Maybe the real ‘festival of Brexit’ is the one we’re all living in

·5 min read
We have been living through the realities of Brexit for a while  (iStock/Getty)
We have been living through the realities of Brexit for a while (iStock/Getty)

News then, of the “Festival of Brexit”, first announced in 2018 by Theresa May, who didn’t vote for it. It’s got a new name, for a start, which is “Unboxed: Creativity in the UK”. The word Brexit has been got rid of.

You can see why it had to go, given that the government has had to ask actual creative people to work on it*, not one of whom voted for it, and whose industries are already struggling to recover from the damage done by it. (*with the exception of The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey, who now likes to do TV interviews about how great but actually bad Brexit is, with all its eminently foreseeable consequences that he didn’t foresee.)

Unboxed, which is already giving off a real Millennium Dome vibe, is going to feature neon-light cube farms placed on cliff edges, augmented reality hiking trails that show just how big – but also how small – the solar system is, and a repurposed North Sea oil rig in Weston-super-Mare which will, we are told, “celebrate British weather” – as if Brexit weren’t enough to celebrate all on its own.

Of course, there is that lingering doubt that the real Brexit festival is the one we’ve been living in all this time. It’s already been said, many times before, that Brexit is the national version of one of those car park based “Winter Wonderland” attractions, where you lined up in the mud for three hours to meet a p***** Santa, being threatened all the while by Staffordshire bull terrier “reindeer” wearing plastic antlers. But there’s nothing you can do about it now, so best to just consider of it less as your actual country, your actual life, which has gone to actual s***, and more a kind immersive theatre experience.

Where the people that brought you, “there will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside”, now go on the weird TV channel they launched for themselves to say that, alright, alright, no there won’t be any turkey this Christmas, or any toys, but actually – actually, actually, actually – Christmas isn’t about the little things, like food, or presents, it’s about, erm, it’s about erm, it’s about. Look, these are the sunlit uplands alright so stop whining and try and enjoy it.

All this, surely, is beside the point anyway, now that we know the real festival of Brexit has already happened. It was happening every weekend, actually, all through the hot leave summer of 2016, on the 14th floor of a non-descript office block near Vauxhall, which was the Vote Leave HQ.

In his latest perfectly normal blogpost, Dominic Cummings has described the scene at Vote Leave HQ, back in those heady days as being entirely symptomatic of “what winning political campaigns look like”.

“There are,” he types, “hot women and beer and pizza and music in the office on Friday and Saturday night because the place is bursting with energy.”

I mean, look, maybe, he’s right. I personally only went to Vote Leave HQ perhaps six times back then. And it must have been my bad luck that I missed out on all the debauched bacchanalia, attending only for a speech by Chris Grayling, and on that morning on 24 June 2016, where Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were apparently celebrating but were wearing the kind of ashen-faced look that is usually described as having “remained expressionless when the jury returned their verdict”.

Maybe it did all go off the chain when the cameras were switched off and the snappers went home, and they all took their red T-shirts off and went absolutely wild in the full suits they were all wearing under them. And it’s probably all just coincidence that it sounds a little bit like Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room back in 2004, where, having not quite managed to make any actual girls talk to him, instead built a website through which you could at least rate their looks.

Maybe, the “misfits and weirdos” really were having the time of their lives in there. Big Dougie Carswell up on the tables, Hannan on the mic spitting out lyrics – in strict iambic pentameter obviously. Crunching the data, firing out the press releases, making sure everything’s ready for the big speech on Monday morning by – *checks notes* – Lord David Owen. There they were all in one place – Cummings, Caino and the rest – a generation lost in space.

As for the “hot women”, well, those of us who spent those days on the outside can, if we really scratch our heads recall somewhere between one or quite possibly two women who actually worked there. Their “hotness” is not really to be commented upon, what with it being a fair way through the 21st century and everybody involved being significantly over the age of 17.

I guess, looking back, I just assumed they were there because they were doing their jobs, but it is welcomed, in some regard, to have the record corrected, by their actual former boss, who would for some reason like it to be known that actually they were just loitering round the place, glorified podium girls in dweeb Valhalla, high on the fumes of it all. There to make the place look nice, a side dish to go with the beer and the pizza and the music and everything else the big boys were up to.

This was only the start of the journey, of course. Soon after, the Brexit frat house relocated to 10 Downing Street, and even sooner after that, one of Cummings’s “misfits and weirdos” would leave after the unearthing of various overtly racists blog posts they’d written, and then, the whole thing would come crashing down. Cummings and Caino out on their proverbial arses, having overseen – and you’d really never have guessed this – the creation of a toxic, macho working culture.

All festivals, sadly, must come to an end. At which point it is always somebody else’s job to sweep in and clear up the rubbish.