I recently read Phillip Pullman’s excellent La Belle Sauvage, a continuation of the His Dark Materials series. Pullman received a lot of flack for his perception of the Catholic Church in the originals, and he does not relent with the new book.
Academics are silenced, school children are manipulated and if you resist or descent you usually disappear. Though fictitious, Pullman borrowed heavily from historical religious oppression, yet it wasn’t the church I was reminded of when reading the book in 2017.
A few weeks before the book was released, Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris wrote to universities asking for lecture notes and slides on any subject that related to Brexit. No reason was given for the request, but Heaton-Harris was swiftly accused of McCarthyism, and most lecturers responded with biblical levels of sarcasm. It was a rather worrying moment, however, and I was reminded so heavily of it when reading La Belle Sauvage my stupid little brain went in to analogy overdrive, and I could only come to the conclusion that a huge amount of leave voters treat Brexit like a religion.
Their mantra is gospel. “The will of the people.” They say it often and loudly, and usually in order to avoid answering a question regarding something complicated. “The will of the people” would be stamped in 20 foot letters at the alter of the church of Brexit and would be the first line of the Brexit bible. Religious zealots everywhere use the excuse “It’s God’s will” when explaining away some sort of horrific catastrophe, but the Brexit mantra shouldn’t be as all encompassing. It was the will of a very slim majority of 72%, who were eligible for the ballot, that voted for the UK to leave the EU, and the referendum itself was a bafflingly vague question. To use it carte blanche to defend any decision the Brexit department makes regarding the negotiations is ludicrous.
Then there is the Brexit hierarchy, who you suspect, much like the senior personnel involved in many other churches, don’t actually believe what they preach. These are your Boris Johnson’s, your Aaron Banks’, the ones who got into it almost by accident, or because of some sort of petty grudge. These people keep the congregation happy with promises of a wonderful afterlife, whilst secretly knowing that there is nothing but the cold ground when all is said and done.
Alongside the pretenders are your devouts. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who hates the EU so much he decided he should invest his money completely away from its shores. Michael Gove, who thinks you should disbelieve the scientists and experts and take on blind faith that we are heading for the promise land. Chris Grayling, who believes the bountiful British land will bless us with bumper crops in the result of no deal with the EU. And of course, the Brexit messiah himself, Nigel Farage, who tells pretend stories of persecution and savagery against his people.
Of course, you always have the grifters, those that wish to exploit the religion for personal gain, the most recent of which being John Redwood, who wrote a column advising investors to look outside of the UK due to the sorry state of the pound.
All of these people wrap themselves in the Union Jack, reassure the converted and vilify the dissenters and heretics, accusing them of being unpatriotic or “doing the country down”. They have surrounded the most powerful politician in the land, and threatened chaos if the will of Brexit is not done.
And just like every religion, Brexit has a devout and loyal congregation. They feel harried and persecuted by those who voted remain, who try to convert them to secularism, usually by being patronising and elitist. They fear the hordes of foreigners they have been told will pour into this country and steal their livelihood, as has been preached. They believe they will never truly be in control of their own lives until the satanic EU is done away with. And they believe, unequivocally, that whatever happens next they will be better off then they were before. By believing in Brexit, they will reach the promise land.
This is why there is no point in arguing for a 2nd referendum. Yes, Brexit to this point has been a disaster, but don’t forget that any attempt to mass convert people has usually ended poorly. You don’t become religious because of logic, you do it because of faith, heart and feeling. Most Brexit supporters will keep listening to the gospels according to Dacre, Whittow and Murdoch, even as we blunder into almost certain doom.
In 2017, the interference from a devout fringe of our establishment is causing huge problems and preaching Heresy. It’s just not coming from the church like it is in Pullman’s books. Beware the church of Brexit.