It was with an unnerving seamlessness that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party morphed into an anti-lockdown movement this week. For high-profile contrarians, it is the EU referendum all over again as cracks in society are exposed for political gain.
A recent Twitter poll posted by TLE contributor James Melville revealed the same partisan tendencies that were shown in 2016 when Britain was split down the middle by a single issue. Remainers, by and large, were found to be supportive of new lockdown measures, whereas Brexiteers were mainly against them.
It chimes with research by political scientist Ben Ansell released during the first lockdown which showed that the behaviour of people living in Remain-voting areas suggests they are complying more with social distancing rules compared to people in Leave-voting areas, even when accounting for differences in social and economic composition between areas.
It’s Brexit all over again
At the height of the pandemic lockdown scepticism was very much a minority sport, but as with Brexit, it has been alarming to see how quickly fringe views can become mainstream.
Dominic Cummings was widely criticised for pushing a strategy of “herd immunity” to protect the economy in March, but now the unproven strategy is being widely touted as the most sensible way forward among activists, campaigners and, indeed, several of our MPs.
The usual Avengers have assembled – with Daniel Hannan, Arron Banks and Tim Martin among their ranks.
“Lift the lockdown” is their cogito ergo sum; Sweden their promised land.
Primitive medicine men
While there is no obvious overlap between Britain’s membership of the European Union and a global pandemic, there are a number of reasons why similar groups of voters would coalesce around the same favoured course of action.
For Brexiteers, the most notable has been a disavowal of expertise.
Sammy Wilson, the MP for East Antrim, compared Chris Whitty and other experts to “primitive medicine men” in parliament yesterday, deriding them for bringing their “computers with their models”.
Sammy Wilson(DUP) compares Chris Whitty(CMO) & other experts to primitive medicine men. pic.twitter.com/kRFg0A0Nvq— Haggis_UK ?? ?? (@Haggis_UK) November 2, 2020
Elsewhere, right wing commentators have clashed with medical experts as they unleash their own brand of epidemiology, usually comprised of research they want to believe in, rather than the bits that are reliably true.
It may take our lives but it will never take our freedom
But deep down, the thing that really connects lockdown sceptics and Brexiteers is the belief that government intervention in stopping the spread of a deadly virus somehow impedes a person’s liberty.
The shackles of the EU have been replaced with the chains of the coronavirus and angst has quite seamlessly turned against “the elite” for restricting people from doing whatever they want to do.
Boris Johnson has been abundantly aware of this and, as Samuel Earle pointed out here, his response has been largely blighted by it.
“The fantasies behind Brexit have propelled Britain toward its current calamity”, he wrote as the first signs emerged that Britain’s death toll was spiralling out of control.
Yet as an end to the latest lockdown gets “enshrined in law”, all the indications are that it is the same people who are starting to wield the influence.