Brexit is a portmanteau of the words “Britain” and “exit.” It became the short name for the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union after the June 23 referendum when voters were asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” When the “Brexit” was officially launched, many people, especially young people, suddenly wrote anti-Brexit poems. How did this suddenly awakened interest in poetry come about?

1. Background

In the referendum held on 23 June 2016, 51.89% of voters voted for the UK to leave the European Union (“Brexit”). On 29 March 2017, then British Prime Minister Theresa May launched a legally effective exit procedure under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union by giving written notice to the European Council.

It was a close thing. The Jays and Naysayers seemed to come from all walks of life, all ages and income groups, all regions. Fifty-two percent voted for the leave camp and forty-eight percent voted to stay. The political parties had hardly been a guide. The only party which clearly positioned itself against the Brexit were the Liberal Democrats under Tim Farron.

It was a Liberal Democrat, Tom Holder, who sparked a hope for a second referendum. The reason for his petition was that everyone should have the opportunity to shape his/her future on the basis of the final agreement between the UK and the EU. As the petition gained momentum, a hashtag appeared on Twitter #WriteAPoemAboutBrexit. Hundreds of people wrote rhymes to express their feelings about the Brexit, with the majority (but not all) complaining about the negative outcome of the original vote.

2. Anti-Bexit Poems

Pro-Brexit advocates argued that it was important to leave the European Union to protect – or even restore – Britain’s identity: its culture, its independence and its place in the world.
Many of the anti-Brexit authors (but not all) featured here appeared in the
Young Poets Network, a platform for young people up to the age of 25 years. This younger population (18-24 years old) seemed to have voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU.

Riz Moritz. “No you (Theresa) May not be Cuddled”
According to the Editor’s Note, Riz’s poem was written on 20th July 2016. On this date, Theresa May – the newly appointed British Prime Minister – had her first “Prime Minister’s Questions” at the House of Commons. (PMQs give MPs in the UK Parliament a chance to question the Prime Minister)
Theresa May’s first PMQ
You Tube

The setting is the Jubilee Line (!), a London Underground subway line. It’s hot and stuffy. A banker regrets having bought a hot Starbucks. Then the stop: the doors open: “(a) gust of virgin, cooler, thinner air, unbreathed air. Theresa May gets out and is on her way to her first PMQ. Notice the critical comment:

theresa may steps off for # PMQs
(first stand-up comedy must be nerve-wrecking)

She links arms with the members of the new Cabinet. At the Westminster stop the escalators are crowded. Colored women try to help:

women of colour offer a hand
witch rejects
falls into
blinding whiteness

The closing lines: “no you (theresa) may not be cuddled”.

Krystina Mawer,A Letter from the Youth of Britain”

The opening lines:

Little Britain is severed and splintered,
A country divided in two,
Seeking answers in the slamming of doors;
We have turned our backs on you.

“Little Britain” is the title of a comedy series. The title is a mix of Great Britain and Little Britain.

Speaking in the first person plural the narrator identifies herself with the voice of the “youth of Britain”:

We weep for the union we’ve broken,
We mourn for the ties that we’ve torn

For her, the European Union stands for peace into which she and her generation had been born.

Edwin Hopper: “Brexit” 

“We want our country back”, “Believe in Britain”, “Leave the EU”: Thus, EU opponents campaigned for a withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Shortly before the referendum, British trawlers demonstrated on the Thames with slogans such as: “Fishing for Leave”, “Leave, Save our Country” and ” The Only Way is Brexit”.This is where the autho starts. “Brexit” is a satirical poem a text in couplets

The opening lines:

Course I hate this damned EU.
It’s time we had our Waterloo.
Stand beside the union jack,
and fight to take our country back.

For non-British readers: The “Union Jack” emphasises the very nature of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a union of nations. It is reflected in form and color.

What would life beyond Brexit look like?

the “Morris Minor”,  British car manufactured by the Morris Motor Company from the 40s into the 70s, will celebrate a comeback with a brand new variant;

Instead of foreign microwave snacks, people will have old fashioned beans on toast;

people will watch traditional cricket competitions on village greens, where youthful hotheads acquire the “moral fibre“ they seem to be lacking;

The Beatles and Rock ‘n’ Roll “had pumped up the soul of the country with drugs“: When the people had their country back there wouldn’t be the need for more anti-depressiva:

I won’t need to have more Prozac
When I take my country back.

At the end of the day people would sit together, chatting over a decent beer

… , bashing queers.
Kick out strangers, no more blacks.
And then we’ll have our country back.

Kevin Higgins, “Exit” 

Kevin Higgins is an Irish poet and satirist. Exit” appeared in Culture Matters (06 July 2016),  shortly after the result of the referendum was announced; later it was published in the Irish Times (Dec 5, 2017)

The opening lines:

There will be no more thunderstorms
sent across the Channel by the French,
no acid rain floating in from Belgium.

Follows a list of absurd scenarios that might happen after the exit. Higgins alternates between factual language and personal address:

Pizza Hut, the largest pizza company in the world, will offer a choice of “Yorkshire Pudding or Yorkshire Pudding”;

People will the next twenty-seven bank holidays dismantling everything they ever bought from IKEA;

Who had appreciated caviar will have jellied eels “forced down their magnificent throats”;

All paving stones laid by the Irish will be torn up;

Those alleged to be involved in secretly making spaghetti bolognese will be arrested and held in a detention centre near Dover;

The electric shower, Pavel, the plumber, put in the week before will be taken out
and put in again by a workman who is “pure Billericay”.

The entire royal family will be shipped back to Bavaria, with the exception of the Duke of Edinburgh who’ll be given a one-way ticket to Athens.

The closing lines:

We’ll give India back its tea, sit around increasingly
bellicose campfires in our rusting iron helmets,
our tankards overflowing with traditional Norse mead.

3. A Few Remarks on the Cultural History of British Euroscepticism

In “The ultimate causes of Brexit: history, culture, geography” James Dennison and Noah Carl argue that the Euroscepticism, which expressed itself in the referendum and its outcome, was due to historical and cultural reasons which had so far received little attention. From the beginning in the 70s, the United Kingdom had been, so the authors, the least integrated EU member state and that, the closer the EU approached a political union, the more the Brexit had been foreseeable.

The fact that these deeper reasons did not get their due attention had – so the authors – to do with the way the Brexit was covered in the media. After the British voters had voted to leave the European Union, many media commentators had attempted to explain (and often denounce) the outcome of the referendum as a result of a misleading and demagogic campaign of irrational xenophobia and government fiscal policy. While some of these explanations would have to be taken seriously, in their entirety they were insufficient.

There were essentially four reasons which were fundamental to the Brexit decision:

First, Britain is the only allied European power that was not occupied during the Second World War.

Second, Britain has a common law legal system, which is contrary to the civil law system of continental Europe.

Third, Britain has an established church as a national institution under the leadership of the monarch, distinguished from an international institution under the leadership of the Pope.

Fourth, Britain is an island whose surrounding waters have isolated it in part from cultural developments on the continent.

Outlook

The hope for a second “Brexit”-referendum has not yet died. Should this happen, British citizens, then eligible to vote, will have an opportunity to vote on the terms that had been, in the meantime, negotiated by the British government for an exit of the UK from the EU. This would be desirable for the UK as well as for the EU.

Sources

“Separatism.” Wikipedia

Dennison, James and Noah Carl. “The ultimate causes of Brexit: History culture, geography“ London School of Economics.

Menden, Alexander. “Der Countdown: Warum die Brexit-Gegner sich plötzlich für Lyrik begeistern. Süddeutsche Zeitung (17. März 2017)

Taub, Amanda. “Brexit, Explained: Seven Question about what it means and why it matters.” New York Times (June 20, 2016) 

 

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