Of high priests, utopias, gods of rock, and fish biting back (but they’re happy).

The Brexit faithful in Parliament Square
Photo by Andrew Davidson licensed by creative commons
Audio version of this article

This is important. It demonstrates the intellectual dishonesty of the current regime occupying Number 10, and of Brexit itself. It demonstrates the utopian thinking that divorces evidence from consequences. It demonstrates how utopian thinking may sustain contradictory ideas. And it should be intelligible to anyone.

We were told that the sovereignty of EU member states was usurped by, and then vested in, the EU. That was a big part of the Brexiter argument – sovereignty goes to the EU, member states lose it, thus to be sovereign we must leave the EU.

Now we’re told the EU hasn’t such sovereignty as would warrant an ambassador. The British government declines to extend to the EU the diplomatic privileges that 140 other sovereign nations see fit to recognise in the EU.

Which is it? Does the EU hold the sovereignty of member states, and so warrant recognition as a sovereign entity, or does it not, and therefore that key argument of the Brexit lobby is revealed to be a lie?

Which? It can’t be both. Unless you’re a Brexiter.

Now, there is no mystery as to which is, in fact, the best description of reality, as my previous article on the matter of sovereignty will make clear, but put those mere real-world facts to one side. Rather, consider the type of mindset here made evident.

What I say next will have no quality of revelation for many, but let’s just be really explicit about what is happening here: for the Brexit lobby, a better understanding of the situation is not their object, finding out what the reality is, is not their object. The assemblage of fact, evidence or instance is not made in order to see the situation more clearly. It is not a scientific interrogation of the world around them. Their only object is that Brexit be sustained, excused and maintained. The thinking is, in essence, theological – the faithful know what is revealed, they do not seek that which is ‘the truth’ because they already have that, that’s in their pocket and it is never in question. But reality does irritatingly impinge upon their awareness, and lived reality isn’t measuring up to the promised utopia, so there is some fault somewhere. Utopia, by definition, does not have faults. Where could that fault reside?

The faithful are the faithful because they are themselves an expression of their own Utopia. That is their identity, their justification and it provides for their elevation, that is why they fly to utopian thinking, so that they are in themselves at least implicated in perfection. By definition, therefore, fault for the failure of Utopia cannot possibly reside in that Utopia’s faithful.

And thus we see Brexiters locating the fault for the great unravelment that has followed Brexit in, well, the Remainers, the very people who fought hard to prevent Brexit. Andrew Neil invests Remainers with a relish for ending the United Kingdom, tweeting that “there are a number of diehard Remainers who would quite like the UK to break up, if only to vindicate their claims that Britain would pay a terrible price for Brexit.” That Brexit was a threat to the integrity of the Union was one of the more prominent reasons many of us took the Remain line, acutely aware of the fault lines at the Scots and Northern Irish borders. Indeed, that Scotland was best off remaining part of the United Kingdom whilst within the EU was a key argument of the 2014 campaign against an independent Scotland, a Scotland that voted resoundingly to remain in the EU, but now finds itself pulled out against its will. Remainers have certainly warned that the stresses Brexit must inevitably release would threaten the Union and so fought vigorously against them. Many of us are unionists. We like the EU, we like the UK. Working together is brilliant! But, according to Neil, we secretly wish for the dissolution we fought so hard to prevent.

That relish which Neil would like to impose on Remainers is, properly understood, the Brexiter projection of their own triumphalist relish, so often expressed in “you lost, get over it”, a refrain that’s been shouted in my face many times in recent years. It is the relish of zealotry, the fevered ecstasy of the true believer, who, understanding the world only in terms of faith and Utopias, and not in terms of reason and consequence, cannot fathom that the other side do not, in fact, reside in the same state of requiring there to be ecstatic Utopias and unquestionable certainties. To the faithful zealot, that everyday people just might want things to just kind of work is impossible to fathom – it lacks transcendent glory, it does nothing to vindicate and elevate the self. It doesn’t make one feel special.

In short, for the Remainer, it isn’t all about themselves, but for the Brexiter, everything is about themselves. And Neil, in his little narrative of gleeful relish as self-vindication, is talking about how a Brexiter understands the world, what a Brexiter needs, and not what a Remainer needs.

Fact is, Mr Neil, you and your little friends have ruptured the Union, and all because you insisted on treating as a dystopia that which was just another legal organisation, managing the competing interests of nations into a sometimes quite crude but serviceable accommodation. Organised muddling through without going to war.  You could find flaws in it – real flaws, the EU was never perfect – but you can find flaws in anything, indeed, you will find flaw in everything if you keep looking. Only the Utopian is existentially offended by flaws. The adult just roles up their sleeves to fix them.

Absurdly, we also have one Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph, a paper that has been a consistent and determined Brexit cheerleader, now venturing the curious gambit that the person who is really to blame for Brexit is Angela Merkel, German chancellor. He cites mishandling of currency union as his justification for this apportioning of blame, pointing out the many shortcomings – and there were many shortcomings – to the realisation of that project. Now, as the harms to our fishing and manufacturing mount, and the border chaos deepens, it seems that Brexiters are, in his eyes, exonerated of any responsibility for their own choices in bringing about Brexit, by the fact that Angela Merkel could have instigated monetary union better. He insists so even though we weren’t part of that union and, indeed, had an exemption in law from ever joining it. One might be tempted to imagine the warm, fuzzy glow of his feeling he has found a way to be able to blame the Germans once more, if one really wanted to feel very, very dirty.

Thus do the initiate clergy of Brexit negotiate in their own minds the failure of their Utopia. But whilst an initiate clergy are powerful, they’re always a small minority. Their power rests upon a non-initiate, but faithful, laity, themselves unschooled in theological sophistry, to whom dogma is delivered for them to repeat endlessly in catechism.

They are legion, and they, sans sophistry, will yet make their own accommodations with the insistently unobliging reality now coming at them with all the wishy-washy, conjecturing uncertainty of a slap across the chops with a cod. Fishermen who always sold their catch to the EU now find they’ve got bigger quotas (huzzah!) but can’t sell their fish (boo, hiss!!) because that market is now across the border of a sovereign nation, and their government has only just scraped the sort of bare bones trade deal that would embarrass a recently war-torn third world country. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, they yet do not blame Brexit. They rather blame *THIS* Brexit, as mishandled by Johnson’s regime, for they were promised Utopia and can think of no reason why Utopia might not be delivered, wherein they still get to sell all their fish to the EU, but get a bigger share of quota, a share they are taking from the EU, but the EU is fine with giving, giving, giving because we’re British and cannot be expected to reciprocate obligations for a greater good as there is no greater good than simply being British. Or something.

Or, we might look to Roger Daltrey, who, in March of 2019, when asked whether Brexit might be “bad for British rock music?” famously responded “No. What’s it got to do with the rock business? How are you going to tour in Europe? Oh dear. As if we didn’t tour Europe before the f***ing EU. Oh give it up!”

One might have assumed the lead singer of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, renowned for touring for decades, might be imparting some insider wisdom here, that he might be the very person to know whether or not his industry would be affected. However, he has since signed a letter asking the government to address the barriers to musicians touring the EU.

Fellow rock lead singer, Fish, he who once sang of Kayleigh at the front of Marillion, has outlined the difficulties at borders with customs checking that band kit that crosses all borders and is never sold because that would incur import tax (normal the world over), but, more than that, the reality that the music business has changed entirely since the glory days of The Who. In the 60s and 70s bands might even run their tours at a loss, because they were promoting the sale of the album. The sale of the album made them their money, to which the actual tour might even be a loss leader. Merchandising would become an ever more important element of touring, but certainly in the 60s a band might hawk a few T-shirts, but little more. Now, with streaming making recorded music a dead end in monetary terms, the live gig, with merchandising, is how a band makes its money. But that requires the shipping, and the customs declaration, of all that merchandise, paperwork, its haulage, and observance of the tax obligations. And Mr Fish also drops in one little fact – The Who played what are now EU countries around 55 times between 1963 and 1973, the year we joined the precursor to the EU, the EEC. That’s an average of less than half a dozen gigs in those countries a year. If you now rely upon the tour to make your money, you won’t be looking to do just six gigs in a year.

A band touring is now selling product on the road. It’s a mall on wheels, rather than, as it once was, an advert for product. Daltrey is applying 60s rules to the 2020’s and the reality has changed not because of the EU, but because of digitisation and the internet – and it is the EU that is attempting the fight back against the digital giant’s corporate power, because a mere nation alone can’t fight that fight because a nation isn’t big enough to fight them these days, unless, maybe, it’s the US, but the digital corporate giants have long since tucked the US into their pockets. The Utopia that Daltrey sought is revealed as a state of powerlessness, of subjugation, not, as has been historically the case, to military power, but to corporate power. The EU is the only strategy on the table to counter it, but Daltrey’s faith in the Utopia peddled has him see the EU as the source of all our ills, of diminishing influence on the world stage, of diminishing industry when that was quite deliberately and openly sold off by Tories subject to corporate dogma. He’s not so much a turkey voting for Christmas as a self-basting, self-plucking turkey on the campaign trail to have Christmas instituted as every Sunday.

But he can’t see himself as that, because he’s been sold the Utopia of British exceptionalism wherein corporate power is something that only happens to Johnny foreigner, Britannia rules the waves and all the happy fish below (well, fish are happy when no one is fishing), and Europe is Europe, but not the EU, but still not 27 sovereign states because that’s inconvenient with all the usual protections sovereign states so annoyingly usually have at the border.

The old church fathers worried about transubstantiation, the trinity in one, the virgin birth and how many angels might dance on a pin. Easy-peasy compared to what the high priests of Brexit now get their faithful to swallow.

So, welcome to Brexitannia, where the rules don’t apply to you, but they do, you’re not responsible for anything, but you are, ‘sovereignty’ means whatever it’s convenient it might mean in the moment, and there is but one commandment:

Nothing, nothing at all, even if you’ve campaigned for it for years, and won it, and have it, nothing ever, ever, EVAH is a Brexiter’s fault. Ever. But “we won’t get fooled again”, eh Rog?

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