The madness of blaming the Covid death toll on Brexit

Vengeful Remainers are using the Covid crisis to bash Brexit voters all over again.

Tim Black

Tim Black

For Britain’s political and cultural elites, it seems there is one overriding reason for the UK’s – and especially England’s – struggles with Covid-19. A reason, in fact, that unites Brexit and the pandemic response of a UK government voted into power on the back of it. That reason is ‘British exceptionalism’.

This, it seems, is now the crap-take of each right-thinking pundit; the unthinking recourse of every lockdown-loving member of the Twitterati; the lament of all those who cling to the institutions and pieties of the post-Cold War world, from the EU to globalism itself.

Like much of the dominant elite narrative used to explain Brexit, ‘British exceptionalism’ does at least have the advantage of simplicity. Voters, so the argument runs, wanted to leave the EU because they foolishly believed – thanks, no doubt, to ‘imperial nostalgia’ – that Britain was still deserving of its rarely used prefix, and was therefore better off going it alone. Likewise the current Conservative government, emboldened by Brexit voters’ delusions of Britain’s grandeur, responded to the pandemic by thinking it knew best, and that Britain was therefore better off going it alone.

British exceptionalism is why, in the words of Lancet editor Richard Horton, the UK government ‘failed’ in February and March to act on ‘clear and unambiguous signals from China [and the] WHO’ indicating that Covid-19 was a public-health emergency (1). It is why the UK government ignored, according to an LSE academic, the ‘blindingly obvious warnings from early March that the pandemic was overwhelming a healthcare system that ranked among the best in the world [in Lombardy, Italy]’. And it’s why it pursued the policy of ‘herd immunity’, refused to partake in an EU Personal Protective Equipment procurement scheme, and locked down too late to stop the virus from killing tens of thousands.

In short, Boris Johnson and his band of merry Brexiteers were led into this disaster by the same national impulse that led to Brexit. As the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall put it: ‘They thought they were immune. They were betting, as usual, on a bogus British exceptionalism.’

There are variations on this narrative theme. Some, such as the Financial Times’s Edward Luce, drag the US’s struggling pandemic response into the equation, in order to suggest some Trump-Brexit nexus of exceptionalism, resulting in ‘the belief that neither had much to learn from the rest of the world’. Others even add Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro to the mix. But the central claim remains consistent: the link between Brexit, the government’s poor handling of the pandemic, and the subsequent death toll is to be found in a deluded national sense of British is best.

It’s not true, of course. Like Brexit itself, the government’s response to the pandemic, and the resulting death toll, is simply not reducible to some mythical native sense of British exceptionalism.

Take the central claim of this narrative – that the UK government, fuelled by Brexit hubris, thought it knew best, pursued a policy of herd immunity, before being frightened by modellers’ terrifying predictions into doing what it should have done much earlier and locking down – at the supposed cost of thousands of lives. You would think, given the frequency with which this tale is trotted out, that the rest of Europe had locked down weeks in advance of the UK. You would think that, above all, Germany, a state now beloved by Remainia, had locked down as soon the WHO issued its Public Health Emergency of International Concern in late January. It didn’t, of course. Germany locked down on 22 March, just two days before Britain followed suit.

In fact, what’s remarkable about the UK’s response has been just how unexceptional it has been. There was an initial flirtation with the admirably less draconian approach followed by Sweden in mid-March, but from the end of March onwards, the UK government’s response has been characterised far less by arrogance and hubris than cowardice and confusion. At every stage, it has ultimately caved in to pressure from a largely anti-Brexit media class and Labour opposition to act as illiberally and fearfully as other nations’ governments have been doing. It has succumbed to calls to conform rather than being driven by an exceptionalist urge to stand out. It shut down the economy. It shut down schools. Heck, it’s now even making face-masks mandatory in shops. Just like almost every other nation in the EU and beyond.

Yes, Covid-19 has hit Britain hard. Harder than other nations, such as the now saintly Germany. But is that because Brexit Britain thought it could go it alone, and forge its own path? Or is it because of rather more complex reasons? Reasons such as: the organisational incapacity of the British state; a relatively ageing demographic profile; the fetishising and protecting of the NHS, rather than the people it is meant to serve; and, of course, the relatively high population density of UK’s urban centres, especially London, which is by far the most populous city in Europe. No one’s saying terrible mistakes haven’t been made. But to attempt to lay them at the door of Brexit voters and a sense of British exceptionalism is desperate stuff.

The UK has suffered a high Covid death toll. The highest in Europe. But then it has the second largest population in Europe. In terms of deaths per capita, the UK, at 67 deaths per 100,000, ahead of Spain on 61, is actually second to that bastion of exceptionalism and Euroscepticism… er… Belgium, which has suffered a huge 86 deaths per 100,000 people.

You would have thought the fact that Belgium, home to the EU, has the highest Covid-related death rate in Europe might have given those now attempting to link the UK’s struggles to British exceptionalism pause for thought. But they don’t want to pause. And they don’t want the pandemic to pause, either. Because with every extra death, with every consolidation of this face-masked, dystopic ‘new normal’, their nightmarish dreams of Brexit Britain are seemingly coming true. The worse they imagine it to be, the greater is their sense of vindication: Brexit was a catastrophic mistake.

That is why there is such a vengeful, apocalyptic aspect to the British-exceptionalism narrative. As one pundit put it: ‘The problem with having a distorted view of yourself, either as a person or a nation, is that eventually you’re forced to reckon with who you really are. For Britain, that reckoning is not far away.’ This aloof, judgement-day vantage point is not provided by a wrathful God, but by something close. It is that of ‘foreign observers’, ‘the rest of the world’, ‘shocked passers-by’, all of whom, we’re told, look upon Britain, like the God of Exodus might have looked upon the Egyptians, with ‘mockery’, ‘pity’ and ‘horror’. We, it seems, deserve to be punished for the sin of voting to leave the EU four years ago.

The narrative of British exceptionalism is not only simple-minded bollocks. It is sadistic, too.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

(1) The COVID-19 Catastrophe: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Stop It Happening Again, by Richard Horton, Polity Press, 2020, pp55-56

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Gareth Edward KING

15th July 2020 at 9:14 pm

These remoaners are obviously desperate. Italy and Spain with unimpressive track records on dealing with Covid-19 are EU members as far as I’m aware, and both have suffered in the same way as the UK in that the fatality rate has taken its toll in care homes overall. As has Sweden. Spain is in the midst of a ‘social engineering’ project brought on by this appallingly incompetent PSOE-UP minority, woke-left coalition government. And they just won’t give up.

Jerry Owen

15th July 2020 at 5:24 pm

Peter Hitchens on Talk radio today informed us that a medical advisor to the government that also had contacts in the WHO had told her that the decision to wear masks in shops etc was a political and not scientific decision.
The BBC along with most of the MSM is making this mask wearing about health even though there is no science behind it to speak of.
The BBC as part of its drip drip narrative interviewed a young girl the other day who had apparently not recovered from Covid some one month after contracting it. It has to be said that the girl looked very healthy and seemed not to struggle with talking and was very alert ( yes, I know looks don’t always show ill health ), we saw an earlier photo of her in the interview and she did look very ill in comparison.
The BBC along with claiming that 150k could die in the second spike is also now trying to scare the one group that do not need to be scared ie the relatively young.
The BBC along with the MSM are running another ‘fear’ campaign in the hope that people simply will not go back to work with the further hope that it will collapse our economy totally and even maybe bring the government down.
Behind all of this is the huge elephant in the room, Brexit, it is still writ large, the battle is still not over.
We mustn’t forget that the left have played the ‘long march’ before, they have payed it since the sixties, this is just another example of how it gradually grinds people down. it is cunning it bides its time, it is organized exceedingly well.
The Remainers will never give up, Boris is clearly weak, much weaker than many thought. Bring Boris down or make things so bad for him he can’t survive, it is very easy to envisage a new government or a new pro remain leader and Brexit being overturned.
This is very much about Brexit and Mr Globaloney.

Jim Lawrie

15th July 2020 at 3:17 pm

“Various polls” since July? In making such a claim you reveal that you took the bait and were duped into accepting their reworkings of the February 2020 poll as new polls.

More from the February opinion poll.

Which, if any, of the following conditions do you think would need to be met for the UK government to allow another referendum on Scottish independence?

Polls showing a consistent majority in favour of independence ————– 44%
Pro-independence parties winning a majority in Scottish elections ———– 23%
N/A – another referendum should not be held under any circumstances — 39%
Other (please specify) – 3%

Mor Vir

15th July 2020 at 4:14 pm

Oh darling, you really are getting upset and making it up now. How silly. The Yoon-Onion is in denial.

Here is a darling ditty to cheer your cockles.

The Corries – Annie Laurie

Mor Vir

15th July 2020 at 6:40 pm

Separate polling on Scottish independence between Feb and Jul 2020:

– Yougov did polling between 7–14 Feb 2020

– Panelbase/Sunday Times polled between 24–26 Mar 2020

– Panelbase/Wings Over Scotland polled between 1–5 May 2020

– Panelbase/Scot Goes Pop polled between 1–5 Jun 2020

– Panelbase/Business for Scotland polled between 15–19 Jun 2020

– Panelbase/Sunday Times polled between 30 Jun–3 Jul 2020

As I said, polls this year have shown growing majority support for Scottish independence, which now stands at 54% with ‘don’t knows’ removed. The last three polls have shown 52-54-54. ‘Don’t knows’ don’t count in a vote, that is how it works.

Recent polls show that 2/3 of Scots support an independence referendum within the next five years, and 2/3 support a Plan B for Scottish independence if WM denies a Section 30.

Moreover polls show that the SNP is set to win a comfortable majority at the 2021 Holyrood elections on a platform for an independence referendum within two years of that election. Scottish independence within the next five years is looking increasingly inevitable.

And polling now reveals that a majority in England support English independence, including a majority of both TP and LP voters – and that is without any serious campaigning on the matter.

Jim, do not make me type out again what we both already know to be so, and do not be rude toward me – it is not on. If defence of the Union is reduced to that sort of thing, then you have no chance, and you may as well pack it in now.

Lyn Keay

15th July 2020 at 12:23 pm

The other reasons London was hit hard were because it has a huge number of international flights, with only New York in the same league & because the Kensington set went on their Skiing holidays to the alps at a inopportune time.

James Knight

15th July 2020 at 11:56 am

The UK has done no worse than Sweden that didn’t have a lockdown. The cheerleaders for the lockdown want to distract from the catastrophic “self harm” they have inflicted.

Jonathan Palmer

15th July 2020 at 11:15 am

My Remainer friends (and they’re still friends (just)) define Brexiteers as old and stupid. and yet they appear to be willing to trash the economy to keep both groups alive. Duh!

James Knight

15th July 2020 at 11:58 am

You’d have thought Remoaners would be celebrating that covid19 had culled so many older people.

Barry O’Barmy

15th July 2020 at 11:03 am

So many things to agree with in this article and so many to disagree with. For a start, the prefix “Great” for Britain refers NOT to its history, but to its size relative to its neighbour, Brittany.
As for “lockdown”, those opposing it are misled by a desire not to be told what to do, but viruses are spread person to person which makes the primary means of preventing spread being isolation.
I am a doctor, in favour of lockdown as a means to prevent viral spread, but I also support our leaving the undemocratic EU. These stances are entirely compatible for educated people.

James Knight

15th July 2020 at 12:55 pm

People were still packed on tube trains and buses during the lockdown, while being told that masks were a waste of time. Those over 80 were at 70x greater risk of dying than younger, fitter people. You isolate those who are sick or high risk, not the healthy who need to work to pay for the NHS. It was the failure to protect nursing homes that was the big issue, the lockdown to “protect the NHS” was at the cost of the most vulnerable people in nursing homes (not to mention the people avoiding hospital).

The lockdown was based on fear more than science. Nobody ever closed schools for flu.

Jerry Owen

15th July 2020 at 2:46 pm

Barry O
I am not misled, I have never been given the science to prove lockdown works, we have had viruses in the past which have killed far more yet we carried on as normal.
If you are a Doctor then you can give me the science in your own words.. presuming you are an expert on viruses !!

Frank Smith

15th July 2020 at 8:32 pm

I too, would like to know what “science” is being used to justify the use of masks. By the way, a press release by the World Health Organization is not science.

Jim Lawrie

15th July 2020 at 10:50 am

It is no longer about the advantages and disadvantages of Brexit per se. It is about Remain imposing their will on the rest of us. Keeping us in lockdown and tightening is part of that. Wearing masks is not a demand for compliance with science, but for the wearing of their political symbols. Soon they will be demanding that we paint our houses EU blue, and sacking anyone who flies The Union Jack or The St George’s Cross.

Boris Johnson has exhausted his repertoire. He is not capable of decisiveness or leadership. The entrenched opposition he faces is from those who hold office as appointees, and the media class. He cannot appease them and represent us. He must be replaced.
In a General Election Remain will make every effort to keep the elderly in isolation and away from the polling stations, and will use BLM as attack dogs to further discourage the wrong types from voting.

Mor Vir

15th July 2020 at 10:16 am

TBP has split in Wales after Tory posh boy Reckless announced that TBP wants to shut down the Welsh parliament. TBP has potential as a genuinely liberal democratic party that could campaign for electoral reform and for free speech protections, but it still harbours some reactionary TP Colonel Blimp characters from its UKIP days.

Nigel is going to have to decide which route he wants to go with TRP but if it is the route of British state nationalism then he can count me out. We need a party that is about liberty not about Union Jackery. Meanwhile the Welsh Senedd is to hold its first ever debate on Welsh independence today.

> Welsh Brexit Party rebels after London-born leader campaigns to abolish Wales’s parliament

Reckless was accused of running the Brexit Party like a “dictator”.

Several Welsh Brexit Party volunteers have quit the party after their leader Mark Reckless said the party would campaign to abolish the Welsh Parliament.

Volunteers running three Brexit Party Facebook pages in South Wales used the pages to announce they would be backing a party which supports the Welsh parliament instead.

The Brexit Party Swansea account accused Reckless of running Brexit Party Wales like a “dictatorship”.

In a comment, they said: “No meetings with activists, no political party official meetings, no democracy, no election of officers, just him making decisions, might as well set it up Brexit Party Wales as a limited company with himself as 100% shareholder and director.”

The account said that former Brexit party activists will be asked in an online poll which pro-Welsh Parliament political party to “join/campaign for” and switch the Facebook pages to.

In a later post, Brexit Party Swansea posted a 2010 BBC article about Reckless apologising for being too drunk to vote on a finance bill.

The three local groups who have defected are Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire and Camarthenshire.

Mark Reckless was born in London, attended Marlborough College private school, went to Oxford and Columbia Business School and became an economist then a barrister. – LFF, today

christopher barnard

15th July 2020 at 10:11 am

The liberal and progressive classes live in their own little dream world where they imagine what the rest of us think.

They tell us that we are nostalgic for empire, want a blue passport and think that everything British is best when I haven’t heard any Leavers mention any of these things. For good measure they often tell us we are ignorant, uneducated and racist.

They are also prone to their own British exceptionalism, forever telling everyone that the BBC and the NHS are absolutely wonderful and the envy of the world.

They are cut off from reality and this explains why they keep losing elections and people’s votes.

CJ Hawes

15th July 2020 at 9:25 am

Fully agree with the main point in this piece but am struggling with the wandering off into lockdown and how it wasn’t needed etc. It seems to me to be quite clear that the gov’t had no choice to do other than shut everything down. The rest of the world was doing the same and so 1) a good chunk of the economy had nothing to work with and 2) it really would have been a case of Britain knows best if it had bucked the trend. Deaths would undoubtedly been higher and Boris would have been mashed by a good proportion of the Conservative voter base. Everyone was stuck between a rock and a hard place and no amount of complaining will change that.

Jerry Owen

15th July 2020 at 10:49 am

A lot of presumptions there.

Andrew Shaughnessy

15th July 2020 at 8:23 am

The BBC reports that the R-number before the end of lockdown (previously thought to be between 0.7 and 1) was only 0.57, that’s around 33% lower on average. But guess what? The highest infection rates were among 18-24 year olds, the ones most likely to have joined BLM protests.

Jerry Owen

15th July 2020 at 8:08 am

I have a worrying feeling that Brexit is in a precarious position.
The wearing of masks in shops and workplaces is to be introduced and kept in place till next year it seems. If we accept this assault on our liberty they will feel emboldened to reverse Brexit with no public mandate.
There is a real battle line here.

silly billy

15th July 2020 at 7:21 am

IF Britain had applied exceptionalism, Boris would have ignored what other countries were doing, and would have stuck to the herd-immunity approach – the vulnerable should shield, while the rest of the country goes about its business. Unfortunately for the economy, he didn’t. Of course the Remainiacs loved lockdown. They, like everyone else, could see the coming fiscal catastrophe, oven-ready to be conflated with Brexit. Meanwhile, across the pond, so-called Democrats are loading similar ammunition to fire at Trump. Again, these are the responses of a political elite forced to deal with an unexpected democratic reality which is not to their taste.


15th July 2020 at 6:28 am

“The narrative of British exceptionalism is not only simple-minded bollocks. It is sadistic, too.”
I do love a good punchline. Really I do 🙂

Dominic Straiton

15th July 2020 at 5:21 am

Apart from blaming the CCP and China for China virus the people most to blame in this country are the remoan voting bureaucrats at public health England and the NHS. Both of which are crap and not worth a clap.

jassmine fariendesss

15th July 2020 at 5:07 am

good day

ciwima ciwima

15th July 2020 at 4:02 am


Gordon O Gopher

15th July 2020 at 2:10 am

No way. You’re wrong, they’re right:

Top five countries with the most cases? USA, Brazil, India, Russia, Peru.

What have they all got in common? None are in the EU

Remainer logical conclusion? The EU cures Covid

There’s your proof. The EU is fantastic and leavers are bare racist ‘n that.

Mor Vir

15th July 2020 at 1:04 am

Shocker, new Panelbase poll finds that half of England supports English independence, including a majority of both TP and LP voters. The sooner that Scotland gets its independence referendum the better, then a referendum on Irish unity; that is the most likely route to English independence.

> English independence: 49% of people in England back ending Union

NEARLY half of people in England support English independence, a new poll has found.

A Panelbase survey carried out for Business for Scotland revealed that 49% of people in England support the idea – while the majority of Labour and Tory voters south of the Border say England should be an independent country.

The result comes weeks after a separate poll, organised by YesCymru, which found nearly half of Tory supporters in England want to see the Union dissolved.

As support for Scottish independence increased to 54% in recent weeks, the poll surveyed 1015 English residents with the statement: “England should be an independent country and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be allowed to stand on their own two feet.”

With “don’t knows” removed support for retaining the Union was just 51%, while 49% supported England becoming an independent nation.

Business for Scotland CEO Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp was stunned by the results which came amid no active campaigning for English independence.

He said: “Let’s be clear, without any serious campaign for English independence and with no political party advocating for such a move, English voters are essentially split right down the middle on whether England should be an independent country. Were such a campaign to be launched we can only assume that support would grow.”

– The National, today

Jim Lawrie

15th July 2020 at 11:45 am

Question “Do you think Scotland should or should not hold another independence referendum?”

No – 57%
Yes – 43%

Question “How would you vote in a Scottish independence referendum if held now?”
Yes – 50%
No – 43%
Don’t Know – 7%

Mor Vir

15th July 2020 at 12:04 pm

The latest polls also show that 2/3 of Scots support an independence referendum within the next five years, and that 2/3 support a Plan B for Scottish independence if WM refuses a section 30.

Polls this year have shown a growing majority support for Scottish independence, which is now at 54% YES.

Jim Lawrie

15th July 2020 at 1:35 pm

Mor Vir I quoted the latest polls. You quote their reworking by a pro-independence, online journal. That is why you do not state the actual questions asked. You start with the re-interpreted results and work backwards. You then insert your own questions to arrive at your desired result. Because you think you are clever and everyone else is stupid, you finish up demonstrating quite the opposite.
All the journals you read and quote on Scottish independence do the exact same thing.
The articles you read all rework their already reworked version of the poll I quoted on the desire for a second referendum. That poll is dated Feb 14 2020.

Mor Vir

15th July 2020 at 2:18 pm

Calm down dear, there is zero pretext for rudeness. Untwist your nickers.

This is July – newsflash – and there have been various polls since then. What I said stands.

Jerry Owen

15th July 2020 at 2:50 pm

The minute Mor Vir announces yet another tedious and inaccurate poll result, I skip the post.. actually I normally do so anyway !
Life is to short.

Vivian Darkbloom

15th July 2020 at 1:01 am

This is nothing special. We’ve seen it all before, it’s that sad and melancholy march down the road to authoritarianism, to fascism, to communism. There’s no real way back because those who support it are those who hold the reins of power. The dumbed-down bourgeoisie who run everything. We hear them on the telly, we hear them over the radio, we hear them on the message boards of the online media. Funny though, we never hear them on the streets, we never hear them in ordinary banter. I’ve never really met them. But that’s the problem; they’ve never met me, or anyone like me. A worker, a wanker, not a stiff or a banker; someone who bears no grudge but can only trudge. They are alone with their dreams of restructuring society in their own image.

If we’ve learnt anything from the fallout over Brexit it’s that a small but influential class of society thinks it runs the whole of society and hates, really seriously hates, the rest of us saps who go out to work and actually run the country but are regarded as untermensch. This class, whatever one wants to call them, hold the majority in contempt. This is really bad; for them and for those they hate. I can only imagine that such contempt will end, as it always does, in violence. I don’t relish this outcome at all.

The resolution of the democratic process is agreement after a battle of ideas and a show of hands. If one side or the other refuse to give consent to the party which has prevailed by virtue of greater numbers then we are in real and serious trouble.

Vivian Darkbloom

15th July 2020 at 1:18 am

To be clear, I’m not advocating violence. I’m saying that politics is meant to obviate violence. If one side does not accept a democratic outcome in the agora then violence and conflict is the inevitable result. The democratic process only works when all agree on the outcome.

Jim Lawrie

15th July 2020 at 11:03 am

I heard another example of their arrogant doublespeak from a radio presenter telling us that making masks mandatory is the best way to persuade people to change their thinking. Followed by a stream of callers, every one of whom agreed with him.

Linda Payne

15th July 2020 at 12:47 pm

and what exactly do you hear on the streets? political retoric? not on your life, just the same old fucking conformism, tired phrases you can almost predict what they are going to say before they say it, I’m sorry but I’m pretty much done with optimism, I had no support when I was driven out of nursing, treated like dirt by other working class people acting like little hitlers in the mental health system, if the general populus can turn on the elite with the same gusto it reserves for nutters like me we might actually get somewhere

Jim Lawrie

15th July 2020 at 2:18 pm

I voted for Scottish independence. The day after Indyref I was ostracised by almost every Yes voter that I knew. Still am. My crime was that I accepted the result.
6 years on and they want a referendum every 5 years because of a major change in circumstances i.e – Brexit. They debar an EU membership referendum for an independent Scotland. To suggest one is “anti-democratic and traitorous”. Independence, according to them, is not a big enough change to warrant this.

John D Henry

15th July 2020 at 12:38 am

Good points to highlight yet more irrationality from much of the MSM, and the usual suspects. Covid-19 does not do politics, it is neither a Brexiteer or Remainer. The virus will do its course and just about everyone will be exposed at some point or other, until (or if) a vaccine arises. All the various strategies can do is attempt to control the rate of infection, at cost to various other factors such as economics, compromising non-Covid 19 health care, societal well being etc. The final death toll (of largely vulnerable and elderly) is likely to be similar for all.

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