Has any other recent political process generated so many strange comparisons? Asks Christopher Greyby Christopher Grey / October 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
Perhaps because Brexit is such an unprecedented event, it has spawned an ever-growing array of metaphors to try to make sense of it. But metaphors are rarely innocent, and the different images that Remainers and Leavers invoke are one part of the ongoing divisions and debates around Brexit.
Often the metaphors are sporting, and when deployed by Leavers serve to demonstrate the immutability of the referendum result—with Brexit likened to a football score or losing the toss at cricket. Remainers respond that drug cheats lose their medals or race jerseys. When it comes to the negotiations, sports give way to games: for Leavers, it’s usually poker, with cards kept to the chest, for Remainers it’s more likely to be chess, the latter available in numerous dimensions. Or maybe Blind Man’s Buff.
Food metaphors abound. Cakes and cherries are the most obvious. More colourfully, we’re swapping a three course meal for a packet of crisps, according to a former, ahem, mandarin, or creating a fragile chocolate orange, according to a present one. Jacob Rees-Mogg thinks Brexit is like boiling an egg, whereas Remainers remark that it is like trying to unscramble an omelette. Or perhaps it is just a dog’s dinner. At all events, there is a bar bill to be paid on leaving, or a mess bill for the more military-minded.
Indeed, mentioning the war—or a war—is almost compulsory. For Brexiters, Dunkirk—that strangely ambivalent moment of defeat and triumph—has pride of place, and their leaders also yearn for a fight on the beaches, if only to dust down their dodgy impersonations of Churchill. For Remainers the mindless idiocy of First World War generals urging us over the top, often interpreted via the historian Blackadder, provides a more “salient” image. An alternative is the doomed Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean war. Waterloo is a less popular choice on all sides, presumably because no one is quite sure whether it connotes a great victory or a final defeat, or just an Abba song that May could dance to (the alternative Brexit sound track metaphor being the less danceable Hotel California).
Closely linked to war are ideological references, with the EU featuring, curiously, as both Nazi and Communist in the lexicon of the Brexit Ultras. Meanwhile, those Ultras are compared with the Jacobins of the…