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Clive Martin's Civil War

Understanding Britain's No Deal Nihilists

As the facts, figures and warnings gather pace, these Leave ultras want to crash out of Europe with no deal more than ever.

by Clive Martin
29 March 2019, 9:54am

Illustration: Elena Gumeniuk

For a while, it looked as if the future was theirs. Those in search of the old country had found it at last. They'd won the right to restore the nation of their daydreams, amputating the United Kingdom from the torso of Europa, with only a bottle of brandy and a lump of wood to bite down on. The bunting was up and the jelly was set: taxi drivers in suits, white-owned corner shops and corporal punishment were all within touching distance.

But then it got complicated. As we publish, Brexit is ostensibly still happening – but nobody knows how, when or in what capacity that might be. It appears to fall further and further through the fingers of the people who created it with every failed late night vote – never quite crashing and burning, but forever slipping and squelching, dissolving and reforming like some disgusting children's putty toy.

The clean, mean break demanded by so many has revealed itself to be dirty and difficult; a potentially Biblical onslaught of lorry jams, fruit shortages, drug droughts and passport nightmares. But for the never-say-die crew, such prices are still worth paying.

"Do you really want to do this?" cry the sensible establishment, like bound and gagged billionaires telling their kidnappers it's not too late to get help. But want it, "the 17.4 million" do. Perhaps due to those very British fears of embarrassment and defeat, their position seems more immovable than ever. As the facts, figures and scare stories gather pace, their refusal to look back only stiffens. Not only do they still want it; they want it unverified, unpasteurised, with the plastic still on.

For these people, the threat of a delay, a referendum or a soft-as-shite Brexit is a far greater issue than shared baths or having to replace the water feature with a potato patch. The fear that the weirdos and the softies might win far outweighs the lifestyle impacts. To the FBPE crew, it's a lunatic decision that should be taken out of the hands of the people, like a pensioner's scooter.

As the saboteurs, bottlers and elites seek to derail their plans for a Retro-State, the once-quiet just-about-majority are starting to taste the disillusion on their tongues. The tables are slowly turning, and that chronic sense of being ignored by the nucleus of the country is stronger than ever.

no deal brexit soldier
Photo: Jake Lewis

The No Deal Nihilist's reasons might seem absurd, delusional, suicidal to those looking after their farmhouses in the Dordogne. But really they are just the latest manifestation of an age-old fetish in this country: that of strife, disaster, conflict. It's telling that, to assuage the fears of their public, out came a slew of soldiers turned career politicians, ready to defend Britain's villagers – the Seven Samurai in Austin Reed suits. First came David Davis, the broken-nosed bureaucracy buster himself; then Mad Dog Gavin Williamson; and, most ridiculously of all, Mark Francois, squadron leader for Bravo Two Pints Of Spitfire Please. This unit of gone-to-pot servicemen and Dean Koontz stanboys are here to reassure their fanbase that all that time spent yomping up the Brecon Beacons means they are not just the right men for securing a complicated trade deal, but for saving the soul of Great Britain. Yet their presence only makes things seem more insane than ever.

As Brexit flutters into places unknown, we're now in a situation where pretty much any outcome gives the Leave contingent what they want: a fucking stink. Whether that's Deal, No Deal or a confirmation of everything they thought about the scum in charge.

Take a wander through the edgelands of Facebook – on pages like Pro-Great Britain or the absolute arse-end of the comments section on a Daily Express story about Jean-Claude Juncker's expense account – or watch local news vox-pops, or rock up at well-meaning "Have Your Say on Brexit" meetings in villages across the country, and you'll find a fierce, unlikely thirst for action and anarchy. "We must all take to the streets and kick off good style. Before we lose our country forever," says Bryan. "On Friday 29th March every truck and van driver should reduce their speed to 25mph for 2 hours," suggests Cliff.

It's a feeling that has been palpable for some time. Just a few months back I was driving on the M1 and found myself behind a lorry with the words "NO DEAL LET'S GO" smeared into the dirt – an inane ice hockey chant cheering on a potential national catastrophe. What struck me is that this was far beyond the tired old WWII rhetoric of "doing it for the boys" and "digging for victory". This was willing on the kind of chaos we haven't seen in this country since The Two Ronnies were on TV, and the people willing it were were long distance transit drivers, among those to be affected most after any kind of Brexit. Clearly, No Deal presents the opportunity to become part of some uniting national disaster, as if the most alive you'll ever feel in your country will be when it's closest to death.

What this attitude belies more than anything is not the strength of feeling around Brexit, but a strange predilection for chaos and discomfort at the heart of the nation, a crazed, jingo-masochist complex among the seemingly vanilla. Discourse that might feel most at home in a radical Marxist-Accelerationist seminar has become perfectly ordinary to the Points Of View audience.

Brexit is of course the most notable outlet for this sentiment, but really it's just the latest – and, perhaps, "realest" – of a number of events that have tried to reclaim Britain's victories, tragedies and atrocities in the fight to preserve an under-threat national identity.

The other great festival of kamikaze patriotism in recent years – Brexit's bread and olives – was the Tower of London poppy installation of 2014. What could have been a normal, respectful tribute to the people who died across our numerous 20th century wars became something much stranger; a corny, hysterical and highly politicised carnival for people who stand up in their living rooms when it's national anthem time on the football, which saw people travelling to London to outdo each other in their displays of Britishness. It fed into a wider national craze, whereby remembering dead soldiers as solemnly as possible became a display of loyalty and compatibility with British identity; it became booing James McClean, abusing newsreaders, the giant poppy man, that terrifying Somme garden. The factory workers and farmhands gunned down in rural Normandy seemed even further from people's thoughts in all the mawkish symbolism and raging displays of grief.

As WWII fades out of living memory, we're still fighting fierce debates over 20th century violence. Among the most contentious at the moment is the Battle For The Soul of Winston Churchill, whose once-unassailable status as "The Greatest Briton" has been put under more scrutiny than ever in recent years. The big man's legacy has become an ideological MacGuffin for both those looking to delve into Britain's brutal habits, and those who see the man as a national deity. It being the time we're living in, this argument came to a head in a heavily publicised "storming" of a Churchill-themed cafe in north London at the beginning of 2018.

Perhaps even darker and much more impactful on today's politics is the recent row around the prosecution of the Bloody Sunday Soldiers. Where this becomes particularly worrying is that, from my memories of cultural peacetime, Bloody Sunday wasn't really up for debate. Unlike Churchill, who was defended to the hilt as a product of his time, that day's events were an atrocity – an embarrassment to all but the biggest right-wing loons. But now we have elected officials defending the actions of the troops, seeking to absolve them of punishment, and growing Facebook campaigns in their support.

Why in God's name are we like this? The thousand pound question. One on hand, there is certainly an element who hates what this country has become; Muslims reading the news, shopkeepers who open for Christmas and footballers with neck tattoos. These are the people clinging onto things they claim as childhood memories of a Better Britain, but are more likely fading recollections of episodes of The Darling Buds of May.

But then I think you have to consider the more abstract, insular, personal reasons; a fear of the winds of change and thusly death, a shame at never being part of their parents' war, an education rooted in Empire, an attachment to the past above the present and a general sense of isolation fuelled by centralisation, neglect, industrial decline and a constant reminder that they could have made better decisions.

no deal brexit
Photo: Jake Lewis

But the fact remains that, really, these are not their battles. The vast majority of people involving themselves in such cause – bringing up The Blitz or Operation Market Garden at any available opportunity – are, in historical terms, a long way detached from it. In my experience, most of the people who experienced WWII directly are either very old, dead, or often in possession of a fairly mild-mannered, almost evasive approach to that experience.

Doing their social media dirty work and fawning displays of gratitude are instead mostly baby-boomers or Generation X'ers – the people who grew with the Moon landings on television, The Beatles, the pill, the other pills, Vietnam, The Clash, even acid house. Yet, for some reason, they fetishise this bygone mentality.

In actuality, many of these people have prospered through being born in that era, enjoying increasingly distant ideas like home ownership, disposable income, the birth of international travel and the relative health of the planet. Granted, racism, sexism, gay rights and diets were worse off while they were growing up, but those aren't necessarily the issues they're fighting about.

To really get to the bottom of this mentality, you have to look at what we're taught, what we grow up with. Get ahold of our beliefs at the earliest possible stage and you start to see that bubbling under this green and pleasant land is a molten feeling that we are a war nation; that the closest thing we really had to national cohesion was when we were having the shit bombed out of us; and that, essentially, we fare much better in crisis than we do in calm.

To grow up in this country is to be constantly told that our greatest days are our darkest hours, that our sports heroes are best when they're bogged down in enemy fire, that our greatest leaders walked among cities in ruins and torched anyone who got in their way. These ideas aren't always dogma. They can be passed on in myriad ways – accidentally, honestly, ideologically, self-deprecatingly or manipulatively – but they are the very cornerstone of the British Way Of Thinking. And now, they're impacting our political situation in ways we never thought possible.

Perhaps my generation is the last to have been schooled in these ideas. Maybe things have changed, maybe they haven't. But our long-standing national obsession with "getting stuck in" means that we're going to be living with the remnants of these feelings for many years to come. Especially if the 17.4 million don't get their way. Perhaps what we're getting now is what we deserved, and what we always wanted.

@thugclive / @elenagumeniuk