Saturday, 5 November 2016

Happy Brexit Guy Fawkes

Well, it’s that time of year again. Guy Fawkes Day. When we Brits bring our kids out to celebrate the torturing to death of a seventeenth-century dissident.

We build big bonfires and burn him in effigy on top. Everyone stands around eating sausages and having a wonderful time. Then we let off fireworks to celebrate his death.
Guy Fawkes:
the celebration of torture the whole family can enjoy
His crime was to have tried to blow up Parliament. He was caught, in the night of 5 November 1605, checking out the barrels of gunpowder ready to be set off the next day. Burning, which is how he ended, was just the culmination of the things that were done to him during the short remainder of his life.

Interestingly, I imagine a lot of people, particularly amongst those supporting Brexit – British departure from the European Union – will be inclined to remember him fondly. They would like Parliament blown up, especially following Wednesday’s decision of the High Court that Parliament should be consulted about the launching of the Brexit process.

Supporters feel that this is an unnecessary delay in the process that they want completed as quickly as possible. They know Theresa May, as head of government, would ensure that happened; Parliamentary scrutiny would only be an obstacle to her and should, therefore, be avoided.

There’s a curious paradox there. Most of these Brexiters see the delay as a denial of democracy, because it seems to conflict with the referendum which came down on the side of leaving the EU. So, in the name of democracy, they oppose the parliamentary oversight of the behaviour of Ministers for which democrats in Britain have battled for centuries. That’s how casually people can opt to discard rights, in the name of other rights they think matter more. They forget that, in or out of the EU, Britain needs to keep the same tight rein on government as any other nation that wishes to act democratically.

In that respect, Brexiters are right to see Guy Fawkes day as their kind of celebration. After all, where the United States and France hold their national days – in July rather than November, which is already a sensible move for an outdoor celebration – to commemorate acts of the people against oppression, in Britain we celebrate the crushing of a rebellion and the upholding of executive power.

Consciously or unconsciously, Brexiters are also keen backers of the executive over the representatives of the people.

In another sense, though, Guy Fawkes isn’t entirely their champion. The aim of his plot was to blow up the King with his Parliament. In other words, the chief executive of the nation as well as its legislators. The target wasn’t just the bridle on government, but government itself. And it’s the power of government that Brexiters proclaim.

Besides, the conspiracy was one of Catholics. They wanted to end the power of a national, Protestant regime and see Britain re-enter the greater union of Christendom embracing most of Europe and with its heart in Rome. Imagine: Brexiters find Brussels bad enough, so one can picture their abhorrence at rule from nasty, southern, hot and sweaty Rome. Why, even Northern Italians say that Africa starts at Rome.

So maybe Brexiters should be a little ambivalent about today’s feast. It may not be as entirely favourable to their point of view as they think.

Even so. Brexiters or Remainers, I wish you all a great firework display. Enjoy the sausages. I raise my metaphorical glass of mulled wine your good health.

Happy Guy Fawkes!

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