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The Brexit ultras are losing the plot

26 July 2018

9:27 AM

26 July 2018

9:27 AM

With the Labour Party losing the plot, it’s reassuring to see the
Tories holding true to the principles of liberal democracy. On Wednesday, Conservative MEP David Campbell Bannerman tweeted the Telegraph’s splash, ‘Jihadists should be prosecuted for treason’. By way of comment, he added:

‘It is about time we brought the Treason Act up to date and made it apply to those seeking to destroy or undermine the British state. That means extreme jihadis. It also means those in future actively working undemocratically against U.K. through extreme EU loyalty.’

Oh. We might ask what would constitute ‘working undemocratically against [the] UK’, or what ‘actively’ doing so would look like, or what would represent ‘extreme EU loyalty’. Or we might ask why Campbell Bannerman has still not deleted his tweet despite it being positively deranged.

Challenged on his proposal, he doubled-down. Gavin Esler, chancellor of the university of Kent, called Campbell Bannerman’s remarks ‘Brexcrement’ and reminded him he was ‘sucking on the euro-teat as an MEP’.

The Tory-turned-Ukip-turned-Tory MEP enquired of the former Newsnight presenter: ‘Are you working for Soros now?’

George Soros, the Jewish philanthropist, sits at the apex of a panoply of right-wing conspiracy theories, most centred on his funding of liberal and internationalist causes through the Open Society Foundations. Earlier this year, he was the subject of a Telegraph splash claiming he was behind a ‘secret plot to thwart Brexit’. Esler clearly took an inference from the Soros comment, responding: ‘I’m a Presbyterian- which must be a real disappointment to [David Campbell Bannerman].’

The original tweet should have seen the Tory whip withdrawn from Bannerman. It was inflammatory, obnoxious, and more befitting a social media troll than an elected representative. The follow-up, invoking anti-Soros paranoia, should have meant the whip wasn’t restored any time soon.

As the Brexiteers’ tedious fantasy of national liberation descends into a food-hoarding, medicine-stockpiling, no-deal tragicomedy, they are growing more desperate and their rhetoric more extreme. Nationalists like Campbell Bannerman – he is no conservative – have no philosophy beyond Brexit and since Brexit can’t be wrong, its failures must be down to a nefarious plot by Europhile traitors and George Soros. We can expect to see more, and more incendiary, language from the Brexit ultras.

Campbell Bannerman’s Twitter outburst is easily dismissed as the intemperance of one particularly dim hard-right ideologue. But he is far from unrepresentative. The Spectator made a liberal case for Brexit, envisioning ‘a Europe based on freedom, co–operation and respect for sovereignty’. It was sincerely felt but at odds with a
Leave campaign that pandered to prejudice and insularism. Chauvinism won the referendum and the wounded howls of betrayal that always accompany chauvinism’s eventual encounter with reality will define what comes next.

The Tory Party has a choice to make. Does it want to be the David Campbell Bannerman party – angry, aggrieved and looking for someone else to blame? Or does it reject the political tumult and emotional incontinence of this moment and stand for caution and moderation? Perhaps the party has already decided but if it has, Britain faces a grim future: Jew-haters to the left, nationalists to the right, and no one left to govern the country.

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