British politics is ill suited to the jackbooted, says Roger Ratcliffe

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The unfolding national disaster of Brexit sometimes makes me want to break out in gales of deranged cackling. I swear this nearly happened last week while I was watching a TV debate that began to look like a very bad remake of that classic 1940s Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico.

The film was about a small London borough deciding to declare independence from Great Britain, and brought out the worst Little Englander traits you can imagine. Does that sound familiar? I thought so. Well, the bad remake we’re all now watching on the news every night is called Passport to Purgatory.

If you are one of those who voted to exit the European Union, you’re possibly already beginning to feel pumped up with indignation. That’s fine. And I sincerely, genuinely hope you turn out to be right that it really is in our best interests to go it alone, and the UK becomes this incredible superstate on the edge of Europe, the mighty global power that once ruled the waves. But then again, you may be one of those people – and I seem to find myself talking to a lot of them these days – who are starting to think that 23 June was a big big mistake. Of course, maybe that’s just naked self-interest snuffling to the fore, the sudden realisation that we’re now barely scraping one euro to the pound and still haven’t even opened the Brexit door.

I’m one of those doomsters who see the real trouble beginning next year. I believe it will be the most dangerous time for Britain since 1938-39, when we were sliding to war with fascist Germany. Back then it crossed many a mind that they might wake up one morning to the sound of jackboots marching down their street. Well, that didn’t happen, and I’m not suggesting it will happen now, but I think it was still the recurring nightmare of the Conservative Party’s loony right, the ones whose pathological fear of Europe pitchforked David Cameron into his monumentally stupid referendum.

And here is the irony. Instead of foreign troops wrecking the country we have home-grown headbangers like Boris Johnson, David Davis, Liam Fox and Amber Rudd doing it instead. If you think that’s unfair, just go to BBC iPlayer and listen to what they said at the Tory conference. They are prime examples of jackboot Conservatism in action.

Brexit could be particularly destructive for the north. We have some of the country’s biggest manufacturers, and they’ll be prime targets for luring across the Channel. Germany, with a million extra mouths to feed because of its open door to refugees, will be tempted to entice huge employers like Nissan in Sunderland, which has a 7,000 workforce, with a further 30,000 dependent jobs in ancillary industries. The company has already indicated its unease about operating outside the European single market.

If I worked at other big factories in the north – there are still many – I’d feel queasy about Brexit, because we’re still in the dark as to what it means. If the government continues to insist access to the single market is less important than pulling up the drawbridge at Dover to stop the arrival of immigrant workers, then Passport to Purgatory may be coming to a cinema near you.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter 


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