Gina Miller, the multimillionaire who felt so ‘physically sick’ at the prospect of Brexit she hired lawyers to prevent the government from invoking Article 50, is cross. The anti-Brexit activist, along with other ‘top women,’ wrote a letter to The Guardian in June declaring women’s rights to be at risk if Britain leaves the EU. In response, people – some of them women and many without letters after their names – criticised Miller and her friends for spreading historically illiterate, elitist, fear-mongering nonsense. She is now outraged that, yet again, the uppity-plebs answered back rather than bowing and scraping before their superiors.
Miller’s longing for experts to step in and wrest Brexit away from the ‘low information’ masses and place it safely in the hands of QCs, PhDs, MPs and Lords articulates the anti-democratic sentiment that became explicit almost as soon as the EU referendum was announced. Fear and loathing of a decision taken by a majority of the populace quickly became expressed as contempt for those who voted against the wishes of the cultural elite. In the ensuing culture war, people normally careful to watch their words for fear of causing offence decreed that, when it comes to leave voters, political correctness does not apply. There is simply no insult too egregious it can’t be hurled at the upstarts who didn’t do as they were told.
Miller reiterates the central trope of the anti-Brexit culture war: leave voters are stupid. Before the referendum, comedian Robert Webb took to Twitter to comment on the audience’s response to a Boris Johnson Brexit speech and in particular the ‘wild applause’ he received from ‘thick people.’ Nick Cohen, writing in The Guardian, denounced the Brexity masses in stronger terms. He declared, ‘It is as if the sewers have burst.’ The day after the referendum result was announced Laurie Penny wrote in the New Statesman that, ‘the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain voted out, out, out.’ There is ‘something rancid in the air,’ wrote another Guardian columnist.
Time and again, Brexit voters have been written off as irrational. Labour MP David Lammy called for Parliament to ‘stop this madness and bring this nightmare to an end’. The concerns of 17.4 million voters are brushed away as act of insanity: ‘madness’. In Lammy’s eyes, only the ‘mad’ would vote to leave the EU. Others have continued this theme. ‘Brexit was fueled by irrational xenophobia, not real economic grievances’ writes one commentator. Bizarrely, the fact that Project Fear’s worst predictions failed to materialise was seen as a further indicator of the irrationality of the masses: ‘British consumers have been on a heedless spending spree since the vote to leave the European Union; and, no less illogically, construction, manufacturing, and services have recovered,’ notes the economic historian Robert Skidelsky.
What seems to have upset remain-backing commentators more than anything else is the shocking revelation that, in a democracy, all votes carry equal weight. Philosopher A. C. Grayling argues that the Brexit vote came about because ‘too much power’ was given ‘to the wrong sort of people.’ In his Times column Matthew Parris complains that: ‘Something of an “I know what I like and no stuck-up expert is going to tell me otherwise” spirit is abroad in our country today, something brutish, something authoritarian, something mean.’ The authoritarianism underpinning the sentiment that only the right sort of people with the right sort of knowledge should determine the future of the country is unacknowledged.
It seems that many remainers are unable to comprehend that people – with full understanding of what they were voting for – deliberately and knowingly chose to reject the EU. Excuses must be found. Leave voters are old, white and irredeemably racist runs one popular explanation. Hate crime, an offence based on perception of intentions – and not necessarily the victims’ perceptions – is said to have ‘soared at an unprecedented rate since the Brexit vote’. This narrative of xenophobia rapidly became established despite serious doubts being cast on its legitimacy. Sir Vince Cable still argued that leavers were ‘driven by nostalgia’ and a longing for a world where ‘faces were white’.
When racism is challenged, other excuses are sought. We’re told that it was The Daily Mail that made people vote leave. According to The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, ‘Decades of straight-banana EU fabrications and myths sowed the seeds, but nothing was as shocking as his front pages in the referendum run-up, filled with dark-skinned migrants making bogus claims, criminals and terrorists heading this way.’ Even if we assume all Mail readers blindly follow the paper’s lead there are still roughly 15 million more people who voted leave than regularly read The Mail.
The Russians have become another popular scapegoat for remainers. Apparently, it was messages posted by Russian-language Twitter accounts, ‘tools of the Kremlin,’ in the days leading up to the referendum that swayed the vote. And then there’s the connection between Leave.EU backer Arron Banks – self-styled ‘bad boy’ of Brexit – and the Russians. Panics about ‘reds under the bed’ are, it seems, making a comeback. And of course, in the long list of explanations we must not forget that slogan on the side of the Brexit bus!
The culture war against Brexit, waging for almost three years, is growing increasingly desperate in its attempts at besmirching leave voters. We can only imagine the outcry if such insults as are routinely directed leavers were levelled at any other group in society. But the never ending churn of excuses and insults continues because it allows remainers to avoid the painful reality that millions of people rationally weighed up the arguments and decided to vote to leave the EU. Their rage against democracy exposes the elitism of remainers and unwittingly reveals why so many of us backed Brexit.
Dr Joanna Williams is an author and academic.