Brexit has once more surged into the headlines. Britain seems to be careering towards a No Deal cliff-edge on 1 January, with the guide ropes mooring our sceptered isle to Europe soon to be severed once and for all.
Leading this charge is an unlikely group of politicians, populists and publicans, who have devoted themselves to shaping the country in their image. These comic book characters – with heavy emphasis on the comic – are swiftly becoming the face of post-Brexit Britain.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the glittering CVs of the Brexit Avengers who are leading us – without fear, favour or, frankly, a clue what’s going on – into this brave new world.
A former prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott was recently tapped to join the Board of Trade, earning him the tabloid moniker of Britain’s “new trade supremo”
Abbott led his country for less than two years before a coup – prompted by a series of U-turns, gaffes and unpopular policies – saw the devout London-born Roman Catholic elbowed out of office.
His time in the public eye was not quiet, however. Abbott went viral for all the wrong reasons in 2013, when he was taken to task in a barnstorming speech by then Australian PM Julia Gillard – who told Abbott that if he wanted to know what misogyny looked like he should pick up a mirror.
“The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office,” Gillard said. “Well I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and is writing out his resignation.”
Among his other highlights have been a reliable willingness to question the existence of climate change which, in 2017, he said was “probably doing good”. Green policymaking, he added, was akin to “primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods”.
But what was surely the clincher for Liz Truss – who appointed Abbott to the Board of Trade – are his views on same-sex marriage.
Abbott strongly opposed gay marriage during Australia’s landmark vote on the issue in 2017, and was one of the most high-profile campaigners against marriage equality. Over the course of the campaign, he condemned “moral bullying” from the “gay lobby”.
Launching the campaign, he said: “If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.” Lovely.
In many ways, Nigel Farage is the most successful politician in British history. He single-handedly took a fringe issue – Brexit – and thrust it centre-stage through sheer force of will. Despite not being a member of the Conservative Party, he has twisted it into his image and transformed it into a vessel for the ideology and ideas of his two political parties: Ukip and the Brexit Party.
What is even more remarkable is that he did all this without ever being elected to the House of Commons. Not for lack of trying, of course. Farage has tried to become an MP seven times – in five general elections, and two by-elections.
His parliamentary aspirations are, with Brexit all-but-achieved, seemingly dead for now – although you wouldn’t rule out a peerage at some point down the line. Instead Farage has now devoted his time to becoming a sort of Alex Jones meets Alan Partridge conspiracist, filming rudimentary videos of desperate migrants crossing the Channel and supposedly shining a light on stories the so-called Mainstream Media are too afraid to tell.
Some of the videos are more Richard Madeley than Miss Marple, and indeed they would be funny if they weren’t so dangerous. Weeks after Farage’s tub-thumping ‘exposés’ of migrant arrivals, they were faithfully followed-up by Sky and the BBC – who sent reporters to voyeuristically patrol the Channel in search of migrants making the life-or-death trip.
In this cast of hapless heroes, Farage may be the most significant of them all.
Our all-conquering prime minister has not had things his own way in 2020.
After a remarkable election victory in December, the stage was set for a decade of stable Johnson leadership. We would leave the EU, of course. That in turn would allow us to ‘level up’ the poorer parts of Britain that had, remarkably, turned Tory. Dominic Cummings, fizzing with ideas, would ‘disrupt’ Whitehall and reshape the process of government.
Enter coronavirus. The pandemic has shown a remarkable aptitude for finding, exploiting and amplifying weakness – and, over a year into his premiership, it now seems unfathomable to MPs on both sides of the aisle that Johnson will lead his party into the next election.
Looking at his CV, that’s no big surprise. This was the journalist sacked by the Times for fabricating a quote, and the shadow arts minister “relieved of his duties” by the Conservative party for fibbing about an extra-marital affair.
Nor is he a master of diplomacy. He has called gay men “bumboys” and compared Muslim women to “letterboxes”. In one column he wrote, he labeled Black Africans “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and suggested that Malaysian women go to university solely to “find men to marry”.
Nonetheless, whatever happens next, Johnson will be the prime minister who led Britain out of the EU. For that reason, there can be no better candidate to lead our Brexit Avengers.
A man whose only superpower is the ability to make us al believe we’ve been transported back to the nineteenth century.
Like Johnson, Rees-Mogg’s political career was given a boost because people found his singular brand of over-the-top cartoon buffoonery funny. He was able to ride that wave into the Cabinet – although he has seen his wings clipped since the election, when he suggested that Grenfell victims lacked the common sense to escape.
Given his meme-ability, it can sometimes be easy to forget some of the views that the Old Etonian actually holds. Speaking on Good Morning Britain in 2017, Rees-Mogg said he was against same-sex marriage and opposes abortion – even in cases of rape.
“I’m a Catholic, I take the teaching of the Catholic church seriously,” he said. “Marriage is a sacrament and the view of what marriage is is taken by the church, not parliament.” The father-of-six added that he was “completely opposed to abortion”.
Asked whether he would be against abortion in all circumstances, including rape, he said “afraid so”.
The businessman you want to boycott but just can’t – because, after all, he still served £2.50 pints.
Martin is one of the staunchest Brexiteers – and his gimmicks have included a vow to cut the price of beer to celebrate Brexit, and removing European wine and beers from the Wetherspoon roster.
But it is the Covid-19 pandemic that has really singled Martin out. In March, at the pandemic’s peak, Martin was accused of “abandoning” 43,000 employees – refusing to pay them until government loans came through.
All the while, Martin repeatedly played down the risks of people gathering in pubs and lashed out the government for shutting them down. If they needed employment in the meantime, he added, they could always try and find a job at Tesco.
He’s still at it. Last month, Martin – ever the sceptic – demanded that a top scientist publish evidence of the link between indoor drinking in pubs and coronavirus cases, after an outbreak was linked to pub drinking in Aberdeenshire.
When pubs did reopen in July, Martin raised the price of drinks by 10p and the price of food by 20p – enraging customers, especially after it emerged that Wetherspoons had received a £48 million loan under the government’s coronavirus bailout scheme. And, of course, the red-faced publican donated £50,000 to Boris Johnson’s election campaign.
Brexit Avengers, assemble.