Paradox of Tolerance: Brexit, The Uncivil War

In 2015, after the idea of a referendum was put forward, the most significant referendum in British history took place in 2016. The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which suddenly emerged in the three-party system of the UK, gained significant power that could trouble the leaders by reaching a high vote share of 15%. UKIP’s sole concern was to take Britain out of the European Union and, in their own words, regain freedom and strength. Sound familiar: MAGA. Pressuring the then Prime Minister David Cameron, UKIP implemented the idea of a separation referendum in Cameron’s mind through their actions and efforts. However, David Cameron did not take the referendum seriously. Like the rest of the world, Cameron thought, “We’ll do it, it’ll be over, and they’ll keep quiet,” and allowed the referendum. The result? 52% of the UK voted to leave the European Union. On the same day, the question “What is Brexit?” became the most searched question on Google.

Of course, this situation that caught the entire world off guard became a film in 2019. The Brexit film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, tells the story of how the whole process unfolded and how UKIP actually won. At this point, the film diverges significantly from newspapers and Twitter floods because, despite knowing Brexit as a “campaign based on lies,” we learn that serious craftsmanship was behind it. In terms of this aspect, the Brexit film brilliantly portrays the 1.5-year process and uses a language that even someone unfamiliar with the subject can easily understand.

The film introduces us to Dominic Cummings, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, a person we have never seen in the newspapers, hidden behind politicians, who is actually the mastermind behind the entire Brexit. While Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Farage are at the forefront of the separation referendum, the advisor Dominic Cummings designs the entire plan and process. With Benedict’s exceptional acting, Cummings emerges as one of the most brilliant minds in history. However, the most significant question mark in the film lies in Cummings’ motivation for Brexit. The one thing that cannot be filled in is what exactly motivates Cummings.

If you followed it, Brexit was a referendum with two different sides: the “Leavers” and the “Remainers.” The Remainers tried to explain the importance of the European Union, while Leavers worked on confusing people and explaining the need to disrupt the existing order. However, Brexit has become a severe problem because what started with enthusiasm is burdened with insurmountable challenges. Now, let’s turn to the other side: the Remainers resorted to a fascinating method, and the film beautifully portrays the astonishment caused by this method. The Remainers blatantly lied throughout their campaign. With the slogan “take back control,” designed by Cummings and proudly read by him, the Remainers told serious lies. Some of these lies were truly ridiculous. In fact, there were two primary lies: the claim that the money (over £300 million) allocated to hospitals was going to the European Union as a fee and the assertion that Turkey would join the European Union. Since 2008, the British, like the rest of Europe, have started to view immigration negatively, and it seems they were afraid of Turks freely traveling in Europe after the influx of Syrians. We can say that the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, leading to extreme right-wing politicians coming to power in countries like Italy, began with Brexit.

Cummings is indeed a clever man. Knowing that he is neither a government official nor a member of parliament, he knows that none of the lies he spreads carry any legal consequences, and he has no qualms about deceiving the entire population with the hospital or Turkish-related lies. The film successfully portrays how newspapers and channels got entangled in this whirlwind and how everyone’s mind became confused throughout the process. Of course, during this time, we also spend a lot of time with Cummings and his sharp ideas leading to victory. The lies he managed to spread were so effective that even in towns where not a single refugee lived, the “Leave” vote came out.

However, thanks to the film, we learn that Brexit was not just a referendum, as we saw in the newspapers. Similar to Trump’s election in America, Brexit was also a social media success. Trump used Facebook to win the elections, successfully manipulating people’s minds with fake advertisements. Cummings is also well aware of the power of digital media. In fact, the social media conversation he had with dinosaur politicians was perhaps the only humorous aspect of the film. While we thought the entire referendum was a war of words, Cummings was playing behind the scenes with Zack Massingham, the CEO of Aggregate IQ, whose slogan was “data is power,” manipulating the 3 million people not on the official voter list. Just as Trump used Facebook as an analytical tool during the elections, Cummings made excellent use of Aggregate’s database of 3 million people. The result was a victory with 51.9%. When Facebook CEO Zuckerberg appeared for questioning due to the events, Cummings and Massingham faced no consequences. Although, in the end, no one faced any consequences. It all remained as it happened.

As I mentioned earlier, Cummings’ motivation is unclear. Maybe he just wanted to prove we are profoundly stupid in our choices. Like Dan Ariely wrote in his book Predictably Irrational, we are straightforward-minded creatures who can be controlled by outer forces aware of our ignorance. The Guardian openly describes him as a “troll.”

Dominic Cummings is just a troll. He may have trolled the whole country and changed the course of British history, but he’s still the man with an egg for a face, who screams everyone must be accountable for their actions – everyone except him.

Everyone is responsible for themselves. Cummings is still blogging and providing consultancy. No one blamed him; no one could blame him. Because everyone is responsible for themselves. He trolled the whole of Britain and retreated to his corner. Even after what happened, most people still think spreading misleading information on social media is free-speech.

Brexit: The Uncivil War brilliantly portrays Cummings’ 1.5-year journey. It not only captures the process but also reveals who is who, what decisions were made, the sorry state of the media, and the transformation of people during this process, all through clean shots and, my favorite, fast-paced editing that perfectly suits films of this kind. Toby Haynes, who has also directed Black Mirror and Sherlock, presents the entire process to us in a fast yet clear manner, as if directing an Adam McKay film.

Brexit showed us how valuable and dangerous social media or data can be. While we have been evaluating the power of social media positively, we have been completely unprepared for its negative aspects. We are currently experiencing even worse and more dangerous consequences than what happened to us in 2016. It seems we haven’t learned from 2016 and failed to give enough importance to dangerous individuals like Dominic Cummings. Hopefully, we will soon emerge from the whirlpool of Karl Popper’s warned Paradox of Tolerance before it’s too late.

Cast & Crew

director: Toby Haynes

writers: James Graham

starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Ryan, Richard Goulding

UK | 2019 | 92 MINUTES |

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