STEVE ANGLESEY discusses the irony of Brexiteers moaning about quarantine Britain.
You might remember a time not so long ago when Brexiteers like Toby Young, Katie Hopkins and Daniel Hannan roamed the land hating the European Union and what they saw as all its flabby complacency, pointless rules and polite authoritarianism.
That dragon was slain, the pitchforks and torches put down. Yet our gruesome threesome have found no happiness in the sunlit uplands. Instead, they have discovered another monolithic mash-up of countries to hate, complete with all with the same enraging traits as the rotten old EU.
And this time, the thing they hate is the UK.
‘Come on Britain, grow a pair,’ wrote Hopkins on Twitter. ‘What happened to the British people’s bulldog spirit?’ asked Young in the Telegraph. ‘As during World War II, we are getting used to authoritarianism all too easily,’ warned Hannan in the Washington Examiner.
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What they can’t seem to countenance is first, that Britain is responding to lockdown with a shrug and a quiet G&T rather than wetting itself and screaming ‘I CAIN’T TAKE NO MORE OF THIS’ like Tiger King’s Joe Exotic in his prison videos and second, Britain seems to consider that state intervention and prioritising lives over money are the right and proper things to do.
‘I no longer recognize the people I live amongst,’ moaned Hopkins on her blog. ‘I am a goldfish on the wrong side of the bowl. The country I thought I knew is distorted beyond recognition and though I don’t have this virus, I am gasping for air all the same.’
And why? ‘In this strange new Corona-world, my neighbour seems to believe everything he is told… He weeps on command at pictures of coffins… He looks to the state for income.’ The bastard!
Young, who stands for free speech, free schools and, most likely, free love on the free love freeway, declared ‘We’ve become a nation of authoritarians’ and wailed that even the Germans were doing freedom better than us. Pointing to recent polls which showed 44% of Brits judging the government’s measures ‘not severe enough’ but 44% of Germans claiming Angela Merkel’s response has been too severe, he wrote: ‘According to popular mythology, the Germans are pinched and hidebound rule-followers, whereas the British are Rabelaisian freedom lovers. Turns out, that’s not true.’
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It’s almost enough, wrote Tobes, to make you think that ‘our sense of ourselves as a nation of indomitable warriors has always been vainglorious nonsense. We’ve been able to keep this myth alive because the last successful invasion of Britain was in 1066, but if Hitler hadn’t paused at Dunkirk perhaps we would have fared no better than other conquered European peoples.’
Pass the smelling salts, it’s almost as if Toby Young is achieving sentience.
Meanwhile ‘brain of Brexit’ Hannan was panicking about a nightmare scenario in which we voters might ‘argue that, if the state could find hundreds of billions to fight the coronavirus, it can easily find smaller sums to support industry, write bigger welfare cheques, or subsidise healthcare? Will we cheer on leaders who promise to save us from ourselves, to take on ‘total power’ for our collective good?’
Well, here’s hoping, although that’s probably not the answer Hannan is looking for. Still, it’s nice to see that he still has the sheer brass balls to write about Covid-19 at all, having assured Conservative Home readers back in mid-February ‘I’m going to stick my neck out here. You’re unlikely to be killed by the coronavirus. Yes, the disease is unpleasant; and, yes, in some circumstances, it can cause complications that lead to fatalities. But it is unlikely to be as lethal as the more common forms of influenza that we take for granted… there is no reason to panic. Cheer up.’
What’s ironic about Hopkins, Young and Hannan professing disappointment in the people of Britain is that they’ve spent much of the last four years telling us that what the people think is sacrosanct. ‘The people have spoken and the bad losers – who think they know better – ignore them at their peril,’ wrote Hopkins in 2017. (The government has an interesting take on this; while currently briefing that they can’t possibly ease the lockdown because opinion polls show the public strongly supporting restrictions, they are also briefing that they can’t possibly extend the Brexit transition period, despite opinion polls showing the public strongly supporting an extension).
Doubly ironic is that Young and Hopkins in particular love to bore on about an easily-offended snowflake generation. So why should lockdown Britain offend them so?
Perhaps it is because they see the public once again trusting in data over gut feelings, supporting expanded public services and state aid, prioritising the health of the collective over the freedom of the individual to do whatever they like at whatever cost.
And in all those things they see the seeds of their own defeat.