Thursday 28th February 2019

Ben Norris, writer and performer of SOVEREIGNTY, tells us his reasons for creating the piece.

SOVEREIGNTY is a piece born out of my frustration, bordering on despair, at how Brexit is unfolding. Or not unfolding. It would be funny if so much wasn’t at stake.

My issue is both with the mess we’re currently in, and how we ended up here in the first place. But I wanted to write something that took aim not at anyone who voted a certain way, on either side of the Leave-Remain divide, but rather the individuals and institutions responsible. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, recently said there is a “special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan”, and I’m inclined to agree with the bloke. We are lost in a forest of misinformation, manipulation, and malevolence, and some other things not beginning with M, and we desperately need to start hacking our way out. This is my small contribution: a modest pair of secateurs, if you will.

The vast majority of those voting Leave back in 2016 did so, I believe, for very legitimate reasons. Deep concerns for the state of the nation, a nation in the grips of austerity, operating relatively skeletal public services, cutting back on everything from library opening hours to disability support payments. Some pretty compelling claims were made… £350m a week to our NHS, better schools, shorter waiting times at the GP, greater all-round prosperity. What’s not to like? Except none of it was true; it was improbable then, and has proved to be impossible since. Domestic policy making has had to essentially halt for the last two years to make room for the giant octopus that is Brexit; we are hemorrhaging money in order to try and make a fantasy a reality, all the while being told it’s In The National Interest. We were promised our hospitals and schools would be in the best nick ever, and now some are in emergency measures with many others preparing to be. Nothing else can get through the gates of Westminster because Brexit has its tentacles all over the shop, blocking every door, suffocating every committee room. And what’s worse is that most of those responsible knew this the whole time. It was a move to serve their own ends, financial, political or egotistical. To settle an old Etonian playground dispute. Because they wanted to stand in front of a big red bus and have their picture taken. The National Interest couldn’t have been further from their minds.

And once again it is ordinary people who will suffer. There are unsettling parallels with the two World Wars, where millions of working class people were sent to die, asked to martyr themselves for Britain’s sake. But whereas a century ago we were resisting sinister external threats, now we’re defending ourselves from…ourselves, from a fiction, and from a future in which we’re petrified of being irrelevant. Indeed we’re so petrified of being irrelevant we seem to have decided to fast forward to the moment of irrelevance as quickly as possible, just to get it over with.

Those who ask serious questions of Brexit are often accused of being unpatriotic. Yet I find that deeply insulting. I love this country, and that’s why I don’t want to see it run into the ground. If we consider ourselves a great nation, a brave nation, and a principled one; a nation of common sense and common ground; of extraordinary compassion and fierce practicality; a nation who speaks truth to power; if we truly love our country and its people, with all their many and various accents and ancestries, then we need to start asking questions not of those who look or sound different to us, who want to make a life for themselves and their families here, as many others have for millennia before them, and as many Brits do each year also, nor of those who vote differently to us, but of those who tell us what to do: how to vote, who to hate, and who’s to blame. Because you’ll notice that it’s never ever themselves. I think that would be in the national interest.

Watch the SOVEREIGNTY video here