'It's like Pompeii again if Pompeii voted for the volcano' - US show takes down Brexit

PUBLISHED: 07:36 20 February 2019 | UPDATED: 00:18 21 February 2019

John Oliver likens Brexit to Pompeii. Photograph: HBO.

John Oliver likens Brexit to Pompeii. Photograph: HBO.

Archant

One of the best pieces of television analysis surrounding Brexit has not come from the BBC, ITV or Channel 4. It was not even produced for British television. It instead originally aired in America.

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John Oliver talks about Brexit on HBO. Photograph: HBO/YouTube.John Oliver talks about Brexit on HBO. Photograph: HBO/YouTube.

It was American talk show host John Oliver who took down Brexit in epic proportions, by devoting the majority of latest programme to dismantling the arguments for it.

The presenter of HBO’s Last Week Tonight - who was born in Birmingham - gave a stellar performance in explaining how Britain ended up with Brexit, how it is consuming everyone’s energy, and the consequences of what could happen next.

Oliver used examples from the House of Commons, from television interviews, and even reality television programmes like Love Island to perfectly explain the political crisis.

Beginning the feature on Brexit he explained: “It’s now been two-and-a-half years since the UK voted to leave the EU. The long story short of is there was a bus with a lie on it, people made a massively consequential decision by a narrow margin, and the subject of the impending Brexit has dominated every waking moment in British life.”

In a very meta moment, the US television show then turned to the British television show Gogglebox, which features families also watching television shows.

He used the example to explain that ”nothing is happening the way it was promised” with just 40 days to go.

“People in Britain are completely exhausted by Brexit talk, and the crazy thing is it hasn’t even happened yet. Although it has had big effects on the British economy. In the wake of the Brexit vote the UK has become one of the worst performing economies in the G7, major companies like Nissan and Dyson are moving operations out of Britain, and the pound has dropped by almost by 14%.”

Playing clips of the House of Commons - which would never be allowed in the UK due to parliamentary laws - the American host was dumbfounded by the way politicians behaved.

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“That was the biggest Commons defeat in British history and they sounded like a middle school lunchroom when someone is called to the principal’s office.”

As Oliver turned to the Irish border issue, he referred to interviews which pointed out the risk of a return to troubles.

He then played out interviews with the former foreign secretary and “untitled Gary Bussey project Boris Johnson” who he said has “proposed elaborate workarounds involving technologies that don’t yet exist and customs screenings near but not at the border.”

He said: “Ireland is not remotely convinced by those” before adding: “I’ll tell you why Boris can’t answer any serious questions – he doesn’t have any answers. The only question he’s ever capable of answering is what would Gordon Ramsay look like if tumble dried on high.”

Explaining the risk to ports in the event of Brexit, the host explained there was a need for “seamless movement”.

“It’s like a supermarket checkout, when one person brings a fruit the cashier doesn’t know. ‘Hold on a second you are not trying to buy a dragonfruit and a kroger at 6pm on a rainy day!’”

Oliver then moved on to look at the comparisons from Brexiteers to World War II - a suggestion that dumbfounded the presenter.

“The world wars were provoked, they were a response to outside events. Brexit is something Britain has done to itself. Britain is basically Pompeii if Pompeii voted for the volcano. ‘A bus said the volcano would be good, I believed the bus, and the mug backed it up, you trust mugs!’”

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As he turned to his attention to the potential of revoking Article 50 or holding a People’s Vote, he conceded that the issue is “far too complex for an up or down referendum.”

“Which by the way, was also true of the first f**king one... because when voters were just asked to Leave or Stay without a sense of what that might actually mean.

“The first referendum was a terrible idea because it was the government punting a difficult decision to the British people. Which in the British people’s defence is not their job, they elect politicians to make reasoned fact-based decisions on their behalf – that’s how represented democracy works.”

He joked: “If you came to your doctor with stomach pain and they said ‘well what do you think, should your appendix leave or remain?’ you would say ‘don’t ask me, do your fucking job!’”

Finally Oliver returns to clips of Gogglebox recorded before the referendum was held where the likes of Scarlett Moffatt explained they neither understood what the EU did, how they should vote, or why one was being held in the first place. Explaining that Theresa May should acknowledge that the first referendum was “fatally flawed” and should be cancelled, Oliver said the politicians should have listened to Gogglebox families in the first place.

• An edited version of the programme airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Thursday 19 February at 11.10pm

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