The project has come to mean nothing more than spiritual devotion to a lost causeby Jonathan Lis / June 21, 2019 / Leave a comment
In his 1884 masterpiece The Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen centred a play around the kind of lies that are so fundamental we all but absorb them into our bloodstream. He called them “life-lies.” It could be something we know is not true but need to believe anyway. It could be something we have never even dared question. The point of it is that a life-lie can either destroy our happiness or guarantee our basic identity. The hard part is determining which it will be.
Brexit became the Conservatives’ transcendent life-lie in the summer of 2016. The referendum had been so shocking and disruptive that it seemed to pose almost an existential threat. The government needed to neutralise the danger by accepting the result without any hint of challenge. This fast became a wholehearted embrace. Despite all the evidence, and in direct opposition to everything that the government had promised just weeks earlier, Brexit would indeed make us happier, more prosperous and more globally connected. It would be easy to negotiate a deal and get exactly what we wanted from it. Most important of all, Brexit was the will of the people and as such unchangeable.
In fact, when you examine the language around Brexit, the parallels with religion become unmistakeable. Politicians refer to the referendum result as “sacrosanct.” Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has literally described Brexit as an “article of faith.” And for three years the government has deployed the phrase “the will of the people” as a medieval clergyman might have said “the will of God.” It denotes the definitive end of the argument. It is nothing less than a commandment. The people have spoken, they will not speak again, and we must accept whatever they said.
Why is this a problem? There is nothing intrinsically wrong with religion, and people are entitled to any beliefs they like. Except this isn’t about private worship. Brexit is the country’s overriding preoccupation, driving the central policy of our government and the most sustained period of peacetime political crisis in Britain’s modern history. At any other moment, in any other country, we would ask to see the evidence. In Britain, today, that question amounts to, at best, liberal elitism, and at worst, outright treason.
Brexit has, in this way, been subsumed into the country’s ecosystem. What, ten years ago, operated as a fringe issue,…