“Brexit and Fascism: heed the warning signs while you still can, Mr Mangnall” – a constituent writes to his MP

Anthony Mangnall M.P.

House of Commons

London SW1A 0AA                                                                  26 October 2020

Dear Mr Mangnall

I’m writing this open letter to you in reply to yours of 27 July 2020, which reprimands me for calling Brexit out as a “resurgence of the disease of fascism”.  

Be in no doubt: that’s exactly what Brexit is. The case is not yet terminal, for sure, but the disease advances daily and the patient is now seriously ill.

As you may know, the institutions that became the EU were founded in the ashes of World War 2, to put an end to centuries of conflict among the states of Europe. In leaving this highly successful peace project, the UK has embraced a dangerous right-wing nationalism of just the kind that characterizes fascist projects.  

Like fascism, Brexit is two things that never work: isolationist and populist. Its isolationism is plain to see, as we face a hard Brexit that severs us from virtually every EU institution that connects us with our neighbours and builds our shared lives, work and culture. Its populism is more difficult to define but a central feature, in my view, is the making of big promises that are superficially appealing but cannot be delivered because they are based on lies. Indeed, as in all fascist projects, Brexit’s outcomes will be the opposite of what was promised: we were told we would “take back control” but in fact we will lose it, as we can no longer influence policy making in Brussels and Strasbourg and will be increasingly humiliated by the major global powers – the USA, China and Russia. (For an early taste of this, watch a Biden-led White House spurn the UK’s “mini-Trump”, castigate his threat to the Good Friday agreement and place us at the back of the queue for a trade deal.) Again, we were promised a “global Britain” but instead we are likely to face the death of the UK as Scotland votes for independence and Northern Ireland rejoins the republic. In 1930s Germany it was the same: the promise was national supremacy, but what was delivered, in 1945, was national defeat, destruction and disgrace. 

Like all populist projects, Brexit is highly divisive, appealing to only a proportion of the people. And as in Germany, that proportion will end up falling out of love with the project, because, being based on lies, it will fail. In the UK, polls already show a strengthening majority for Remain/Re-join. Brexit is now extremely unpopular among young people. The only crumb of comfort one can derive from this disaster is that, once the fantasies that brought us Brexit have crashed and burned, the young will return us to the European fold. In the meantime, those who cherish our country’s traditional values of moderation and pragmatism must mourn their betrayal and hang our heads in shame at what our country has become.

To distract attention from its failure, the project rounds on scapegoats. In 1930s Germany it was the Jews, Communists, the disabled, homosexuals and gypsies whom the people were taught to hate. In today’s UK, Mr Johnson and his pro-Brexit ministers blame anyone but themselves for the mess they are making – Remainers, the Lords, the Commons, the media, the judiciary and, most of all of course, the EU itself. Racist attacks and abuse have multiplied since the 2016 referendum, often at the prompting of government or its backers on the far right. A recent knife attack at a London law firm is alleged to have been directly motivated by the Home Secretary’s claim that “activist lawyers” were frustrating the removal of migrants.

In fascist projects, ideology always trumps pragmatism – and the real interests of the country and its people are sacrificed in the relentless pursuit of the dream. Those who sold us Brexit sold us the lie that the EU and its institutions were holding us back, that without them we would prosper. The exact opposite is true: under none of the government’s economic scenarios will we be better off out of the EU than we are in it; inward investment has fallen off a cliff since 2016; jobs and companies were already disappearing in the run-up to our January exit, a trend accelerated by the pandemic. The government’s refusal to extend the transition period during a global public health crisis shows its contempt for business people – a contempt epitomized by Mr Johnson’s “Fuck business” retort of two years ago.

Also characteristic of fascism is the government’s wanton cruelty to the poor and vulnerable. The “hostile environment” that led to the scandalous treatment of the Windrush generation persists, as the government threatens increasing numbers of asylum seekers with eviction and deportation during the second wave of the pandemic, a move described by one charity as “reckless and irresponsible”. Tory MPs, you included, have also refused to honour the UK’s commitment to child refugees. And now you have voted to deprive hungry school children of a daily meal during the Christmas holidays. It’s their parents’ fault they’re hungry, right?  

Corruption, law breaking and authoritarianism are further hallmarks of fascism. With every passing day the government wades deeper into all three.

Using the pandemic as cover, ministers have awarded numerous contracts to their friends without a proper bidding process, wasting billions in taxpayers’ money. The most notorious example is the national track and trace system, a catastrophic failure run by a woman with no experience in public health whose husband is the UK’s anti-corruption champion! Law breaking characterized both Leave campaigns and in a functioning democracy the results of the 2016 referendum would have been disqualified. Mr Johnson broke national law when he prorogued Parliament last autumn; now he proposes breaking international law by tearing up the Withdrawal Agreement he hailed as a triumph less than 9 months ago. Revenge against those who stand against him is promised: attacks on the BBC and Channel 4 will undermine our freedom of speech; attacks on the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, will sabotage our rights under the law. Most worryingly, on 5 October the government passed the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, which enables a wide range of state actors to commit crimes, including torture and murder, for ill-defined purposes that include “preventing disorder”. Unless reversed, this slide into authoritarianism could sound the death knell for our already broken democracy.

During its early stages, fascism is seldom recognized for what it is by either the people or their rulers. It’s a creeping disease, a characteristic that makes it doubly dangerous. For what starts as a joke – a little poking of fun at a minority, a little bending of the truth in newspaper articles about bendy bananas – can, if unchecked, progress, through the erosion of rights and freedoms and the unleashing of hatred, to a final act played out in the darkness of the death camp.

We aren’t there yet and you may think it sounds fanciful to say that one day soon we could be. But that is the truth: those who witnessed Germany’s descent into fascism in the 1930s testify to the frightening speed at which it happened. If you see the signs of the disease yet say in disbelief, “It couldn’t happen here”, you are guilty of an enabling complacency. Remember Burke’s dictum that, for evil to triumph, it is sufficient only that good people should do nothing.

In leaving the EU, the UK has placed itself in the vanguard of the fascist revival taking place across Europe and the world. That is no place for our country to be, and history will condemn us for going there.

Mr Mangnall, you and your fellow MPs must turn back from this project while you still can.

Best regards

Simon Chater