Having finished work for the day in central London and heading back south east, I had a very strange encounter.
I turned a corner near Trafalgar Square and heard what sounded like a load of incoherent football chanting which, very gradually, transformed into the all too recognisable: “What do we want? Brexit! When do we want it? Now!”
The group was walking down the middle of the road. No banners. Just a Union Jack (and a Welsh flag) towards the back. They were all wearing their “gilet jaune“, although they looked more like a local primary school out for a walk than their riotous French cousins. I said as much on Twitter shortly afterwards.
I ran ahead of them before bumping into another protest. At first I assumed it was a pro-EU one and wondered if they’d have a punch-up but it turned out to be a much, much smaller (and much more heavily policed) protest about the Central African nation of Cameroon — specifically, a march against the country’s continued membership of the Commonwealth. Just 30 or 40 people, flanked by police on all sides, about to meet the pro-Brexit protest head on.
Cameroon, formerly split into the French-speaking South and the English-speaking North, gained independence from France in 1960 and merged shortly thereafter. However, the country has been ruled by President Paul Biya since 1982.
Late last year, following a general election in which Biya won his seventh term as President, violence broke out as the English-speaking north of the country decided it had had enough with his soft dictatorship and decided to seek secession from the South, where there had been suspected mass killings by the government and secessionists.
I didn’t expect any fighting between the two groups — although I suppose the police did? At worst, I wondered if the pro-Brexit bunch would assume it was a counter-protest and kick off just for the sake of it, but that didn’t happen…
Instead, they celebrated together.
The Cameroon protesters, it seemed to me, were mostly protesting the British government’s lack of action over the state of the country in recent months, despite its membership of the Commonwealth supposedly entitling those more loyal to the UK with certain privileges and protections, but it still surprised me was that, when these two groups met, pro-Brexit coming down from the north and the Cameroon secessionists from the south, they greeted each other like champions and allies.
Apparently any exiter is a friend to a Brexiter? Or maybe what they share is nothing more than a discontent about UK government inaction and ineptitude? Either way, it was a very weird display considering these two issues are, on the face of things, completely different.
My cynicism on the timeline ended up attracting the attention of persistent Reply Guy, @UnconsciousAby, and then, later, @maidngflgh. It turns out this cynicism about Brexiteers makes me a hypocrite, what with my Twitter bio having always been “looking for an exit” and having made my name online writing about unconditional acceleration, patchwork and secessionism.
Of course, I’m assuming that both of these people are based in the US. I invite anyone to spend any time over here in the midst of the Brexit clusterfuck and to tell me it’s all going swimmingly, whatever your politics are. I’m sure the reason this lot were protesting in the first place was that they’re not happy with the way Brexit is going either. Who is?
But the point had been made and I think it’s an interesting one to explore: doesn’t unconditional accelerationism mean unconditional (Br)exit?
To quote myself again from the timeline: “‘Brexit’ has been pursued with all the intelligence of an ingrown toe nail.” It’s a retreat up our own arse. It’s not an “exit” in any attractive sense whatsoever. There’s no secessionism happening here. Not like in Cameroon.
Cameroon is an interesting example to stick with here and, on further consideration, only makes the display of joy more bizarre. The questioning of the Commonwealth relationship that was expressed on their austere placards was telling. “We want to secede. If you won’t let us or help us, we’re going to try and leave your club.” This is not the same logic as Brexit. Brexit’s pathetically British logic is, “Well, I don’t want to leave the area so I’ll just revoke my membership of the village green preservation society instead.”
@UnconsciousAby’s persistent line of attack was to ridicule an accelerationist position held alongside an anti-Brexit position, as if to think Brexit is shit is the same as wanting to stay a part of a “neoliberal institution” such as the EU; as if being critical of the situation at home is the same as aligning yourself with the EU officials abroad in Brussels.
That would certainly be hypocritical but that’s evidently not my position. What is always ignored by so many people who wave the Brexit card in front of your face if you align yourself with any kind of radical politics is that they have absolutely no understanding of what we are supposedly exiting out into. It’s not an Outside, that’s for sure.
The EU is absolutely a neoliberal institution but so is the United Kingdom. Brexit is nothing more than a weakening of neoliberalism abroad for the sake of a neoliberalism at home. If you think that’s a worthy basis for any radical politics of exit, you’re a moron.
For more on this, you can consider how Brexit is wholly antithetical to U/Acc, as I’ve previously written about it — at present it is a complete failure to make ourselves worthy of the process.
You can likewise read up on Novara Media’s tentatively explored position of “lexit” — abandoned prior to the referendum following a backlash but now finding traction in their network again.
The best text on all this for my money, however, which I’ve been trying to finish a post on for almost 9 months, is Tom Nairn’s incredible book The Break-Up of Britain.