Sketch: Mad Max and the Road to Brexit

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 23 February 2018 in Comment

Sketch: David Davis uses a keynote speech on Brexit to start talking about the plot of Mad Max

David Davis - image credit: Iain Green

The road to hell, famously, is paved with good intentions. At the moment, it’s unclear if the same is true of Brexit.

Certainly, that was David Davis’s concern, with the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU deployed to Vienna as part of the recent series of ‘Road to Brexit’ speeches, aimed at reassuring the public that we are not heading towards economic apocalypse.

Yet, hunched over the lectern, gripping it by either side in an apparent attempt to steady himself, it was hard to remember that Davis had actually gone to Austria to settle everyone else’s nerves.

But that was the aim, with the Brexit secretary repeatedly stressing that leaving the EU would not mean giving up on Europe, stripping away workers’ rights or dismantling environmental protections.

He said: “Now, I know that for one reason or another there are some people who have sought to question that these are really our intentions.

“They fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom, with Britain plunged into a ‘Mad Max’-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction. These fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing, not our history, not our intentions, nor our national interest.”

We won’t plunge ourselves into a ‘Mad Max’-style dystopian future? Well now, David, surely the British public should be the judge of that. Think how much we would save for spending on the NHS if we abolished society.

And, anyway, it would be totally unfair to claim that Brexit will leave the UK in some sort of ‘Mad Max’-type situation. For one thing, we can’t guarantee there will be roads. Also, say what you want about Mad Max – a film where society, in a state of disarray, is dominated by roving motorcycle gangs – but at least they had freedom of movement.

No, no. If we have learned anything from the past couple of years, it’s that the UK is perfectly capable of creating its own hellish future. A bespoke dystopian deal. If we don’t want the Norwegian model then we could go for a Planet of the Apes-style approach instead, for example. Or Wicker Man.

But probably the most depressing bit of Davis’s speech was yet to come. To be honest, it hadn’t been going brilliantly up till then, and so Davis changed tack, attempting to win over the audience with plans to develop “a long-term regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles, while updating our code of practice for testing them”.

A long-term regulatory framework – nice. It was technical. It was policy-based. It was incredibly boring. It should have been music to the EU’s ears. But they didn’t bite. Continuing, he said: “We will continue our track record of meeting high standards, after we leave the European Union.”

But still, the audience didn’t seem convinced. Maybe they couldn’t understand him. Was he not speaking loudly enough? Were they deaf? Or was it something to do with the fact he has spent his entire career attacking the basic integrity of the people he was now trying to charm? It was impossible to say. So he switched again.

“I soon expect to receive my deliveries from Amazon by drone,” he boasted, though presumably, he didn’t mean during his speech. “In fact – at this moment, weather permitting, at my home in Yorkshire – a robot lawnmower, designed in Sweden and built in the North East of England, will be mowing the grass.”

Robot lawnmowers. At least in Mad Max they had cars. In Davis’s half-baked attempt at dystopia, we’ll be stuck holding running motorway battles on the back of souped-up lawnmowers. To be honest, that’s probably the sort of dystopia the British public deserves – yes, our society is in a violent state of collapse, but on the other hand, we do have immaculate lawns.

Of course, the most worrying thing about the ‘Mad Max’ reference was that it was totally unprompted, which made it all the more suspicious. Normally, with a minister’s speech, it goes without saying that they aren’t planning to plunge society into collapse. You don’t need to clarify that. It’s like greeting someone with a smile, while emphasising that you aren’t going to hurt them – it’s just not an effective way to spread confidence.

After all, they haven’t ruled anything else out, meaning we now basically have to assume that, until we are told otherwise, any other type of dystopian future could be on the cards.

But, apart from anything else, Davis doesn’t seem like someone who would last particularly long in a state of anarchy. Longer than Boris Johnson, maybe – he’s too slow, too identifiable to hide from a mob – but he probably wouldn’t do as well as Theresa May.

Desperation can make people do things they would never have thought possible after all, yet it’s surprisingly difficult to imagine an apocalyptic post-societal breakdown which didn’t benefit Theresa May’s career in one way or another. Yes, we’re all sitting in caves eating rats, but what are you going to do – vote for the Lib Dems?

Of course, that doesn’t mean Britain is cruising into disaster. In fact, we are now actively trying to avoid it. Though naturally, we can’t be sure what’s further up the road.

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