This began life as a Facebook comment to a post from a friend who felt that:

“the police’s handling of the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations (not to mention the 2011 riots) provide a pretty good answer to anyone who says ‘Brexit has to happen or there’ll be riots’

If the police can handle a large-scale, relatively co-ordinated series of mass actions by people of all ages, I reckon they can take a few Septuagenarians called Gary getting pissed, draping themselves in a union flag and smashing up a WHSmiths in Doncaster”

I can’t speak for other Leavers who had their own reasons for voting as such and thus their own feelings on the matter, but I can say that watching this ongoing story, I can have sensible, considered, intellectual thoughts about democracy and sovereignty, but also increasingly emotional reactions to the constant efforts of Remainers to undermine every step any government takes to get us to leave and declaring ultimate victory after every meaningless but time-consuming setback.

How did that “vital work of Parliament holding the government accountable” work out? Did *anything* useful or interesting related to Brexit happen as a result of Prorogation being overturned by a politicised ruling from the Supreme Court and Labour’s spiteful refusal to adjourn the House for the Conservative Party Conference? Anything at all to justify the apocalyptic rhetoric about the end of all democracy if Boris Johnson was allowed to go ahead with it? How ’bout that Article 50 Supreme Court that was going to change everything, took months, and was legislated away in an afternoon?

After three years of this I’ve gone from thinking “Gosh, I guess in the event of a second referendum between Remain or No Deal, I’d have to vote remain, ugh” to “Burn literally everything and every national institution down, unite Ireland and ban the Labour Party if that’s what it takes, yeah, that’s fine, where’s my blue passport, mate, bollocks to Remain”. MPs with mixed constituencies are aware of this rising level of feeling far more than people who hang out with people of like mind, hence their responses to each twist and turn are far more complicated than people who do not need to keep their finger on the political temperature. People deride them for wanting to keep their jobs and never think about the significance of what it means to keep your job when you’re an elected official who needs to win a majority vote of a population in a FPTP system.

I’ve never marched for Brexit. I’ve never demonstrated against People’s Vote, I’ve never written to my MP about it or even signed a petition. But I was one of the five million who voted Brexit Party in June to be super clear about what I think of ditherers, and I’m one of the unknown but I believe is in the hundreds of thousands of instinctively left-wing voters who has absolutely no intention of voting Labour at the next election because I think they’re a bunch of untrustworthy losers who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Remainers are super vocal and point to their own political activity as a sign that they are winning the argument but at the end of the day, the government has consistently affirmed that we’re leaving and made febrile efforts to do so, so why would Leavers do anything other than watch suspiciously? We show up in the stats every time it matters and Remainers are thrown into frantic rhetorical gymnastics to explain how, actually, if you just include everyone who never voted (and do not matter), or combine all of the votes of everyone who voted for a party that stands for things that aren’t Brexit (36% of SNP voters voted Leave, but you didn’t know that, did you?), actually, everyone has repented of their sin and we should just revoke Article 50 and forget about it, no majority for no deal shutupshutupshutup.

I cannot begin to convey how politically incompetent you reveal yourself to be if you have ever posted, retweeted, or liked any version of this image.

I cannot begin to convey how politically incompetent you reveal yourself to be if you have ever posted, retweeted, or liked any version of this image. Source: The Independent

I will tell you how I felt when I read the headlines that Boris Johnson had secured a deal his party could support – I felt gratitude. It’s all nonsense – the deal hasn’t passed, the DUP don’t like it, they still haven’t resolved the border, there’s no guarantee it’s going to get through the House and the over-arching objective is to achieve a trade deal that is going to get caught up in years of wrangling between business and labour groups just like TTIP did. Many, many references were made to the Canada trade deal in the ensuing debate, but everyone also forgets that CETA took seven years to negotiate not just because of the complexity of negotiations but because its provisions were highly politically controversial.  I’m not looking forward to that fight.

But nonetheless I felt *relieved*, like the torturer had taken his foot off the rack and a flood of warm fuzzy feelings washed over me. I want to leave the European Union for many, many reasons I’ve expressed before. Boris Johnson has brought us meaningfully closer to that goal more than Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have ever done. I felt like he had got it done despite all the best efforts of Guardian columnists and PV activists to stop him, and I had a train of thought where I actually considered voting Tory at the next election, out of gratitude, before reminding myself that the Tories are in fact Tories and that is not acceptable. The only good Tory is a suppository.

There’s going to be a whole load of voters who have no such ideological brake on their inclinations. These are the people that are all to play for in this election. These are the voters who are quite possibly going to see Oliver Letwin stop this deal being passed, and Brexit delayed further, who are going to respond to that by marching down to the polls to give Boris Johnson the majority he needs to Get Brexit Done. Public services will continue to suffer as a result, and will continue to do so until this massive political gordian knot is resolved and people are able to vote without one’s position on Brexit permeating everything. But on Brexit, we now face a real choice at the next election.

I was berated by some Labour activists for mocking Labour, which I was, but underneath it is a sincere point. If you don’t really care about Brexit, you can vote Labour. They don’t really care either. But everyone else does, which is why Labour were hammered into third place at the European election and lost half of their MEPs. Labour are banking on Corbyn’s messaging about social justice and housing policy focussing minds when the endlessly trailed election is finally here and we have to decide what’s important, and who should be in charge of it. I’m skeptical of this strategy. I can honestly say that I have never had so many of my friends say that they do not know who they are going to vote for, usually with a grimace. I don’t know who to vote for. People who are clear that they want to vote for Brexit, however, are going to have a very clear choice, and man, are they going to be annoyed if they don’t get it.

So, if we end up with a government that doesn’t commit to leaving, or holds a second referendum that is narrowly lost to remain? I’m probably not going to join a riot, but there are essentially no circumstances in which I would, because that is not something I do. But I’m definitely going to be quietly hurling money and resources at the very next organisation that promises to pick up the fight, which is what I do. I’m not letting this go.

(I joined Open Britain the day after the referendum in 2016 because they claimed their goal was to keep Britain in the single market, which I supported. They explicitly said that you didn’t have to want to reverse the result to support that goal, and I’m now stuck on a mailing list that sends me endless People’s Vote Remainer propaganda, so I won’t be making the mistake of believing any of those people again.)

In such circumstances, I would imagine that for people whose response to volatile political situations is to get out on the streets and smash stuff up, that’s what they are going to do. It’s not going to be organised, and it’s not going to have middle class police liaison officers and people dressed as trees handing themselves into police stations because they banner dropped Big Ben, it’s going to be incoherent rage frustrated by the betrayal of the political class expressing itself in civil unrest and that’s happening in multiple countries literally right now, and the police are not responding by kettling papier mache octopodes. Spot the odd one out.

Chilean protests against rise in subway ticket prices 19th October.

Chilean protesters against rise in subway ticket prices burn down a ticket office, October 2019.

Hong Kong riot police trying to control protesters against a law proposed by the government permitting China to extradite criminal fugitives, October 2019.

Metropolitan Police confiscate an octopus at Extinction Rebellion protests against national environmental policy, October 2019.

Riots in Lebanon against proposed tax increases, including on WhatsApp calls, October 2019.

Confrontations between riot police and demonstrators following the jailing of Catalan separatist leaders for organising an independence referendum, October 2019.








Brexit has to happen, or there will be riots.

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Guy Verhofstadt is the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats grouping in the European Parliament, of which the Liberal Democrats are the UK section. In 2018, he delivered these remarks to the ALDE Congress regarding a European Army.

If you voted Liberal Democrat in the Euros, a single European army with firepower to match the US military and which might go to war with Russia is what you voted to support. 

“A new Europe, a really true sovereign Europe, able to protect its borders, able to protect its interests is the next thing that we need to do. To stand up, if necessary, against Putin, if it is necessary. Do you know what the figures are today, dear friends? You know what the figures are? We, the European countries are spending 40-45% of the budget of the American army, but we are only capable to fulfil 10-15% of the operations of the American army.

Even I, I am a lawyer, so I know nothing about mathematics, nevertheless I was a minister of budger – you don’t need to know anything about mathematics, only the word NO. But I have to tell you, I am a lawyer, but even I know we are three to four times less efficient than the Americans. Moreover, the reality is we spend three times more than the Russian Federation on military, but I’m not sure if the Russian army comes towards our borders, we are capable of defending ourselves without American help. 

It was President Macron in a speech during the commemoration of the First World War who said 28 different armies, it’s a waste of money and at the same time it is a danger for our collective security and that has to change in Europe. So, that’s our project.”

Guy Verhofstadt is not a hugely powerful figure in the European Parliament, but this is not a marginal idea. At a European Commission Presidential debate in March 2019, Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (the European Parliament equivalent of the Tories and the largest party), also supported a unified European Army (and FBI!):

Some of the sharpest clashes between the candidates were on the question of whether the EU should aspire to develop an army — with Verhofstadt and Weber generally in favor, and [Frans] Timmermans [Party of European Socialists – Labour is in this grouping] and [Ska] Keller [European Green Party] expressing skepticism if not outright opposition.

“European army!” Verhofstadt declared after expressing his agreement with Weber that there should be an EU version of the FBI.

“The biggest waste of money in the European Union is the military, the way we organize it,” Verhostadt said. “We spend nearly half of the Americans. We spend three times more than the Russians on military in Europe, but I am not sure if the Russians come this way that we are capable to stop them. A European army of 20,000 people in 2024. Let’s do it.”

Timmermans disagreed with the FBI proposal, and was especially dismissive of talk of an EU army. “Don’t overpromise,” he said. “There is not going to be a European army anytime soon.”

Weber jumped in on Verhofstadt’s side. “We should have great ambitions,” he said, adding: “It’s a fundamental idea to never have war again in Europe. It’s today unthinkable but with a common European army it would be totally unthinkable.”

Politico (Mar 2019): “ Frenzy in Firenze: 4 takeaways from EU lead candidate debate

As is its wont, regardless of the political lip service, the EU is quietly getting on with a unified military capacity anyway with the start of an arms race and the ironically named European Peace Facility:

It would be easy to dismiss the idea [of a European Army] as just a political gimmick, if it were not for the fact that European defence has gone through some significant transformation over the last few years.

Largely thanks to Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, European governments have realised that defence budgets can no longer be expendable lines in national budgets. In 2015–16, for the first time in decades, European defence budgets stopped their post-Cold War decline, and most are now on the increase. Even if Europe still falls short of the 2% defence-spending target – the average among European NATO members is 1.44% – it is now closing the US$102 billion gap. (In 2014, the gap was US$138bn.)

Added to this recovery in defence spending, European countries have strengthened their armed forces’ readiness and in some cases deployed them under the NATO banner on the eastern flank of Europe, something seldom seen since the end of the Cold War.

The European Union has started mobilising significant resources as well. Launched in early 2017, the European Defence Fund is set to reach €1.5bn in 2021, and the Commission hopes to leverage an additional €4bn in investments from member states, for a total of €5.5bn (around US$6.2bn). Equivalent to the entire Swedish defence budget in 2018, this will bring much-needed cash to some of the weakest areas of the European defence sector: research and development, and new equipment acquisition.

In addition, in June last year EU High Representative Federica Mogherini proposed the establishment of a European Peace Facility, a fund of potentially €10.5bn annually, which, if agreed, could be used as early as 2021 to cover some of the costs of the military operations led by European armed forces and even regional partners. Despite its name, this would be the first time that the EU has freed up funds to support military operations. This has long been France’s wish after years of opposition by Germany, which has argued that the EU treaties forbid providing support to military activities and even capabilities, and a systematic veto from the UK, which perceived it to be in direct competition with NATO.

Of course, there is a difference between new funds and institutional measures on the one hand, and a combat-ready army of European soldiers on the other. But the EU is fast becoming a real actor in defence where it used to be a marginal one: between 2021 and 2027, the EU aims to invest €13bn in defence research and development, and equipment, and €6.5bn for military mobility, to which one may add the off-budget €10.5bn fund for the European Peace Facility.

International Institute for Strategic Studies (Jan 2019): “A European army: can the dream become a reality?
Current defence operations of the European Union. Current. And that’s without a formally organised European Army.

Thankfully, this project is having some delays due to the inconvenient decision of Britain to vote to leave the European Union and take our top ten most powerful military in the world with us. A November 2018 study by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (a leading defence policy think-tank based in the UK) and the German Council on Foreign Relations, “Protecting Europe: meeting the EU’s military level of ambition in the context of Brexit” (which you can download here) found that the EU would find it frustratingly difficult to invade Africa, Central Asia, and South East Asia simultaneously without us on board. If we leave the European Union, that’s one of the most powerful militaries in the world not going anywhere near that project, which the wonks have acknowledged would hamstring its “peace-keeping” operations the world over for decades due to our naval power:

The EU Global Strategy (EUGS) has led to some adjustments but not to a wholesale review of military-planning assumptions. The relevant scenario families are therefore peace enforcement (up to 4,000 kilometres from Brussels); conflict prevention (up to 6,000 km from Brussels); stabilization and support to capacity-building (up to 8,000 km from Brussels); rescue and evacuation (up to 10,000 km from Brussels); and support to humanitarian assistance (up to 15,000 km from Brussels).

EU member states want to be able to conduct more than one operation at a time in the CSDP frame- work. It is this concurrency of operations that will create real stress on capabilities, much more so than any one of the scenarios mentioned above taken by itself. Moreover, sustainability is a problem. While short-term operations might be possible when using all available assets, those requiring one or more rotations will overstretch European armed forces.

Of the IISS-DGAP scenarios, only the rescue and evacuation operation (located in South Africa) and the support to humanitarian-assistance operation (located in Bangladesh) did not generate any capability shortfalls if the current 28 EU member states (EU 28) contribute to the force pool. If the United Kingdom is omitted (EU 27), the humanitarian-assistance operation faces a shortfall in the naval domain.

The scenarios concerning peace enforcement (located in the Caucasus), conflict prevention (located in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean), and stabilization and support to capacity-building (located in Somalia/Horn of Africa) would all create significant capability shortfalls, even when the EU 28 is considered.

The EU 27 would face much greater shortfalls, in particular because the UK would be able to provide important enabling and high-end capability in each case. Under those circumstances, a successful implementation of the operation is doubtful.

World Economic Forum (Dec 2019), “Can the EU deliver on its military ambitions after Brexit?

The UK is one of the most powerful military nations in the world but because of our focus on technology and diplomatic leverage instead of troops, our navy is incapable of independent military operations. Removing us from EU military cooperation as much as possible hamstrings them because they don’t have easy access to our resources and hamstrings our ability to go to war with anyone else.

Just a thought. 

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Brexit and the Constitution

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Originally posted to Facebook as a series of comments in March 2018. Edited for clarity. “The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this, namely, that Parliament thus defined has, under the English constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised […]

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Lexit: On a Second Referendum

December 9, 2018

Originally posted to Facebook in January 2018. Edited for clarity. Say we finish drawing up our Brexit negotiations in January 2019, and allow six weeks for a referendum on the matter. Your voting options will likely not be: * Approve the deal * Reject the deal * Cancel Brexit and remain in the European Union. […]

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Brexit: A educational dialogue with Remainers

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Lexit: After the 2017 General Election

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What do I want from Brexit?

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