One of the things promised throughout the Brexit referendum, and throughout the nuclear-hot mess of the last three years, was that Britain would become a “global player” (which some people might see as paradoxical to the “control our borders” and “make our own laws/rules” and “stopping immigration” and of course that famous Breaking Point poster).
The outlook was positive (for Leavers).
We can make our own laws! – We already can.
We can control our borders! – We already do.
We want our parliamentary sovereignty! – We already had it. In fact, when Parliament tried to exercise their sovereignty, Brexiters slated them.
We want to open up trade with other nations! – We have trade deals with over 150 countries and we have more clout as part of the biggest trading bloc in the world.
But forget those asides, the point is, the country was told that we were going to become a “global Britain”. But not an empire. Oh gosh no. Don’t use that word.
So what happened to Global Britain? Well, it was abandoned for strategical purposes. And here comes the big D.C.
Dominic Cummings turned Boris Johnson the blusterer into a one-phrase wonder throughout the 2019 election. You can almost imagine Cummings with phone in one hand and a wooden meter ruler in the other slapping Johnson about the face. “Repeat after me: “Get.” Smack. “Brexit.” Smack. “Done.” Smack. “I sold the country “Take back control”, you can sell them this.”
Boris rubbed his hands together, safe in the knowledge that he was onto a winning tactic. Any interviews that could cause problems – avoid. Any people give you hassle – get away as fast as you can. No! Not into the fridge you tit! People show confront you about policy, change the subject – damn it Boris don’t take the chap’s phone and put it in your pocket! You loon! Oh, wait, we won. Do what you want. Spaff everywhere you like, you’ve earned it.
The truth is, the message was a good one. It was simple. Classic three word clip like a classic boxer’s tactic. Jab-jab-cross. And it focused the nation not toward a global narrative, but toward the finalising of cutting the UK’s ties with its closest allies and longest standing friends. The entire Brexit opera has played out and Britain is now facing the world anew, with one foot firmly stuck in the past.
But it all feels like it’s changing. The idea of a global Britain had a very liberal-sounding pretence. But then we went and imposed an Australia-style points-based system. Ian Dunt put this thought into words in a recent piece in which he claimed:
“What we are losing is about so much more than money. It is about being open. It is about being a place that is confident enough to take in new arrivals. Being a place new arrivals might wish to come to. We’ve lost that confidence. We’ve lost the sense that difference is beautiful.”
Global Britain has not only told the whole world that it is shut off to the outside, but Dominic Cummings has spared no time at all raising the barriers around his cabinet, cutting them off from interviews with broadcasters, publications or journalists who might do the unspeakable and hold them to account.
What Cummings is doing, and doing with lethal precision, is removing cabinet from the spotlight and therefore keeping them from any form of accountability. The less they say, the less likely they are to slip up and make the government look stupid. But he is not only removing the cabinet from the institutions whose job it is to ask the hard questions and who should hold the government to account, he is removing the institutions themselves.
It was recently declared that No.10 are scrapping the BBC television licence fee. The licence fee has been a contentious issue for years and has plagued many people, whilst others are happy to continue paying in order to uphold what is considered a quintessentially British institution. Either way, Cummings has clearly considered the objective as high on the agenda because it essentially clips the wings of a broadcasting service whose podcasts, news channels (local, national and international) and TV shows could provide in-depth coverage of the government’s actions.
It was also reported by the MailOnline that Boris Johnson plans to privatise Channel 4. MP Philip Davies (Shipley) who sits on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee has stated; “I’ve been arguing for years that it should be sold off.” No.10 considers Channel 4 “left wing” and this seems to be a stance that Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson simply can’t abide. Make no mistake, this is a strangling of any dissenting voices who might judge or stand up to No.10.
But Cummings is also going one disastrous Orwellian leap forward by strangling the very language that the cabinet, and by default the publications that support them, will use from here on out. It is paradoxical given that those who supported the Leave campaign made the European Union out to be some kind of all powerful, untouchable overlord. It turns out that the enemy of free speech and democratic values is, in fact, sitting at the very heart of our so-called “democratic” society.
It was writer Haruki Murakami who put the argument best in 1Q84:
“Knowledge is a precious social asset. It is an asset that must be amassed in abundant stockpiles and utilised with the utmost care. It must be handed down to the next generation in fruitful forms.” Funnily enough, the words are those of an NHK licence fee collector, but the message around knowledge being a “social asset” is an important and timely one.