Status anxiety

Panic of the playwrights

24 June 2017

9:00 AM

24 June 2017

9:00 AM

Earlier this week the Guardian launched ‘Brexit Shorts’, a series of monologues written by Britain’s ‘leading playwrights’ about the aftermath of the EU referendum. Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘What fresh hell is this?’ But bear with me. Watching the first batch of these short films, which are on the Guardian website, isn’t complete purgatory. Not because they’re much good, obviously — although one is, and I’ll come to that in a moment. But because the reason these writers are so anxious about Brexit is due to their uncritical acceptance of Project Fear. Perhaps they’ll become a little less hysterical once they’ve been introduced to some solid facts.

Take ‘Your Ma’s a Hard Brexit’ by Stacey Gregg, which is set among the ‘peace lines’ separating Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in Belfast. It’s not a fully fledged drama — more a piece of agitprop. And it makes the same point over and over again, namely, that if the UK leaves the European Union there will inevitably be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. ‘We know what it means to be divided,’ says the protagonist, a ‘peace-worker’ played by Bronagh Gallagher. Then she says something a bit odd: ‘I remember the border, do you? Wasn’t much craic.’

Now there hasn’t been a hard border in Ireland since 1923 when the Common Travel Area was first established. Gallagher may not be in her first flush, but she doesn’t look old enough to be able to ‘remember’ something that hasn’t existed for 94 years. The explanation can only be that Stacey Gregg has swallowed the Remain line that the soft border in Ireland is contingent on our EU membership. Well, Stacey, I have some good news: it isn’t. It existed for 50 years before we joined in 1973 and will continue to exist long after we’ve left. Indeed, the need to preserve the soft border is a priority of both sides in the Brexit negotiations, as was confirmed by David Davis and Michel Barnier on the first day of talks.

OK, so that’s one myth busted. What about A.L. Kennedy’s ‘Permanent Sunshine’, which is set in Glasgow? I confess to finding this hard to follow on account of the impenetrable Scottish accent of Scott Reid, who delivers an expletive-laden rant about Nigel Farage straight to the camera, accompanied by a shower of spit. But the gist of it is that dim–witted Little Englanders, who claim to care about the union, have shot themselves in the foot because our departure from the EU makes Scottish independence a racing certainty.

That argument was one of the lynchpins of the Remain campaign — I debated Alex Salmond about this myself on Channel 4 the night before the vote — and, like the others, has turned out to be wrong. The SNP fought the general election on a platform of wanting another indy ref and lost a third of its seats. The union has grown stronger since the Brexit vote, not weaker. So much for that scare tactic.

I could go on. That old socialist war horse David Hare has written a monologue called ‘Time To Leave’ featuring an upper-class Eurosceptic played by Kristin Scott Thomas. She’s full of regrets about her decision, naturally. Cannot believe nothing’s changed since the vote — even though, and Hare appears to have missed this, we haven’t actually left yet. Then she has an epiphany: it isn’t the EU she wants to leave, but England. Why? Because the upper classes no longer rule Britannia. That’s Hare’s left-wing reading of Brexit. Not a populist revolt, but the last gasp of an antediluvian ruling class. No doubt this helps the septuagenarian Marxist avoid facing up to the fact that his beloved proletariat voted in overwhelming numbers to reject his notion of what’s in their best interests, but it’s baloney. According to a report by the Centre for Social Justice and Legatum Institute, Britain’s socioeconomic elite was the only group that voted by a large majority to stay in the EU. Once he grasps this, I’m sure the people’s playwright (Lancing and Cambridge) will feel better about Brexit.

There is one diamond in the rough, however: ‘Go Home’ by Charlene James. It’s the only pro-Brexit film of the whole batch and it’s a corker. Completely nails the awful snobbery of the Remoaners who label their opponents ‘racists’ and ‘scum’. If the other playwrights are ready to embark on their deprogramming, they should start by watching this.

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