Otto English considers how we have entered into an Orwellian world in which Brexit governs all and its supporters attempt to convince us daily that night is day and day is night.

George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 long ago ceased to be just a book. Since it was published in 1948, it has been turned into radio series, films, television and even an opera. But its impact has been far greater than that.

1984 has entered our collective consciousness. Ideas that originated in the novel – Big Brother, the thought police, unperson and Room 101 – are now part of our thinking and popular culture. At times of crisis, people still reach for it. In the year of Donald Trump’s inauguration, sales of the book increased by 9,500% in the United States.

At the heart of the novel lies an unsettling appreciation of how the guileless masses can be manipulated by the language of the state. Orwell had worked for the Ministry of Information (also known as the Ministry of Propaganda) during World War Two and understood slogans better than any ad man. In war, euphemism was king. “Dig for Victory” really meant ‘grow your own food or you’ll starve’. “Hitler will send No Warning” translated as ‘your family could well die in a gas attack’. 

The most well-known slogan of all, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, was never actually used – and for good reason. If bombs are falling on cities and the country is under imminent threat of being invaded, nobody really has much choice in doing anything else. So those posters were put aside until someone came along to turn them into coffee cups.

The catchphrases of war were classic examples of doublespeak; sloganeering engineered to give people purpose and hope when everything was hopeless. Nobody knew how events would turn out until very late in 1944 and messages such as “Careless Talk Costs Lives” gave everyone a sense that they were playing a part. 

While the term “doublespeak” is attributed to Orwell, it doesn’t actually appear in 1984. It is a compound of the twin themes of “newspeak” and “doublethink”, which govern thinking in the fictional state of the book’s Oceania.  

Newspeak is essentially a state-controlled vocabulary designed to eliminate ambiguity. Doublethink is a socially engineered mass cognitive dissonance whereby history is constantly modified to serve the state’s interests. The party faithful must be willing to completely reimagine the past. The people must accept that vicious wars they remember never took place. Events that happened never happened. Men who existed were never born. Two contradictory beliefs can and must be held at once – and both must be believed. Night is day and black is white. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

As Brexit rumbles on and Big Boris cements his power, one doesn’t have to be in possession of a literature degree to see how much all of this reverberates in 21st Century Britain.

True Lies

The Brexit leaders are masters at manipulating the conversation and coming up with catchy, but essentially meaningless, slogans.

The 52% of the population (actually 37% of the electorate) which voted to Leave in the EU Referendum have somehow been turned into the plucky underdogs. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and multi-millionaires Arron Banks and Richard Tice are the new anti-elite. 

Over the course of the past three years, our closest neighbours and allies have been transformed into an enemy. Loyal media outlets warn that the Brexit loyalists must constantly be on guard against the backstabbing Speaker of the House of Commons, Supreme Court judges and Remainer co-conspirators.

The past is constantly rewritten. Farage tells us that the people voted for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, even though it was never mentioned in June 2016. The referendum, we are constantly told, was “the biggest democratic vote in history” when, in fact, that was the General Election of 1992. The sacred 17.4 million people must have their vote honoured – while the other 49 million must conveniently be ignored. “People just want to get Brexit done”, when actually there is no evidence that is so and leaving the EU – particularly without a deal – would simply be the beginning of a decade of turmoil. And then there are the Government’s ‘Get Ready for Brexit’ infomercials on billboards and the airwaves. A constant hammering home of the message that Brexit is inevitable and we must all be prepared.


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The ‘big lie’ technique of propaganda works like this: if untruths are repeated often enough, people begin to think that they are true. It was a technique decried by the Nazis – even as they deployed it for their own ends. It is often used in war and it is now being used without apology in the Brexit endgame.

With much of this nonsense parroted unquestioned in the mainstream media, I put out a call on Twitter for examples of Brexit Doublespeak and was inundated with contributions.

As a public service, I am now making my Brexithaurus available here:

Brexit SloganActual meaning
Will of the peopleWill of the hedge fund managers
Love Europe, hate the EURacist
Clean Break Brexit or Managed No Deal Brexit or GO WTO30 mile queues on the M20, a 20% price rise in shop prices, the loss of Britain’s global reputation. A car crash for ordinary people 
Brexit dividendPoverty
SovereigntyPoverty with blue passports
Adjustment period10 more years of hell
Canada plusMeaningless but people like Mounties and maple syrup
Australian points-based system or anything with ‘Australia’ in the titleMeaningless but people like Neighbours and barbecues
Control of our bordersKeep brown people out and Muslims in particular
Unelected EU dictatorshipWe rightly assume that the general public does not understand what civil servants are nor understand how democracy works
Our fishThe fish we don’t actually eat, which we export to the EU 
They need us more than we need themPeople used to believe that smoking was good for colds so why not repeat this nonsense as well
The 17.4 million people who voted for BrexitIgnoring the other 49 million who didn’t
Technological solutions to the Irish BorderBarbed wire, border posts and the return of the IRA – but this won’t affect Jacob Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson
I knew what I was voting forHow dare you challenge my ignorance by asking me questions
Jobs First BrexitJobs (that will go) first after Brexit
Global BritainNigel Farage with a pint on his head and a flag sticking out of his arse 
Frictionless tradeWhen trade stops altogether there will, technically, be no friction
Get Brexit done, no ifs, no butsMy name is Boris Johnson and I went to Eton. I’ve wanted to be Prime Minister all my life. This silliness is stopping me from building more pointless bridges so let’s get it over so I might enjoy myself. 

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