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Fool Britannia: On bad mannered Brexiteers



Australians of my age were born British citizens, the Australian Citizenship Act not having come into force until 1948. As such, we lived in a very different, monocultural, definitely colonial world.

Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, at the door of 10 Downing Street, London, to hand in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, detailing a vision and demands for Brexit. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)A memory lingers. I was eight and inhabitant of a small country town when I ate lunch at the house of one of my mother's friends. Lunch was the predictable chop and three veg. More than one chop, actually. The meal was nearing its end when I framed a request. 'Please, Mrs Mac, may I pick my chop bones?' This very correct matron, of well-documented Scottish descent, did not hesitate in her reply. 'The Queen of England may pick her chop bones if she does it with one hand.'

And that was it, a symbol and a summary: Britain set the standard of conduct. Nobody doubted that a gentleman's word was his bond, the emphasis was on truth and honour, and good manners were essential: we were drilled in manners and good behaviour, in being steady and sound, every minute of our young lives.

We grew up eventually, although in my case the process was a long one. Even now my friends occasionally cry, 'For Heaven's sake, stop expecting things!' — things usually being old standards of courtesy. Call me an old snowflake, but perhaps I reached true and disappointing maturity only the other day, when I was truly appalled at the behaviour of the 29 Brexit members of the European Parliament.

The opening of the new five-year term was in progress, and a celebratory anthem, Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy', was played. During this performance, the Brexit MEPs, all 29 of them, turned their backs, thus insulting the Parliament, the young and immensely talented musicians, and even Beethoven himself. They clearly did not realise they were demeaning themselves by acting in this fashion.

Leader Nigel Farage engaged in a typical paranoid rant after the session, saying that 'the cat was out of the bag', as the EU clearly aspires to nationhood, and that he and his party would not show respect to foreign anthems imposed upon them. The Liberal Democrat MEPs, 16 in number, did nothing to improve the far from shining hour by wearing yellow anti-Brexit t-shirts printed with an impolite slogan.

As I moan about the lack of civility in modern life, I also moan about the neglect of the study of history. President Trump's recent idea that revolutionary troops took over airports in 1775 is a glaring example of where such neglect can lead.


"Surely it is a bitter irony that the Brexiteers behaved in exactly the same way as the hated and ultimately defeated enemy?"


With regard to the EU debacle, eminent historians have not been slow to point out that in 1930 the Nazis behaved in exactly the same way as the Brexiteers in 2019. Most Nazis in the Reichstag chamber turned their backs on Jewish Communist Fritz Lowenthal, who had been elected that year, and was addressing the members. Surely it is a bitter irony that the Brexiteers behaved in exactly the same way as the hated and ultimately defeated enemy?

Then there's Ann Widdecombe, former Conservative MP, who is of my generation. And a game old girl: I doubt I'd ever take part in Strictly Come Dancing. But she's an Oxford graduate, so surely must have had some idea that her comparison of Brexit with the revolt of oppressed slaves would be bound to elicit heated reaction. One could argue that now at least the British know what it feels like to be at the receiving end of oppression: they've been the oppressors often enough.

Deal or no deal, Britain is due to leave the European Union on 31 October. This date marks Hallowe'en, the start of the ancient practice of Allhallowtide: for three days the dead are remembered, and various customs are observed. It will be a time of great change. I wonder whether anybody will remember the recent death of good manners?



Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, at the door of 10 Downing Street, London, to hand in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, detailing a vision and demands for Brexit. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Brexit, Nigel Farage



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Existing comments

Great article. I suppose it just goes to show, no matter how hard you try, you can't beat stupidity. Maybe it's an essential requirement for a life in politics.

Brian Leeming | 09 July 2019  

One imagines the Brexiteers (or is it the Bexiteers) did not truly realise that that wild colonial boy, Barry Humphries (a satiric artist of some distinction), was talking about the French queen in "The Pavlova Stamp" when he penned the immortal lines: There's a moral to the pavlova/With its luscious creamy clots -/It's like mankind all over:/The Pavs and the Pav-nots!

Pam | 09 July 2019  

Long live noisy, fractious boyos (and the girls who are like them). Some of this type aspire to liberate nations while others aspire to liberate battery hens. Is there a difference between the two? Let's just say that the Farage Company believes in a little impish civil disobedience.

roy chen yee | 10 July 2019  

"During this performance, the Brexit MEPs, all 29 of them, turned their backs, thus insulting the Parliament …" Long before these 29 'Brexit MEPs', Nigel Farage and any supporters who were members of the European Parliament (EP) before the recent election, had insulted the Parliament simply by being there. For Farage to join the EP, with the express purpose of white-anting it from the inside, was the ultimate insult of bad-faith against EP and the European Union. His campaign to pull Britain out of EU should have been conducted entirely within Britain, because it was a British question, not a European question.

Ian Fraser | 10 July 2019  

And the British, or rather the ‘little english’, voters put him and his ilk there, Ian. So the contempt for ‘continentals’ and the post-WW2 Project is not just confined to this bunch of MEPs: it’s ingrained in the English psyche. If the implications for Britain and Europe weren’t so serious one might, like Roy, make fun of it.

Ginger Meggs | 10 July 2019  

True, Ginger, as demonstrated by the Scottish and Northern Irish voting to stay. Pity the Welsh - they were dominated too long ago and too thoroughly to have an effective voice of their own.

Ian Fraser | 10 July 2019  

Ginger Meggs: “And the British, or rather the ‘little english’, voters put him and his ilk there, Ian.” That’s right. Farage didn’t just walk into the chamber and sit down. A sufficient number of Europeans – and Farage is one of such, Europeans who don’t believe in Brussels centralisation just like Scots who don’t believe in Westminster centralisation - voted for his ideas to represent them in the European Parliament just as a sufficient number of Northern Irelanders keep voting for Gerry Adams not to take up his seat in the Commons.

roy chen yee | 10 July 2019  

Was it Barry Humphries as Edna, before she became a Dame, who referred to 'Mr Manners'? Or was it someone else? Is this my online 'Senior's Moment'? Australia up until the 1960s represented a sort of antipodean flourishing of the best of British middle class values. One of the things that amazed Brits when the Seekers arrived there was how incredibly decent and middle class they were: decently dressed; no pot; no free love and the three men treated Judith Durham as the lady she was and is. There is a movement of deconstruction abroad these days which decries all this and claims that the country was a backward, racist, sexist place. There were elements of this but they were not the main picture. It is a bit like that with Brexit today. There are extremists but it is possible to be a sane Brexiteer. There is also much concern in Continental Europe about the way the EU is run and the power of the unelected bureaucracy. Forget Farage and his ways. Look to the main game.

Edward Fido | 11 July 2019  

Having spent time in the UK (England to be exact) nothing surprises me about the antics by the pollies as outlined in Gillian's commentary . The Brits have never recovered from losing the Empire!

Gavin OBrien | 12 July 2019  

Well said, Gavin O’Brien. That pretty, albeit soggy, patch of green in the North Atlantic rose to be a first-rank industrial power through state-sponsored terrorism on a scale that would make the Taliban jealous, and state-sponsored drug dealing of such a magnitude that it would bring a blush to the cheek of a Colombian cartel. Now they are seen as what they are: increasingly irrelevant.

Peter Downie | 12 July 2019  

Ah, Gillian (forgive the familiarity), only yesterday, while eating chicken wings in a restaurant, I remembered that exact same advice about royal table manners. Like you, I was appalled by Farage’s band of Brexiteers’ behaviour at the opening of the EU Parliament but I now live in Britain where even the buses apologise: “Sorry Not in Service,” they say on their destination boards. You would expect unciviI behaviour in politicians to be anathema in such a society. Not so, it seems. The likely next PM of UK, Boris Johnson, bears a strong physical resemblance to Mr Punch, of Punch and Judy fame. The puppet with his boorish and violent behaviour has for centuries been a favourite public entertainment here and that, I think, must be the explanation for Johnson’s popularity, but an Elton/Oxford University education cannot civilise Mr Punch. Frighteningly, however, the rot is much more profound than bad manners or ‘impish’ disruptive behaviour. A puppet show requires a willing suspension of disbelief but the whole Brexit drama is utterly fraught with dangerous untruth and a gullible public, mouths wide with laugher, seem to have swallowed the lot as gospel truth.

Joan Dugdale | 12 July 2019  

Expecting better behaviour is not just a mark of age, but of a desire for social improvement. Farrage and Co. put their own impossible nostalgic notions ahead of any realistic expectations for the future. He could make a start on cleaning up his act by cleaning his teeth.

jpb | 13 July 2019  

Comparing the left-nationalist Scots (who voted en masse against Brexit) with right-wing Little Englanders is a tad exaggerated, Roy Chen Yee. Scotland's preeminent historian, Sir Tom Devine - himself of Irish descent - has several scholarly volumes published on this, as well as on why Gerry Adams is no narrow nationalist bigot of the likes of Farage. As for Widdecombe, her brand of reactionary religiosity, like her politics, is enough to locate her as an exotic species at best and a shrill embarrassment to her Catholic conversion at other times. Like all good wine, Edward Fido's accolade to The Seekers commands an attention all of its own. Their alliance with the Christadelphian cause suggests, from an aesthete's perspective, that they should have confined their happy-clappy shenanigans to the climes of Tamworth. Granted that Judith Durham remains chastely buttoned-up to this day, unlike the overexposed Parton, her brand of tutti-fruity trilling drives me nuts and I'd much rather rave to Freddie Mercury and Cecilia Bartoli, whether they love God or not. Surely Eureka St will relax its high standard for civil exchange in this instance in the interests of defending good taste against an onslaught on it by Gadarene swine ;)

Michael Furtado | 13 July 2019  

Interesting research has come out since describing Brexit as an outburst of anti-immigrant xenophobia and 'collective narcissism' http://research.gold.ac.uk/22502/ Further, it appears that mostly older and whiter sentiments e.g. above median age voters in regions or fringes, described as 'pensioner populism' 'It turns out that older voters are rather sympathetic to nationalist movements. Older Britons voted disproportionately in favor of leaving the European Union, and older Americans delivered the US presidency to Donald Trump. '. https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/aging-populations-fuel-pensioner-populism-by-edoardo-campanella-2018-10?barrier=accesspaylog

Andrew J Smith | 13 July 2019  

Some rather wild generalisations here, both in the article and in some of the comments. My response, courteous I hope, is that the report about bad manners and the European anthem could have been made in a couple of sentences. (And I was born - in 1936 - a British subject not British citizen, and I remain proud of that.)

John Bunyan | 13 July 2019  

Thank you Gillian, for an interesting article into modern day rudeness. Like you I also grew up in country Victoria, and likewise internalised many of the niceties of the era, many of which I still retain. Never the less, change has to come and I am adaptable, but sometimes, when I'm tempted to wish it hadn't I hark back to the words of one of your pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, Heraclitus of Ephesus, who made the profound statement that "There is nothing permanent except change" and then I am able move on. But changing into what! I also find the behaviour of the 29 Brexiteers still in the European Parliament quite appaling, and I believe also that Britian should not have left. Modern problems, and particularly that of climate change need modern and unified solutions. Whatever Britian's internal problems may be, the level of behaviour of the Brexiteers cannot be justified.

John Whitehead | 13 July 2019  

I couldn’t agree more. The discourtesy and arrogance of Farage in particular must surely reinforce every European idea of the product of the English Public School.

Juliet | 13 July 2019  

I think it much worse manners for Westminster to turn its back on the referendum result.

HH | 13 July 2019  

Great article Gillian. It expresses a general lack of grace which I feel has become increasingly prevalent in society generally and especially among public figures. It seems people cannot miss an opportunity to assert that they are somehow above and beyond those around them. A friend told me she was invited to the pre-HSC chapel service at an Anglican girls' college in Sydney. At what was after all a very important occasion in their daughters' school lives, the parents couldn't help rolling their eyes as the chaplain led the Lord's Prayer. For an international example, we need only recall the Royal Wedding, when very-well-schooled aristocrats made faces during Bishop Curry's outstanding sermon on Love. Where is grace? Where indeed was it when our elected MPs summarily dismissed out of hand the Uluru Statement?

Kevin Wilson | 15 July 2019  

Who is turning their back on the referendum result, HH? May negotiated an exit on honourable terms but Farage, Johnson and the other Brexiteers rejected it. In wanting to just walk away from Westminster's previous commitments, particularly in Ireland, they simply expose their lack scruples as well as manners.

Ginger Meggs | 15 July 2019  

That's your opinion, G.M. But I for one strongly doubt that the majority of Britons who voted Brexit, against all the media and establishment stentorian scare campaigning, had May's sycophantic wet lettuce de-facto non-Brexit in mind. As the EU elections in the UK confirmed with a furious thump. And, so what about Westminster's commitments in Ireland? Don't you get it that Westminster in its self-obsessed, snobbish machinations has long been totally out of touch with the British people? That's what Brexit (and, by analogy, Trump and Salvini, etc, etc,) is all about!

HH | 15 July 2019  

Well said Gillian! It is a pity that manners and respect have almost disappeared from everyday life and if our politicians reflect this, what else can we expect? I was discussing the difference between etiquette and manners recently and whereas etiquette may be old fashioned as divisive , manners are an expression of concern and respect for other people and their opinions even if we do not agree.

Maggie | 15 July 2019  

There was a time when good manners meant consideration of and for others...

Jena Woodhouse | 15 July 2019  

Let's remember too that many people in the parliamentary gallery and across the nation turned their backs on Liberal Kevin Andrews' speech on Apology Day, Feb 13 2008. And also Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the U.S. national anthem. Bad manners?

HH | 16 July 2019  

Farage is the spitting image of the 1930s /40s British prankster/comedian, George Formby. Perhaps it's all nothing but a comedy, typical of the Brits. That said, however, the Brits are very aware, rightly or wrongly, of their self-perceived superior place in the world, having established the greatest empire the world has ever seen on the back of the Industrial Revolution propped up by the wealth of the colonies. The older aged support for Brexit was predictable in the face of the progressive politically correct erosion of the English character - similar to what we are doing in Australia.

john frawley | 17 July 2019  

Perhaps some of the commenters here should remember that the vote on Brexit was in the UK, not here. We have no skin in the game: it is not our country. The majority of those who voted in their first past the post system were for Brexit. There were differences in voting between London and the prosperous South and the North and Midlands, the latter two having been devastated by Thatcherite policies. Scotland did vote to remain. Wales can't stand alone economically and Northern Ireland is really economically tied to Eire. There is the stereotype of the arrogant, boorish public school bully which Gillian has pinned on Nigel Farage like the donkey's tail. True or not, that is irrelevant. Brexit is about how Britons view the United Kingdom's economic and political future. Anne Widdicombe, IMHO, was one of the more insightful, long range thinkers in the Conservative Party. The fact she threw in her lot with the Brexit Party says volumes to me. There are all sorts of real governance issues that Britain has with the EU, which its former rubber stamp leaders and their Brussels bureaucrat puppet masters arrogantly deigned to address. Perhaps if they had Britain may not now have been leaving.

Edward Fido | 18 July 2019  

John Frawley: “propped up by the wealth of the colonies.” The Good Lord gave the giants Africa and India ten talents each, and small, soggy ‘Great’ Britain, one talent. The giants buried theirs in the ground and the midget made twentyfold of its. It’s time the feistiness of that earlier midget emerges from under the stultifying security of the EU economic autarky and its chief beneficiary, Germany.

roy chen yee | 20 July 2019  

Good point, Roy. Another, even more arresting, almost miraculous, example is Hong Kong v. Red China. With a habitable area of a measly 276 sq kms and no natural resources apart from a superb harbour - not even fresh water - and needless to say, no colonies - Hong Kong rose from sleepy fishing village to become one of the greatest economic powerhouses on the planet in less than 50 years, while over the border, communist China, teeming with resources, sank into starvation, famine and barbarism over the same period.

HH | 22 July 2019  

It seems, Roy Chen Yee, that thee and me have a very different perspective on how Britain achieved its world dominance - probably irreconcilable! The Good Lord may well have endowed others with fabulous buried wealth and Britain with bugger all but that does not mean that Britain had any right to invade, slaughter, steal, appropriate or legislate token prices for the efforts of the toil of others in more fertile foreign lands for its own welfare. In seeking further advantage for itself in abandoning its colonies in favour of the EU the Brits made a grave error and are now on the receiving end, albeit different from the one they imposed on others and not quite as humanly devastating.

john frawley | 22 July 2019  

I am not sure Britain, in whatever form, including when confronting the then mighty Roman Empire long, long ago, was ever a 'midget' Roy Chen Yee. Gloating over the demise of the defunct British Empire seems to be politically correct these days whilst it is made very difficult to voice a public opinion against what China - very much a resurgent empire IMHO - is doing to its ethnic minorities, such as its actions against the Uighur people, including 're-education camps' in what looks like a deliberate policy of cultural genocide.

Edward Fido | 22 July 2019  

Three rousing cheers, Gillian Bouras and John Frawley, for your daring to puncture the opinions of those who side with Brexiteers on Britain's future. As an India-born Brit myself, I need only point them to Shashi Tharoor's 'Inglorious Empire: (to find out) What the British Did to India' (Scribe, Melbourne, 2016. $32.99). Tharoor, India's former Under-Secretary General at the UN, has revealed in shockingly well-documented detail where the bodies lie buried and how the headcount, as in pre-independent Ireland, still rises exponentially to challenge the myths of a few quaint ostriches in these columns, some of them identifiably Eurasian, who arguably enriched themselves by their former domicile in the colonies before being pushed out and taking up residence in Australia. I am well-acquainted with the values of such immigrants to these shores, allowed in under the 'White Australia' policy, which the likes of Farage has said he would like to see implemented in the UK. One is compelled to ask: who regrets having left the UK, now that the lunatics run the asylum, and why isn't there a queue to return? And, BTW, Edward Fido, N. Ireland's economy does rely on that of the Irish Republic, but on UK subsidies!

Michael Furtado | 04 August 2019  

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