Search icon


10th Jul 2018

The Brits are at it again, and probably always will be

Carl Kinsella


It’s hard to remember a time in my life when the Brits weren’t at it.

They’ve been at it since the day I was born. Since the day I first sat on my father’s knee and he told me about The Battle of Vinegar Hill and the Siege of Wexford. Since the first time I heard them mispronounce my last name. They’ve been at it.

But what does it truly mean for the Brits to be at it? Let’s think about that.

Ulster plantations? Well, that was the Brits at it.

Trial of Robert Emmet? The Brits were at it in a big way.

The executions of the 1916 leaders? Oh, you better believe that the Brits were at it.

Tearing up Lansdowne Road during a one-all draw? At it.

Every time you see a new headline about Diana? They’re at it.

“Tea-shake Leo Vadradkar”? Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Enda Kelly? Ah, the Brits. They just love to be at it.

Tony Blair’s New Labour briefly looked a bit like they might be about to chill England out for a little while. But all of a sudden George W. Bush asked them to join in the war in Iraq and you know the Brits: when it comes to being at it, they do not need to be asked twice. They were at it once more. The Brits were at it again.

But as Plato so famously noted, enumerations of examples are not sufficient to capture the nature of the thing in question. So what else can we sift through to get to the heart of the Brits being so thoroughly and consistently at it?

Well, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is the human embodiment of the Brits being at it. It seemed as though Brexit was set to break new ground for British tossery, thanks in no small part to Farage’s performance.

Proudly proclaiming that they’d won the day without a shot being fired (crassly overlooking the death of Labour MP Jo Cox), and immediately admitting that the £350 million for the NHS was never gonna happen.

It’s not just about failing, or failing up, or being wrong, but it’s the spectacle and the showmanship and the theatre.

The song and dance he makes about being one of the worst human beings on the planet. His roadshow, speaking to Trump rallies and hosting an Irexit conference. That he has a French last name and a German wife only adds to the hypocrisy and the irony that he finds so delicious. That he embraces all the values of a fascist while spewing pride in a country whose main achievement in the history of the world was defeating the Nazis. The more contradictions built into his existence the better.

Nigel Farage exists to wind you up. To be so violently wrong. And to always walk away unscathed, protected by the power dynamics that have enabled England to colonise, and extract, and erase, and destroy, the world over, for centuries.

And Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson. Lads, we’ve got some eejits over here, without a doubt, but Boris Johnson? The man is what would happen if you gave an overstuffed scarecrow a private education and then let him host Have I Got News For You one too many times. This is the man who led the Leave charge. A court jester through and through.

An Oxbridge aristocrat (his real name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson) who told poor middle-Englanders that all their problems would be solved if only they’d hand him the keys to the kingdom. Leading the charge with probable alien Michael Gove. People that no self-respecting society would ever trust.

And then there’s David Cameron. A man who gambled the entire future of the United Kingdom on the notion that common sense would trump the British compunction to be at it, only to be taught a stark lesson about his own countrymen.

These characters give a clearer idea of what it means for the Brits to be at it.

When the Brits were facing a very different problem in World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said that when your neighbour’s house is on fire then you don’t haggle over the price of your hose (he actually used more words than that, because he was Franklin Delano Roosevelt). So allow us for a moment to carry on FDR’s great legacy, and give you a good hosing of our own.

Clean yourselves up, calm yourselves down and sort yourselves out. For the first time since… for the first time ever: think about what you’re doing.

Call it off.

Polls now suggest that 71% of people in Northern Ireland, a nation with no geographical ties to the rest of Britain, would choose to Remain if the vote were held today. On 5 June, it emerged that only 23% of Britons back their government’s handling of Brexit. Only 40% still back it as an idea. YouGov routinely shows that the number of people who support Brexit is dropping.

The UK government exploration of avenues by which Brexit can still be avoided should be rigorous. Find a way. It’s in their own interests. In 10 years’ time they’ll have an electorate that’s 10 years younger, the majority of whom will want to rejoin the EU. The Leave vote was only 51% to begin with, with a huge skew in favour of older voters.

Democracy is fluid, not static. The will of the people changes. It’s not something we can carve into stone one day and leave untouched until the end of time. Things have changed in the last two years.

For example, David Cameron immediately resigned, as did the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a general election, delivered one of the most embarrassing electoral performances in recent memory and lost her majority — forcing her to rely on the support of the DUP. The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was forced to quit over the Windrush scandal. Brexit Secretary David Davis, seemingly the only man on the planet who hadn’t been thinking about how Brexit was going to affect the world, resigned after a dog ate his homework for the hundredth time.

And now Boris, that last bastion of British indignity, bumbling around looking like Mr. Toad of Toad Hall come to life, is gone.

The arguments behind Brexit have been exposed as a lie. The methods used have been the source of a major scandal that has permanently changed the way we look at Facebook. The consequences have decimated the English political sphere. Ireland, the UK, and the EU have spent the last two years mired in a conversation that we never even had to have.

A hard border — an outcome that would directly undermine a core tenet of a peace treaty between two nations who tore strips off each other for centuries. Peace between two democratic nations steamrolled because the Brits wanted blue passports? That’s the Brits at their most at it.

It’s not that Brexit is the wrong decision economically, even though it is. It’s not that it alienates the UK politically, even though it does. It’s that the rest of us had to watch Great Britain pull an arrow out of its Union Jack quiver, spend months aiming it directly at its foot, firing, and then walking proudly around with it as if it was a nice new haircut.

Brexit turned the UK into a Monty Python parody of itself. Not so much cutting off its nose to spite its face so much as cutting off its face to spite someone who told them they didn’t have the balls to cut their face off. It was the Brits. At it again.

The Brits simply love to be at it. But watching Theresa May’s cabinet crumble and the dreams of Brexit die, one suspects they might finally regret it. After a lifetime at it, the UK is on the verge of being weaker than it has ever been.

After all, being at it isn’t what makes you Great. It’s just what makes you Britain.

LISTEN: You Must Be Jokin’ with Aideen McQueen – Faith healers, Coolock craic and Gigging as Gaeilge