Brexit speak- Part 1

Brexit speak- Part 1

As readers may have heard (please note subtle use of irony) in a 2016 referendum the British people voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union, a vote that plunged the country into Brexit. What has followed has been reminiscent of the more gruesome pages of the Old Testament: think, for instance, of the plagues with which the Egyptians of Pharaoh’s day were afflicted.

The major parties in parliament are internally divided; the country lacks a written constitution, relying on precedent, some of which dates back to medieval times. The hapless, barely communicative Theresa May (she who came up with the less-than-brilliant slogan “Brexit means Brexit”) has been succeeded by the nightmarish and arguably criminal Boris Johnson. The result being that after three years parliament is still far from agreeing to a deal with the EU allowing us to leave on mutually agreed terms. The country is bitterly divided along several different intersecting fault-lines. Not a happy place.

I’m a Remainer, though a reluctant one; I believe it’s better, on balance, to stay within the EU, in the hope that its flaws (some grievous) might be tackled from within. But that’s not what I’m banging on about over the next three weeks. Bear with me, as it’s not all going to be about Brexit, but also about political satire and the lengths to which this can justifiably go.

What I want to talk about primarily is the way in which the language of parliament and of much of the media and of daily interaction has degenerated largely on account of Brexit. Everyone despises everyone else’s views and says as much in no uncertain terms. As the admirable Member of Parliament Chuka Umunna has put it, there is widely expressed alarm at the tenor of debate that has surrounded the surreal and protracted Brexit process; “visceral hatred of other people’s views and opinions, something completely contrary to progressive values, is now commonplace.”

This syndrome is not confined to Brexit, or even to the UK — think of Trump’s way of speaking of immigrants, of Moslems (unless they are oil-rich Saudis), of Africa, and of Greta Thunberg and the climate change activists. Or think of the way ultra-rightwing leaders in Eastern Europe speak of minority groups such as gays and lesbians. But in the UK the damage is running deep and Brexit is its vortex.

This is not to say we can’t make fun of the Brexit process; humour is, after all, great medicine.
My newspaper of choice in the UK is called i (short for Independent). This plugs no political party line, left or right, and runs as close as one can get to objective journalism. But it has a team of extremely talented satirical columnists, and for them Brexit is a sitting target.

Take this comment by Tom Peck, following the Queen’s (highly ceremonial) opening of the new session of parliament, an event that was ensnared in Boris Johnson’s handling of the Brexit process to his own advantage: “All this stuff is meant to project an image of wealth and power, the majesty of statehood. Now, it just looks like a mad perfume advert. A realm in rapid decline, fiddling with itself while Rome burns.”

To be continued

Prof Chris Dunton

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