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Sadopopulism, Agincourt and Prawn Cocktail Crisps

“I’ve looked very carefully at No Deal. That outcome would be a failure of statecraft”. Boris Johnson, Dublin, 9th September, 2019

As we watch Boris Johnson’s No Deal land with all the precision of a SpaceX’s Starship rocket it’s time for us to understand the origins and the possibilities of this latest stage of the unfolding phenomenon of Disaster Unionism.

Liberation is at hand – but most national liberation struggles have glorious leaders to the fore. Johnson is not that leader. As David Cameron reported to his communications director Craig Oliver he had (and no doubt still has no idea what the actual consequences of leaving are):

“He actually said he thought we could leave and still have a seat on the European Council – still making decisions.”

There’s no reason for Johnson or his colleagues to know any details for this epochal shift, they have led gilded consequence-free lives “failing upwards” – Johnson himself famously sacked-promoted repeatedly until he lands in the highest office of the land. His life-story is like a parody of Meritocratic Britain. The elite that have engineered this moment will not face its consequences, indeed many of them have either moved themselves or their money offshore already.

But the Heroic Failure of Brexit may have run out of time. In fixing this deal Johnson may have failed by succeeding. Who to blame now? If, as the mythology goes, “Britain” has been held back by being a “vassal state” – now what? If, as the mythology goes, “Britain” has been held back by being swamped by immigrants – now what? If, as the mythology goes, “Brexit” has been held back by traitors and “remoaners” and vile politicians  – now what that it has been delivered in all its glory?

I think we can guess.

The recalcitrant Scots, the troublesome Irish and the meddling Welsh will surely suffer the consequences of resistance to assimilation as the internal market bill makes its way and the refusal to acknowledge the wild myths of Brexit mania. The consequences of Brexit won’t be a short sharp shock but a Long Brexit with food prices rocketing, industries closing, and joblessness accelerating. But the racism that underpinned the campaign won’t disappear and the consequences for immigration for freedom of movement and and for the notion of a multicultural Britain will be dire and are already seen in Patel’s portfolio. Post-Brexit Britain will be dominated by a regime emboldened by its own “success” even if that success is pyrrhic useless and intangible – even if that success brings mayhem and misery – it will be celebrated with fanfare and jubilation as the imaginary enemy is vanquished.

Johnson’s “success’ will now mean “liberation” and the presumably the many myths that have been peddled will be resolved?

Among them Johnson claimed that the EU was standardising condom sizes, banning children under eight from blowing up balloons, stopping people buying prawn cocktail crisps, and stopping people re-cycling teabags. All of this was completely fictional nonsense but it didn’t matter. Newly-liberated ‘Brits’ can’t celebrate with (presumably) huge condoms, toddlers blowing up balloons whilst snacking on Prawn Cocktail crisps and curvy bananas because its was all just a figment of the fervid imagination of the Brexit mania.

Except not quite. It spoke to the underlying need for the reactionary forces to destroy “red tape”. The real liberation will be regulatory not national. As Fintan O’Toole writes: “It took the vast tedious odyssey of the EU and reduced it to things that people could touch and feel and more importantly consume: beer, crisps, bananas”.

“It took Europe down to microeconomic minutiae and then blew them up again into. macroeconomic tale of oppression.”

Maybe if Brexit can’t deliver on its promises it will result in a resurgence of democracy? Maybe if our crisps and condoms weren’t really under threat the idea of “taking back control” can be re-fashioned? Not so much. One of the great ironies of Brexit is that simultaneously with us being told that this is all about sovereignty there has been a systematic assault on all of the functions and institutions that might represent that very sovereignty: the parliament, the independent judiciary, the press have all been under sustained attack from the very forces that squeal about sovereignty.

It’s unlikely that this moment shall lead to a coherent expression of a democracy movement in England, instead what we have seen is the disruption of devolution and the suppression of democracy. England will reassert itself through Britain. Triumphalism will reign.

There’s no greater proponent of this than Jacob Rees-Mogg who said back in October 2017:

“We need to be reiterating the benefits of Brexit! Oh this is so important in the history of our country … It’s Waterloo! Its Crécy! It’s Agincourt! We win all these things.”

If medieval history is not your strong point it’s worth remembering that the Battle of Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415) were English victories but Scottish defeats.

In 2015 the Daily Express celebrated Agincourt’s 600th anniversary (Agincourt: The battle that made our nation): “It was raining, and the English soldiers huddled around dismal camp fires in the dark. Across the narrow valley of Agincourt, they could hear the French taunting them.”

What we now see unspooling amid the chaos will be two things: untrammeled hyper-capitalism and a forced One State One People One Queen Anglo-British nationalism.

Talking to BBC’s Newsnight, Ben Hahib, CEO and fund manager, chairman of “Brexitwatch” and of “Unlocked UK” and former MEP for London said: “The collective will of the British people will get behind No Deal.” What evidence do you have for that? “They will absolutely get behind it”.



Kirsty Wark searching for evidence for Hahib’s assertions was as futile as fact-checking Johnson’s Telegraph columns from Brussels. Of course this mythical unity, this mythical kingdom and this mythical people will come up against the cold reality of democracy as Irish unification, a movement for Welsh independence and the now inevitable Scottish independence are all resurgent.

The bind for Brexiteers and British nationalists is that the more they exert their triumph the more they feed the nascent movements in Wales, all-Ireland and Scotland. The pro-Brexit left might not like the fact that the phenomenon is driving support for Scottish independence (they are the wrong type of Yes voters) but that is the reality of where we are, like it or not.

England’s Sadopopulism* is an exercise in grievance culture gone horribly wrong and it has destroyed the myths on which the 2014 independence campaign was fought by the Union. Britain as a progressive force; Britain as a multicultural entity (to be contrasted against Scotland’s “narrow separatism”); Britain as a source of stability; Britain as a source of international pride; each of these concepts now look ridiculous in the aftermath of this weekend.

In it’s place we have the Bad Boys of Brexit and the Proud Boys of Oregon and a different set of arguments and claims. They don’t align perfectly but the new right of the US and Brexitland have enough in common: glorifying the entrepreneur; closing the border; libertarianism; attacking welfare; hyper-nationalism; and unconstrained xenophobia. While some of this will play well in the Shires it’s unlikely to play well in the parts of England that will suffer the economic consequences of No Deal, nor in the other nations of the fast disintegrating ‘UK’.

What to do?

Few in the Unionist camp are fully aware of what’s ahead, blinded by triumph and jingoism.

But, in a rearguard action we’re told that Keir Starmer is about to launch a ‘constitutional convention’ to be led by the former PM Gordon Brown. The new “UK-wide Constitutional Convention designed to reform and extend devolution and fend off Scottish independence” was enthusiastically heralded by the media in Scotland though largely over-shadowed by the late stages of the Brussels drama.

It seems almost comically late and last-ditch. It’s framed in such negative terms and both Gordon Brown and Labour are in no place to deliver the federalism for which there is so little interest. Brown is a relic of a bye-gone era, a former politician from a time when the forces that created Britain hadn’t been overwhelmed. England is a different place and Britain no longer exists to be rescued by the great and the good in a throwback convention.

It seems unlikely that the forces that propelled England into Brexit will decline and cease in victory, whatever the economic and social consequences. The pathway forward and out from this lunacy is clear to all.

What some of the Unionist camp might reflect on is that absolutely none of this was inevitable.

Research polling conducted by Ipsos MORI found that before 2016, when the referendum took place, Europe was considered significant for generally a single-digit percentage of respondents. It stated that before 2016, only 1% of people in Britain cared about the EU and concluded that: “According to Google Trends analysis there was more interest in Strictly Come Dancing.”

Britain has never been so engulfed with tragedy and farce, and that’s how it will end.


* Sadopopulism is a term coined by Timothy Snyder in his book “The Road to Unfreedom,”



Comments (26)

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  1. Michael says:

    I love the idea that the ‘constitutional convention’ will be led by “former Gordon Brown”.

  2. Stephen Senn says:

    Although, TBF, a prominent spokesman for a certain crisps manufaturer has been very anti-Brexit

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      Many British manufacturers are dreading the interruption of free trade within Europe AND the protection that the EU afforded them from competition from outside Europe. Adam Smith must be squirming in his grave, unable to decide which way to birl.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    It’s starting to look like the opening scenes of Neverwinter Nights (city under failed lockdown against deadly plague, mass unemployment, quarters overrun by criminals, nobles barricaded in their own castles suspected of hoarding cures, exhausted militia burning piles of plague-corpses in the streets, paranoia and racial tensions…).

    The photo from Laurence Olivier’s hideously-hacked-about propagandist adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V (without English dissent-treason on the unprovoked aggression against France, Henry’s blood-curdling terrorist threats to the innocent citizens of Harfleur, the various English war crimes) should be a reminder that even English cultural totems may be broadly misremembered and misunderstood by many of its celebrators.

    Leaving the EU is going to vastly increase bureaucracy and inefficiency in the UK, much of it in the private sector, just like we have seen during the pandemic.

  4. Wullie says:

    The English of course lost the Hundred Years War with the French.

    1. Stephen Senn says:

      Yes. Once the Swiss destroyed the power of the main ally of the English, it was all over for them. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_the_Bold#Downfall Of course, there was also the magificent earlier intervention of Quentin Durward, which should not be ignored.

    2. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      Of course, the Hundred Years War wasn’t a war between the English and the French nations, neither of which had yet been invented, but between the Plantagenet and the Capetian dynasties. The later mythologising of this war as a war between England and France was part of the invention of both these nations, just as the mythologising of the contemporary dynastic war over the kingship of the Scots was part of the national invention of ‘Scotland’.

      Perhaps future historians will interpret Brexit as part of the reinvention of the UK.

  5. Axel P Kulit says:

    They have already started blaming the SNP.

    I make a point of telling Brexiteers that England would have been out long ago had we had a YES vote in 2014 and Brexit is not stable as long as England and Scotland are both in the UK.

  6. Blair says:

    “As David Cameron reported to his communications director Craig Oliver he had (and no doubt still has no idea what the actual consequences of leaving are):

    “He actually said he thought we could leave and still have a seat on the European Council – still making decisions.””

    If it wasn’t for Boris and the Tory Party, state craft could & should have come up with something that embodied David Cameron’s thinking. There is still scope for this to happen if Boris can divide the EU through sovereignty state craft can potentially provide net deal which would would work both for UK and the EU.

    1. john burrows says:

      Sovereignty state craft? You expect Johnson to employ state craft???

      You are as deluded as all brexiters.

      No one, outside the bubble of tory fantasists, trusts the man farther than they can throw Michael Gove.

      He is not a statesman. Never has been and, more to the point, he never will be.

      He’s just another piss poor product of the ‘entitled’ sludge that Eton manufactures to menace the body politic.

      Eton generates irresponsible narcissists by the gross. England should do itself and the world in general a favor, by burning the place to the ground.

      The second Scotland has secured a future without the baleful influence of this institution to contend with, will be the day we can look forward to our future.

    2. JohnC says:

      If you seriously believe that Boris can divide the EU through “statecraft”, then I have news for you. I have just spent the last 4 months in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. No one I have spoken with in those countries has a positive opinion of Boris or, increasingly, the UK. The overwhelming view of Brexit is quite simple- good riddance.

  7. Duncan Sutherland says:

    In Germany there has been another of the regular (and frequent) meetings between the leader of the federal government and the leaders of all of the regional administrations, resulting smoothly, as usual, in a firm agreement on how to proceed with managing the public health crisis, which, as the first minister of Bavaria has said, has now got out of control in Germany. Such regular meetings between these two levels of government is, of course, normal procedure in the federal republic.

    In the fulminating xenophobic English press today, however, the federal chancellor is baselessly accused of authoritarian arrogance and is loftily identified as the person responsible for the emerging probability of a no-deal Brexit, to which Chancellor Merkel has simply replied when informed of this risible nonsense, “Really? That’s good to know, particularly as I’m not involved in the negotiations.”

    Would that it were possible for the UK to transform itself into a truly decentralized democratic federal republic led by a rational being such as Dr Merkel. Alas, it is not. You might as well expect Father Christmas to come down the chimney to deliver Gordon Brown’s worthless promises on the constitution.

    Scotland is stuck with a dysfunctional post-imperial state which is palpably incapable of achieving a semblance of rational or effective decentralized democratic government. As for devising and giving effect to an equal partnership of British nations, forget it. Where there is no will there is no way. That is also good to know, as there is no point in nurturing false hope. Much better to move on by moving out.

    1. gavin says:

      “Fulminating English press”. It is worth contemplating the media, because it is, both a force of control, and a centralising determinant.
      None of the media wants Scottish independence, and all of it work conscuously agin it.
      Bias, misreporting, occasion, commission–all are part of the “Scottish” media landscape.
      The BBC is a prime example. The network news and news24 have very little Scottish content or interest.
      The BBC that operates in Scotland is relentlessly negative, with a very narrow focus. It has no perspective outside “Scotland”, gives no context to its news, and it’s political view is to negate anything that appears bad for this country. It asks no questions of UK government decisions or representatives, even in the midst of Brexit and the passing of the Internal Market Bill.

      Remember how good Radio Scotland was when launched? Scotland-focused, asked in depth questions, did analysis. Now look at it. A dreadful North British waste of airtime.
      Yesterday’s news today.
      Scotland? Too parochial.

      1. gavin says:

        Sorry. “Occasion” should read omission.

      2. Chas Gallagher says:

        Along with most of Scotland, I lobbied the EBC high command in its establishment HQ in London to produce a ‘Scottish Six’ then came digital broadcasting and the opportunity to broadcast many more channels and so it came to pass that we got ‘The Scotland Channel’! And a fat lot of good it has done, how many people actually watch it? Well apart from those folk who are devout fanatic followers of ‘Religion Football’, it seems to me the orders have come down to Pacific Quay, “Feed the Jocks a diet of continuous football tripe and they’ll be happy.” EBC, Scotland thinks we are happy to watch mediocre English 3rd and 4th Division teams and yet they failed to televise most of Scotland’s European Autumn Test series. I say no more though I could probably fill fill a dozen volimes.

        1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          ‘…most of Scotland…’? Really?

      3. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        Thankfully, though, gavin, the digital revolution has given us as consumers a dizzying array of news platforms, from among which we can now get the news and analysis we want.

        If you don’t like the BBC’s coverage and/or editorial of current affairs, shop elsewhere.

    2. Duncan Strachan says:

      Nice one Duncan Sutherland

  8. MBC says:

    Finding it a bit sad that immigrants to the UK like Patel, Sunak, Hahib, are such strong proponents for Brexit and renewed British imperialism aimed at keeping other British peoples like the Scots and the Welsh down as subject peoples, lording it over them. Karma is a bitch as they say, and from time to time I wonder if it is our bad karma for the considerable role some Scots played historically in empire especially in India, that the empire now strikes back. It was a shameful day when we surrendered our sovereign parliament in order to join in with the imperial robbers as partners in crime. Though in 1707 most of the evils of what lay ahead could not have been foreseen. They called it ‘overseas trade’ rather than overseas expansion, but we’ve suffered plenty for it too. The industrial revolution produced goods for overseas markets, Glasgow became the workshop of the world, but little of that ever trickled down to the workers, many of them displaced Gaels, forced to endure unsanitary housing, disease and overcrowding, overwork for a pittance in dangerous conditions, because politics were stuck in feudalism since 1707. I often wonder what our parliament and political culture might have become if it had been left to develop by itself instead of being shackled to the UK and Westminster.

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      Priti Patel is London born and bred. Rishi Sunak is Southampton born and bred. What do you mean ‘immigrants’? That nasty talk.

      1. Indeed.

        Please desist from comments that could be construed as racist in any way.

        1. Derek Thomson says:

          I can’t see how that could be construed as racist. Patel is the child of Ugandan Asian immigrants, and is bringing in immigration controls that would forbid her parents from coming here. She’s the racist.

  9. John Barton says:

    How come I had heard nothing of the constitutional convention?

    1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

      I don’t know why you’ve heard nothing of it. Probably because it’s not Independence.

      I think it was first mentioned in Labour’s 2015 manifesto, which recognised that the constitutional status quo is unsustainable and proposed a constitutional convention on the model of Iceland’s and Ireland’s.

      A Constitutional Convention Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Labour in July 2015, but it never got beyond first reading. The bill was also introduced in the House of Lords, where it reached committee stage.

      Labour has been punting this for a while now. The Constitutional Convention would be composed of representatives of the nations and regions, the local authorities, and registered political parties. It would consider and make recommendations on further devolution to Cornwall, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in legislative and fiscal matters; more importantly, it would consider and make recommendations on the devolution of legal, political, electoral, and fiscal competence to away from the nations to more local authorities. The Convention would also consider and make recommendations on the reform of the electoral system (for all election types), the House of Lords, House of Commons, and local government, the role of the monarchy, Crown Dependencies, and British Overseas Territories, and matters and procedures to govern further conventions and constitutional reforms.

      Of course, this, along with other Labour policy, has been roundly rejected by the electorate throughout the UK. It’s not what most folk in these Isles are looking for.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Foghorn Leghorn, since the logical outcome of such a constitutional convention is to formally optionalize all these constitutional components (as well as providing a right to secede for constituent nations) then it is counter-intuitive to maintain it is not what people want, since afterwards they will have choices they never had before. Unless your position is that “most folk in these isles” are against having political choice, or at least disfavour increasing or spreading democracy. But unlike you, I cannot peer into those millions of minds and determine their wishes in this case.

        1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          Nor can I, SD. I can only go by the polls. The proposal has been Labour Party policy since 2015, it’s been in the manifesto the party stood on in UK general elections since then, and the electorate hasn’t gone for it. Why, in the face of such a manifest expression of the popular will, do you think ‘it is counter-intuitive to maintain it is not what people want’?

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