The seductive myth of Britain standing alone against its oppressors is driving support for a no-deal Brexit

By | January 22, 2019

John Harris writes:

Some support for no deal closely echoes the specious stuff repeatedly uttered by leading Brexiteers, about the EU needing Britain more than we need them, a country set free from Brussels diktats and trading again with its former colonies. But the most fascinating element of popular no-dealism is altogether more complicated, and built on a defiant rejection of all the warnings about falling off a cliff edge, so passionate that the refusal of advice feels more relevant to what people think than what the most reckless kind of Brexit actually might entail. In that sense, supporting no deal amounts to the same performative “fuck you” that defined a reasonable share of the original vote for leave.

The gender aspect of Brexit is still too overlooked. Of the people gathered in that Wetherspoons, 90% were men. In a recent YouGov poll, support for no deal was put at 22%, but whereas 28% of men were no-dealers, among women the figure was a paltry 16%. There is something at play here similar to the belligerent masculinity channelled by Donald Trump: a yearning for all-or-nothing politics, enemies and endless confrontation, and an aggressive nostalgia. Some of the latter is shamelessly misogynistic, part of a macho bigotry that harks back to hierarchies of privilege that linger on, and blurs into racism. But there is also an element that ought to attract empathy: a yearning for a world in which men were steelworkers, coalminers and welders, and a desperate quest for something – anything – that might allow their successors to do the same.

More widely, the politics of no deal betrays an urge for drama and crisis that a lot of us ought to be humble enough to recognise in ourselves. Not that long ago, a high-profile supporter of Jeremy Corbyn looked ahead to the new Labour Party taking power, and wondered: “Have we prepared the people who chanted for Jeremy at Glastonbury for the fact that, at some stage, they may only be able to withdraw 50 quid a day if the credit runs dry? If there is a very British coup, will they hold the streets?” A comparable romanticism surrounds the idea of a besieged post-Brexit Britain nobly trying to make its way without the interference of Brussels. It is, perhaps, one of the great failings of mainstream politics that it has been unable to project anything similar on to issues that cry out for public attention: imagine, for example, if people were as worked up about climate change. [Continue reading…]

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