We are doomed to live in the age of the angry Brexiteer

Far right yellow vests stage a protest in front of the Saint James underground station London, Engla

Far right yellow vests stage a protest in front of the Saint James underground station London, England on January 12, 2019. (Photo by Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

Cowardice and appeasement in the face of thuggery is always deplorable but there's a specific reason it's a bad idea in this instance, says MITCH BENN

SKZ cartoons

SKZ cartoons - Credit: Archant

In a previous column I dealt with the concept of 'privilege', in as much the word is used with regard to the concept of the relative ease with which one passes through life if one does not belong to any of the minority categories which society has traditionally undervalued. Some people remain trenchantly unconvinced that such a thing as white/straight/cis/able-bodied privilege still exists in the 21st century, and I myself have pondered if 'privilege' isn't an unfortunately loaded word (it's not privilege so much as it is absence of impediment).

But if there's anyone out there still holding out against the notion of 'white privilege' being a thing, I invite them simply to watch the footage of Anna Soubry MP being menaced by a hi-vis-clad mob of pro-Brexit extremists (Brextremists?), while police officers looked on largely unmoved.

Leaving aside the delicious irony of the fact that these self-appointed guardians of British sovereignty had to steal their uniform from French anarchists, it's difficult to contemplate what the reaction of the police would have been had the MP in question been threatened and harassed by, say, a group of keffiyeh-sporting young men of Middle Eastern appearance quoting Quran verses without the words 'hail of bullets' springing to mind.

As if this wasn't alarming enough, the initial reaction from pro-Brexit pundits and, to their undying shame, ministers, while not endorsing the threats of violence aimed at Soubry, nonetheless not only toyed with the idea that she had brought this treatment upon herself by her opposition to Brexit, but also to cite the incident as a reason not to allow any impediment to Brexit, for fear of triggering further similar attacks.

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Here's a question: whatever happened to 'This government does not negotiate with terrorists?' Like many of you, I'm old enough to remember when it was Northern Irish Catholics resorting to acts of violence to further their own nationalist agenda; that resulted in the militarisation of their home province and the alleged adoption in certain quarters of the security services of an unofficial 'shoot to kill' policy.

Like pretty much all of you, I remember that when radical Islamists committed altogether more cataclysmic acts of violence, the western world responded by starting an all-out war which still rages over 17 years later, and invading two whole countries, one of which had literally nothing to do with the incident in question.

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But now it's English-accented white guys donning a political uniform and threatening to attack dissenting politicians and journalists and the response of Tory MPs, including at least one government minister, is: 'Better do as he says, folks; we don't want no trouble'.

Cowardice and appeasement in the face of thuggery is always deplorable but there's a specific reason that it's a bad idea in this particular instance, and it's this: It's not going to work anyway.

'The Brextremists will get angry if we don't do it' is the worst possible argument in favour of Brexit, for the simple reason that the Brextremists are going to be angry whatever happens.

The kind of Brexiters who are committing/excusing these acts of thuggery aren't going to be satisfied with anything short of full-on no-deal Brexit. They'll reject any deal because anything the EU is willing to sign off on can only possibly be a betrayal of Britain.

If, when the post Article 50 dust settles, we're left with anything short of 19th century levels of Splendid Isolation, the hardcore Brexiters will be crying 'Treachery!' and howling about how the arch-Remainer May sold us all out.

But if they do get their no-deal-hop-off-you-frogs-Rule-Britannia-hard-Brexit, and for some totally unforeseeable reason it's not an instant roaring success (I know, hard to imagine, but come with me on this one), or if things, actually, (heaven forfend) get worse, then they'll still be crying 'Treachery!' and complaining about how the arch-Remainer May and all the other Remoaners sabotaged the whole process and how they'd all be rich and happy now if only Brexit had been done properly.

The Brexiters are going to be angry because the thing they want – the thing they've been promised – the smooth, orderly hard Brexit which leaves us happier, safer and richer – can't happen.

Whether it's bloviating Spectator columnists, snarking edgelords on Spiked Online, the huffing gammons in the Question Time studio audience or mobs of luminous goons, the age of the Angry Brexiter is coming and cannot be averted, whatever course we take with regard to Brexit.

The only difference we can make is to what sort of country we're left with. So our choices are: Brexit, social turmoil, economic meltdown, Angry Brexiters; Or no Brexit, a functioning if fractured society, and Angry Brexiters. Nobody should ever try to placate and appease thuggery, but in this case we couldn't even if we wanted to.


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