I watched the holocaust memorial ceremony on BBC2 last night. I felt it my duty, if just to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of the most abominable crime ever committed. The industrialised murder of six million people should surely never be forgotten: that’s the only way to prevent it from ever happening again. Yet, as I watched boris Johnson give his speech, I could not banish our current situation from my mind: how could this man have the audacity to feign disgust at what the Nazis did when on Friday he will drag this country out of one of the very organisations set up in part to ensure such catastrophes never happen again?
Of course, most people will recoil that likening Brexit to the holocaust is utterly wrong. What the nazis did is indeed far worse. Yet both have the same simplistic worldview at their core: a type of arrogant nationalism which declares one country or people superior to all others. The European Union was set up to facilitate cooperation between countries; to help governments and people work together as equals. That is the only way to grow beyond the petty national rivalries of the past. By leaving the EU, the UK reverts to that nationalism: by suddenly declaring that it doesn’t need to cooperate with our European friends, it becomes no better than the Nazis declaring theirselves superior to everyone else.
I am not saying that I think everyone fooled into voting Leave is a fascist, or that we will soon see concentration camps being built. I fear, however, that the type of deregulated, ultra-capitalist society Brexit will bring will see the strong freed to dominate the weak, rich freed to persecute the poor. Human and consumer rights will start to be worn away so that soon any notion of social equality will be a hazy, far off dream. The Outists say they want freedom, but they want it only for theirselves: freedom to persecute and manipulate; freedom to lord it over everyone not born into a wealthy, white family. Outside the ECHR, protection of minority rights will be thrown to the wind; I doubt people like me will soon have the privileges we now enjoy as the taxes which fund the social services we need to live independently are reduced. Not an overt form of persecution perhaps, but persecution nonetheless.
Culturally, the 2016 referendum has already opened the door to rising levels of intolerance, xenophobia and hate crime. It has reinforced feelings of separateness from and superiority to our neighbours, allowing some people to air their bigotry and prejudices more freely. We might not see brownshirts on the streets, but the Outist ‘victory’ has meant the return of types of behaviours and attitudes we should have outgrown long ago. They may not call Brexit fascism, they might deny they want to persecute anyone, yet at the core both are born of the same abhorrent isolationism and arrogance. It is only through international cooperation that we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, which is why Johnson’s words last night were so sickeningly hollow.