Dunkirk co-opted in Brexit crisis 

Dunkirk co-opted in Brexit crisis 

Christopher Nolan’s Second World War epic Dunkirk has been co-opted by both sides of the Brexit debate in the UK. 

While Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Admiral sombrely announces that he is staying behind “for the French” and the film depicts how close and involved the UK is to its continental neighbours, right-wing UK commentators tried to make Brexit parallels.

Nolan had half-finished the epic when the UK narrowly voted to leave the European Union last June but former Ukip leader Nigel Farage posted a photo of himself looking serious next to a Dunkirk poster urging “youngsters” to watch it.

Leave supporters said that anyone watching Dunkirk would understand why 51.9 per cent of voters opted for Britain to cut its ties with the EU.

Others might argue that 72 years of peace since 1945 was a strong argument in favour of continued integration and find the sight of Britain fighting for democracy alongside its continental cousins stirring.

But Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson argued that for Brexit to work, the British needed “Dunkirk spirit” not “Naysaying Nellies”.

She wrote: “When we cast our votes in the referendum we guessed that Brexit would be messy, if not downright unpleasant. Call us crazy (we’ve been called much worse), but we thought it was a price worth paying to have a free country again.”

A flotilla of pleasure cruisers and other civilian boats crossed the channel to bring back British troops, trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk.

LBC and BBC broadcaster James O’Brien, who is gaining increasing notoriety as the voice of liberal Britain, challenged any idea that Brexit is somehow linked to Dunkirk. O’Brien is famed for his on-air clashes with members of the public over Brexit and an interview that left Farage humiliated. He argued that the idea Britain needed the “Dunkirk spirit” to make Brexit successful was historically bogus.

He said on LBC: “People that told us it was going to be easy and enriching and the most natural and liberating thing in history are now saying you need the spirit of Dunkirk to get through it.

“Dunkirk. Described by Churchill as a disaster. And you have now or the idea that we have to invoke the spirit of Dunkirk to get through something that was supposed to be really easy and make us richer.

“But again you know I’m just the lonely weathervane pointing at reality, while everybody else is chomping on nonsense. Think about that for a minute why would you want to invoke the spirit of Dunkirk – the evacuation of French beaches undertaken as the result of incredibly chaotic scenes.

O’Brien added: “Next time you hear somebody telling you that we need to invoke the spirit of Dunkirk to get through Brexit they are the same people that told you Brexit was going to be a pile of chips.”

Dunkirk in 1940. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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