britain. Our ‘global position’ or ‘international competition’ are terms utilised to spread conflict by conservatives who believe in geopolitics to be a state of constant battle rather than its clear instruction, peace and prosperity.


The prospect of a no deal Brexit has heightened this imperialist language. Without any potential deal, the UK would lose all trading relations and trade deals with the EU and their partners. For Brexiters such as Rees-Mogg, a no deal would allow the UK to forge ahead with its own deals that benefit the UK, rather than a collective. It is clear that this language is elitist and domineering, but incredibly there has been little response to this perception of Britain as ruling the waves. Moderate anti-Brexiters are rationally presenting facts and political truths that Brexit supporters do not swallow. The very nature of the imperial argument is that of ignorant disgust with any sense of rationality, when the nostalgic past can be revered.


This cultural war undoubtedly exists as an intransient tumour on the growth of the global far right. Thus, Brexit and far right ideology are mutually exclusive, where one affects the other without malice.


The Brexit policy leeches the spirit and fervour of the far right into a legitimised movement, whereas without a political representative it would splinter and wither with changes. The far right relies on Brexit as its beacon and vehicle for the energy and anger used therein. This legitimate far right movement has infiltrated Westminster and supplanted convention with conflict and anger.


Until Brexit Britain is broken, this culture war will continue to be waged. The policy has angered the people in great numbers and with huge enthusiasm. The growing People’s Vote/Final Say movements are gaining ground, and in many recent polls the Remain argument is winning. But only when the votes are cast, and Brexit is defeated by legitimate means, can this war be won. People would denigrate the usage of such grizzled language, but Brexit has crossed from policy and referendum into a cultural concept that will provide analysts much material to work with in later years.

I hope that by that time, Brexit will be regarded as an embarrassment, rather than example of patriotism.🔷


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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)


(Cover: Dreamstime/John Gomez - Fishing For Leave demonstration in Hastings, East Sussex, 8 April 2018.)


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A writer and aspiring PhD student at UEA in Norwich.
Poole, England. Website

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