‘Into the valley of death’: Brexit as Story

Theresa May this week delivered a speech on her vision for Brexit. This came after other speeches by a varied cast of politicians including Boris Johnson, Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn and John Major. Everybody setting out their desires, their fears, their red lines and their pleas for compromise.

But May’s speech marked a significant moment in this ongoing drama. It was the moment she admitted that the metaphorical cake was not able to be both had and eaten. She was also unable to answer a question as to whether Brexit had been ‘worth it’. The mask of optimism had slipped.

It struck me that, deep down, she knows Brexit is the act of a fool. But that she still has to carry it out. In a similar vein, the increasingly-haggard and haunted features of David Davis suggest he knows this to. These two characters are the leads in this drama. And their story is strong.


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Story is character (see this post). Story is a character’s journey from imbalance to balance. Or a society’s journey from imbalance to balance. Our Prime Minister (and her trusty lieutenant Davis) are demonstrating a noble characteristic, one that helps make a story soar: duty in the face of assured destruction. They believe that the only means of bringing our country back to balance is to implement Brexit. Even though it will means they are destroyed as a result. And the country will suffer.

All evidence shows that the UK will be poorer as a result of Brexit, whether it’s hard or soft, Customs Union or Single Market or WTO rules. We will be poorer. There will be no extra £350m a week for the NHS. The big trade deals with the US and China will be contested with an incredibly weak hand. The value of trade outside of the EU will never match the value we have directly with the EU.

And I think the majority of people in the UK understand this. Yet opinion polls suggest we, the people of these islands, still believe we have to go through with Brexit. Because we, the people, have spoken. And this is the British character coming through. This is our duty.

And May and Davis know this. They understand that their legacy will be tainted as the pair who to carried out acts that actively harmed the economy and future prospects of their country. Their names will be spat as insults over the next few decades. The Conservative party, as its voter base and membership grows old and passes away, may even collapse to a fringe group of ideologues muttering about sovereignty and our future glory as a reborn British trading empire.

And May and Davis know this. And still they have to carry it through. Because they have been given their orders. And it is one’s duty to carry out one’s orders.

Which reminded me of another glorious (and awful) story from history: the charge of the Light Brigade. They had their orders; they knew their orders were crazy, irrational, based upon bad data and the advice of fools. Yet there was never a question of turning back. Because they had been given their orders. And it was their duty.

Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

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