This Is the Most Cringeworthy Moment in British History

Please make it stop.
Simon Childs
London, GB
January 31, 2020, 12:20pm
Nigel Farage waves a Union Jack
Nigel Farage waves a Union Jack after the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement at the plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels. Photo by Zheng Huansong/Xinhua/Alamy Live New

If the privations of life after a trade deal with the US don’t kill us, the embarrassment will. As Brexit approaches, we might have hoped for some respite from the unerringly shit culture war that surrounds it, but of course not. There are more troubling aspects of Brexit – like how it will make life materially worse – but in the meantime it needs to be noted just how cringeworthy British politics is right now.


The Telegraph has put up Union Jack bunting in its office. EU Supergirl is presumably planning a reconciliation tour of European capital cities. Ex-MEP Daniel Hannan is probably looking forward to increasing his media profile back in the UK.

In France, firefighters have been painting their face like the Joker anti-hero, setting themselves on fire and fighting with the police – something so cool it sounds completely made up. Meanwhile, we have to put up with this load of toe-curling nonsense:


It’s the hottest merch drop of 2020 so far. That’s right, it’s… a Conservative Party Brexit tea-towel with Boris Johnson. For just £12 you can dry your dishes with a rag with the Prime Minister’s face on it and the moniker “Got Brexit Done”. Cop one now so that you can piss your kids off when they try and help out with the washing up. Your grandchildren can quietly throw it out years later, or give them to a charity shop as a weird ironic curio, knowing little of what will by then be called the Bleak 20s.

Not satisfied at that, the Conservatives are also holding a competition among their members to win a signed copy of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, “one of the most historic documents in British history, signed by the Prime Minister who got Brexit done”. Entries to the competition cost £5 each, and the email helpfully suggests that you might want to enter 50 times, for £250. In other words, the Tories are using Brexit as an opportunity to rinse their gullible supporters for every penny they can with cheap tat and silly competitions. It’s that kind of ruthlessness that wins you elections.


“You Got Brexit Done. Now here’s your chance to own it,” reads the competition email. As if the Tories are going to 'own it' when Brexit goes to shit, rather than have a strop at 'traitors' and start an illegal war to distract everyone.

Cringe factor: 10


Stay European is a campaign for people to be allowed to become “associate members” of the European Union on an individual basis, as if it’s Soho House. “But I’m an associate member of the EU,” you’ll say as the fascist mob knocks down your door.

"Such a scheme could be tied to a fee, as an individual contribution to the EU budget," explains the campaign website. "For us it is not about demanding all the privileges that EU citizenship currently holds – it is instead primarily an issue of identity, and our wish to continue to be identified as Europeans." This is like moving north of the river and demanding to continue contributing tax to Lewisham council because you really found yourself at Goldsmiths. If your European identity is so important, maybe there could be a bespoke arrangement where you contribute individually but the money only goes to Frontex.

Cringe factor: 10


On Wednesday, Nigel Farage delivered his final speech in the European Parliament, and ended with Brexit Party MEPs waving the Union Jack, contravening rules against national flags in the chamber. (I’m not sure how effective that rule is when MEPs are still allowed to wear ties with the Union Jack on – those probably should have been banned first on taste grounds.)

There’s something very tragic about a man who got everything he wanted still managing to have sour grapes about it. But not as tragic as the kind of schoolboy rebelliousness that this represents – not to mention the smug look on Farage’s face as he sits back down, which seems to say ‘Fuck yes, I am a god’ and imply that he’s aroused by his own badassery.


Cringe factor: 10


He hasn’t stopped there. Farage was last seen having a portrait of himself unveiled by former TV personality Jim Davidson. In other news, Little Britain is coming back.

Cringe factor: 10


Every country has their embarrassing reactionaries. What makes this cultural moment so embarrassing for Britain is that the predominant opposition is almost as bad to watch. In this case, it’s hardcore remainers struggling to deal with the fact they lost and whose politics are too vapid for anything like introspection.

As a commemorative 50p coin is to be introduced, His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman suggested that “The 'Brexit' 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people.”

It’s not so much that he said it – pedantic writers are nothing new. It’s that it appeared to resonate so strongly with much of the #FBPE Twitterati, who are apparently investing themselves in hopelessly smug pedantry.

One Twitter user in particular suggested that Remainers instead scrawl "<3 E.U" on the coins. “10 million in circulation would get the message across quite nicely.” Yep, that’ll do it.

Cringe factor: 10