The last few days in Parliament have seen some extraordinary scenes. Boris Johnson, a man who seems determined to drag the office of Prime Minister through the mire, has repeatedly used disrespectful and inflammatory language. He has dismissed the fears of MPs of the death threats, rape threats, arson threats they and their families have received. “Humbug”was Johnson’s response, apparently seeing this as some kind of joke. He even referenced Jo Cox, the MP murdered by a member of the Alt Right who shouted “Britain first” as he killed her, and said she would have wanted us to ‘get on’ with Brexit. BS.
Others have suggested riots if we do not leave the EU on 31st October. Suggested these riots almost as a threat, almost as a call for riots.
I have been on a number of pro EU marches since June 2016. They have been characterised by good humour, politeness, warmth. They had a family feel. There have been dogs and children, wheelchair users. They have made me proud to be British at a time when my country, which I love, has been tearing itself apart.
I stood at Trafalgar Square over a year ago and, as I waited for the friends I was hoping to join, struck up a conversation with a a French family visiting London. They were warm in their admiration of the way this huge crowd was behaving. I have been with Americans who have taken photograph after photograph, and then decided they wanted to join in, be part of this. These marches, these demonstrations, have fostered such good feeling, such warmth from foreigners who had wondered whether London was a safe place to visit in these febrile times.
There have been no arrests. At the largest march over one million people of all ages walked together, calm, courteous even when abuse was shouted by the odd Brexiteer who had turned up to jeer. Some people tried to engage with the Brexiteers, to speak to them. They were repaid with swearing and threats, not dialogue.
I have only witnessed a Brexiteer demonstration by accident. There were only a small number of demonstrators, but they were loudly aggressive, threatening. One wore a Donald trump mask while others sang “We love you Donald, oh yes we do.” As a Remainer, I would not have liked to challenge them. The outcome would almost certainly have been violent. More than one person has said that Brexit has become like a religion, a particularly fundamentalist religion, where questioning and discussion, let alone disagreement, is treated as blasphemy and quickly suppressed, the questioner demonised.
This is a dangerous development. Democracy is a delicate creature. Look at history and see how many times people who thought they were secure were forced to flee their homes with nothing when anti-democratic, often populist, movements silenced debate and demanded adherence to a particular ideology; when the people comes to mean only people who belong to a certain group.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly used the language of war that stirs emotions. This is no accident. When he talks about fighting or surrender he knows exactly what response this will get from his adherents who want to see themselves as plucky heroes fighting the EU behemoth, the chattering classes (ie those who are engaged in the political process and current affairs), the metropolitan élite (a mythical beast of huge wealth and influence which has never been seen in the wild); David v Goliath. Yet we have known for months, no years, that those who really want Brexit have no concern for the little people; they are the hedge funders, people with off shore investments who regard the rest of us as expendable. But hey, point the finger elsewhere, and the hedgefunders ride off into the sunset in their private jets and four by fours. Or like Jacob Rees-Mogg move their company HQ to the Cayman Islands so as to avoid paying tax. How very patriotic of him. Not.
The Supreme Court upheld the primacy of Parliament, and reminded the government that no one is above the law. Magna Carta did much the same thing to King John, and it is fitting that the old Middlesex Guildhall where the Supreme Court sits has a relief of John reluctantly sealing Magna Carta. Eight hundred years on, it is Magna Carta that is admired, not John.
When Boris Johnson says in his opinion the Supreme Court was wrong in its judgement he is denying one of the most important tenets of our democracy. When his henchmen go further and accuse the Supreme Court of being beholden to the EU they are being treasonous liars. We are back to Gove’s infamous statement in the run up to the 2016 referendum that we are “tired of experts”. In this government’s book, anyone who acts independently must be a wrong; only the government has the right to be right.
In other words, Johnson and co are setting themselves above the law. This is as dangerous as it is careless. Our democracy is fragile right now. Hold onto your hats. This is going to be a bumpy ride.