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Culture Re-View: The cultural legacy of Brexit, seven years on

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses his supporters prior to boarding his General Election campaign trail bus in Manchester, England, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses his supporters prior to boarding his General Election campaign trail bus in Manchester, England, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Copyright Frank Augstein/AP Photos
Copyright Frank Augstein/AP Photos
By Jonny Walfisz
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23 June 2016: Britain votes to leave the European Union

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Today is the seventh anniversary of the Brexit vote when the UK infamously shot itself in the political foot and voted to leave the European Union in a referendum. I remember the day vividly because it was my birthday.

Living outside of the UK at the time, it felt cataclysmic. What had my country done to itself? I imagined that when I’d next arrive back home, the plane would land on a scorched runway, the country continually aflame since this most unwise decision.

That manifestly wasn’t the case. Although the economic and political impact of the vote has been definitely severe. Brits are poorer than they would have been without Brexit. And the political landscape has been tipped into a form of right-wing populism that mirrored the subsequent election of Donald Trump in the USA.

How has the Brexit vote impacted culture in the UK though? That remains harder to quantify. Despite the cataclysmic nature of it for Britain’s economy, it hasn’t necessarily been that influential on the art that Britain has produced.

Still, here are some of the most notable references to Brexit in culture since that terrible day, seven years ago.

TV and Film

Probably the most notable have been the TV shows and TV films made specifically to cover the events of the Brexit vote. Released in 2019, Brexit: The Uncivil War followed the influence of government advisor Dominic Cummings, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch, on the country’s vote. Written by playwright James Graham, best known for his politically whip smart plays on the UK stage.

While Graham comprehensively covered Brexit through his TV film, few other fictional narratives have taken it into account. The closest next example is Russell T. Davies’ excellent ‘Years and Years’ which prophesied the future of the UK as the government grows increasingly totalitarian following the Brexit vote.

House Productions and Channel 4
Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Brexit: The Uncivil War'House Productions and Channel 4

Theatre

One of the most interesting attempts to tackle the feeling in Britain after the Brexit vote came from Mike Bartlett’s brilliant drama ‘Albion’. Set in the garden of a wealthy British woman as she tries to bring the foliage back to its once great past (sound familiar?), the play has the homeowner slowly alienate her quaint village over issues like immigration and etiquette.

Similarly, the revival of Jez Butterworth’s legendary play ‘Jerusalem’ revitalised the original themes of British traditionalism into a sinister new texture as Mark Rylance’s Rooster Byron railed against the tides of change.

Books

It’s in novels that Brexit has had the most obvious influence. Ali Smith released ‘Autumn’ in 2016, the first of her four season novels and often called the “first serious Brexit novel”.

Another classic contemporary British author, Jonathan Coe, weighed in on the topic with his novel ‘Middle England’ in 2018 brought many of his older characters back to life to test their mettle when faced with some of the most crucial events of Britain’s recent political history.

Video Games

Probably my favourite mention of Brexit in any media though is in video games. More willing to take the event tongue in cheek than other art forms, Brexit has shown up in two ‘Football Manager’ games as an event for players to navigate when working out how to run teams in the Premier League.

Similarly, after ‘Pokémon Sword & Shield’ was announced that it was set in the UK, when fans found out that they wouldn’t be able to catch certain Pokémon from previous entries in the series, they called the decision “Dexit”.

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