Immediate thoughts on Brexit

A jolly write-up of #Agatha2016 will follow but I want to use this space to share something. It’s not professionally wise to talk about politics, but the political is at the heart of my work, theorising gender/sexuality and historicising literature of the twentieth century, and, pragmatically, as an Early Career Researcher my career depends on European politics.


The rise of right-wing nationalism in and beyond Europe is terrifying. The most immediate impact of Brexit for me is a lack of funding opportunities and chances for professional development. But as a white British male I have a great deal of privilege and for many of my friends this is a matter of livelihood; for many more, this is a matter of life and death.

That’s immediate impact. There’s no saying how bad it will be in the long-term, but it will be worse for everyone.

I cannot put into words my overwhelming shame and disappointment to be British. (But as a queer intellectual heretic with a Jewish surname, how secure will my Britishness be in 20-30 years when it’s all got more extreme, more dramatic, more unfathomable? Is this too dramatic? There’s significant precedent.)

We have an economically uncertain future defined by overt racism, privatisation, and political acrimony to look forward to. As soon as the last people who experienced the Second World War as adults have lost their political influence, we have jumped on their backs and relaunched history.

A band of the elite has managed to prime, groom, and scare a large proportion of the population with rhetoric of greed, fear, and hate. They have made ‘human rights’ a dirty word (it’s two words, but I’m saying that as someone with a PhD, and you know not to listen to experts, right?). They’ve managed to keep the word ‘immigration’ at the front of the campaign, when, for them, it was never about immigration. But dehumanising is a powerful tool. And it’s always had messy consequences.

During campaigning, the embers of anti-intellectualism were kindled. It has been slowly growing since Thatcher and the campaign brought its ugly face out shamelessly.  When experts across disciplines and across Europe pointed out that there was literally no reason to leave the EU, former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove declared: ‘The people of this country have had enough of experts.’ The publishers of a satiric dystopian novel would query that line as implausible. But it’s a sentiment — an ‘us and them’ red herring — that has always been politically expedient. And even now, somehow, amazingly, large chunks of the media are managing to blame Jeremy Corbyn, who won’t embrace pithy dehumanising soundbites, who encourages the free exchange and evaluation of expert opinion, who tells people not to be afraid of thinking, for Brexit. Because it is critical thinking; it is analysis; it is learning from history that helps us avoid repeating it.

I voted Remain for reasons of empathy; for the NHS; for immigrants; for human rights; for the economy; for Europe; for academia; for Jo Cox, who campaigned against ‘building walls’ and was murdered to the cry of ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain’; for decades of peace between former dictatorships; for everyone who doesn’t enjoy my privilege in and beyond the EU. Since the campaign’s victory, Nigel Farage has, of course, admitted that any financial figures mentioned were never based in fact, but it’s ok. ‘We won it without a bullet being fired’, a week after Cox was shot. I didn’t vote based on a campaign of fear. But even if we skate around a future with BJ and Trump, we have a lot to fear.

1 Comment

  1. I wish I thought you were being overly dramatic.

    I’m not in the UK or Europe so not directly affected by the vote. But the campaign of fear mongering and the “we’re sick of experts” sensibility is worryingly close to our own political environment here in Australia, where a good percentage of us enjoy some of the world’s most privileged living yet are constantly bombarded with warnings to be fearful of…everything…the hoards of illegal immigrants sailing to our shores (who are somehow managing to both steal our jobs and bludge off our welfare at the same time) and muslims and scientists. It’s so easy to make people afraid.

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