In these very strange days of COVID-19, it seems hard to believe that it was only six months ago that the only life-or-death battle we knew was between EU Leavers v. Remainers.
Having EU-remain British friends in Spain, Italy, France, Germany and various other EU countries, as well as friends and family in the UK, there was a sense in January that the battle was lost but history would be the final judge. In January, historical judgement seemed a very long way off.
Not now: for it is clear that history will judge this Brexit bunch for their role in the highest death toll of any European country in the COVID-19 crisis of 2020. British exceptionalism hides beneath the Grim Reaper’s hood now. The Brexit band is playing the death march but still they play to an adoring crowd. “Boris” is still the clown hero. “Thirty thousand dead? Yeah, mate: that’s exactly what I voted for. Bring it on.”
Writing in Wednesday’s The Guardian, one James Johnson, a conservative political luminary who I had never heard of before (a former Downing Street adviser who worked under Theresa May), wrote these opening words to his opinion piece: “Why are we so different?”
In other words, “Why are the British so different?” Just pause that for a moment and reflect on it. Do you – if you are British – really feel different? Do you – if you are not British – really feel there’s something different about the British? If we substitute the word “think” for “feel” would that change anything? The arrogance of those opening five words of the article, striking a tone more suited to the Daily Mail than to The Guardian, tells us very clearly that we are reading an article from 2020 post-Brexit Britain’s press. We could spot similar tell-tale signs if we were reading the Spanish press of the Franco era, in say 1964 in the celebrations of “25 Años de Paz” (25 years of “peace” in dictatorship from 1939.)
In May 2020 to begin an article with the words “Why are we so different?” is to make an ideologically loaded opening statement. It would be pointless to launch into a linguistic analysis, or a Barthian semiological deconstruction, of an article that is so forgettably banal that few people would take the trouble to re-read it. But it is precisely the banality of the present “leadership” of the British government and its reliance on a “get Brexit done” mentality, which has allowed the whole country to sleepwalk into the slaughter of COVID-19 in the same way that the incompetent ruling class of 1914 allowed a whole generation to sleepwalk into the machine-gun cross-fire of the Somme. Yes walking, chaps: not running please.
This arrogant mean-spirited voice of British exceptionalism then asserts, “Britons are emotionally committed to the NHS in a way that other populations are not to their health systems.” So, here in Spain, if we are to believe Mr Johnson, there is no real support for the public health system. No “emotional” commitment (i.e. symbolic support for health workers on low wages who have been suffering cuts for a decade and whose lives are on the line through lack of PPE.)
But the final insult of this British exceptionalism is here, in the final sentence: “Though on the surface our unique difference with other countries is support for lockdown, it might be that our real differentiator is our capacity to do what we are told.”
Our capacity to do what we are told. That level of ideological exceptionalism – which is typical of the Brexit mindset – displays such an ignorance of the reality of British anarchy in the face of rule-governed behaviour in either international European affairs or even respect for other countries’ laws that it beggars belief.
Try to explain the British superior “capacity to do what we are told” to the police officers in Benidorm who spent days battling to keep the British in their hotels last March, before they were all (thank goodness) loaded onto flights back to UK to become some other police force’s COVID-19 policing problem.
But it is not simply the British morons at the bottom of the pile who cannot observe the simplest of rules. The Eton-educated anarchists at the top of the greasy pole are the worst examples of the British tribe. The clown in Number 10 and all the witless inexperienced ideological sycophants around him have got their Brexit and they can now add thirty thousand dead to their triumph. The highest death toll in Europe.
The Brexiters got their wish: they will be history. Like the Black Death.