One of the strangest spectacles of the past few months has been seeing the Prime Minister of the UK praising the “patriotism” of people who clearly despise modern Britain. Those of us who were proud of the tolerant, forward-looking country that Britain presented itself as in the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony voted to express our confidence in the new, dynamic post-imperial country Britain had become over the last few decades. This included 75% of young voters who, despite facing far greater economic challenges than some older groups faced at the same age, nonetheless felt optimistic about the UK, its place in the world and its relationship with Europe. We, the 48% of the electorate who voted to remain, are having our citizenship as we have come to understand it taken away from us by people who hate this country and want to turn it into something else.
Today the Daily Mail published a front page in which it depicted the three judges who, yesterday, ruled that parliament is sovereign and that the Brexit process required proper democratic scrutiny under the headline: “Enemies of the People.” This has been the strategy of dictators and tyrants since Ancient Rome: depict “the people” as a homogeneous mass of quasi-individuals who agree with the autocratic ruler and then use that characterisation to paint democratic opposition as itself anti-democratic. It’s chillingly clever and even worse, it’s often been very effective. The three judges as well as the claimants involved in that case have all been subjected to large numbers of rape and death threats online. It really feels as though the gutter press have moved on from exerting excessive influence over the national agenda to actually attempting a full-blown coup.
It also demonstrates that all the guff about “sovereignty” and giving back decisions to “British courts” we heard during the referendum campaign was what many “Remainers” always said it was: a smokescreen. After the way the majority of the Brexit movement’s prominent figures have reacted to a British court ruling that the sovereignty of the British Parliament must be respected, the real agenda here is now quite clear: this is all exactly what it always appeared to be- a bigoted campaign by frightened people to close Britain off from the world and turn the clock back, crushing any dissenting voices along the way.
I recently spent a fortnight travelling across Russia and it struck me that a similar attitude prevails there in many ways: very little immigration, an inflated sense of national importance (and an accompanying suspicion of foreigners), a rejection of most foreign products and innovations (hence many of their administrative and commercial systems are clunky and inefficient and the food is shit) and a crude binary majoritarianism in their political culture that allows Putin’s government to reign supreme and crush the opposition (who should stop being such cry babies- you lost; get over it!)
Russia also, famously, has a lot of space. The Brexiteers don’t want to live in a modern country that enjoys the benefits of globalisation and they find Europe’s compromise rather than confrontation-driven democratic structures alienating. Now we learn they also think it’s unpatriotic to hand sovereignty to a parliamentary system in which the executive must answer to its opponents.
The solution is simple. Brexit Britain already exists; if it’s what you want, just go and live in Russia. And leave those of us who actually quite like modern Britain in peace.