The anniversary helps us understand the ways in which history is constructedby Jonathan Lis / June 23, 2020 / Leave a comment
It is not often that an anniversary of independence is marked with a “shock and awe” campaign, but Brexit is no ordinary liberation struggle. Last week it was revealed that the government is unleashing a multi-million pound information blitz to prepare business and consumers for the end of the transition period in December. It was not clear how they would prepare anyone, given that not even the government knows what those changes will be. And it was just one more remarkable story among a sea of thousands from the last four years. But sometimes even the numbing effect of cumulative shock wears off for a moment. Even a little story can jolt us into asking questions. “Shock and awe” is not a phrase of comfort. It was the official characterisation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, intended to overwhelm and subdue a military opponent. A government which is promising to deliver long-awaited freedom is treating it as a declaration of war.
That is why anniversaries are helpful. They offer a chance to step away from the daily churn and contextualise a given period of time. Four years is not a long time. In the sweep of human history even a century represents a fraction of a second. But more seems to have changed in the last four years than in the preceding 40.
The first thing to do, then, is to explore what has actually happened. One of the problems of Brexit is also a problem of the human condition: when you are subsumed into a chain of events you stop asking questions in a simple effort to cope. Brexit has happened, and we accept it. But that also blunts us to the absurdity, unreality and sheer implausibility of the last four years. Brexit’s changes are so enormous they feel almost indigestible. We knew that Britain was fixated on an imagined history of its own greatness and that it considered itself superior to the rest of the world. But we also thought that prosperity mattered, that the Conservatives were the party of business, and that a British government would promote verifiable political and economic interests above nationalist mythmaking. We were wrong.
Until a global pandemic displaced it on the agenda, the 2016 referendum consumed the national landscape. Indeed, it all but…