John King on Artists for Brexit

The seventeen-million-plus people who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum represented nearly 52% of the turnout, but according to a survey doing the rounds earlier this year only 4% of those working in the arts voted the same way. While that is a comically low percentage based on a small number of participants, it does mirror a strong pro-EU bias within the industry, and reinforces a belief that the arts are out of touch with the general public. The way the figure was touted by some as evidence of superior values, coupled with the bullying experienced by its founders, led to the forming of Artists for Brexit.

Since the vote, a campaign has been waged to present Brexit as a far-right takeover and the EU as a bastion of liberalism. The abuse has been relentless, and the bigoted, racist Britain portrayed is one that I do not recognise. While this has become an obsession for a relatively small number of bubble-living bubbleheads, many hold positions of power and their influence is greater than it deserves to be. The arts has its share of these characters. They seem to know very little about the EU and how it works, and so their anger has to be part of something deeper.

Leave voters have been smeared as stupid, uneducated, racist and/or too old, and while the insults are familiar enough and rooted in class prejudice, the targeting of the elderly does represent a new low. The idea that those pedalling such insults are somehow open-minded or progressive is bizarre. In truth, these smears are wrapped up in society’s pecking order and a distorted view of Britain.

We do not live in a meritocracy. Outside of popular music, the arts are too often closed to the majority. There have been attempts to change this in the past, but they seem to have faded. To create a person needs time and space, and this has to be bought, which gives the wealthy a head start as the rest of us struggle to even get going. Those who control the means of production and distribution, the awarding of grants and the flow of cash generally set the agenda. A healthy salary and some delegated power makes management obedient. Much like the EU in fact.

This control has always existed, but a more rigid sort of conservatism is in operation. Conformity is essential if you want to ‘progress’. Group-think dominates. There is no place for the mavericks and freethinkers. No room for discussion or deviation. Instead we have trial by Facebook and Twitter. Many of those running the mainstream arts have become little different to the bureaucrats dominating politics and the media, and this is a disaster as an original book or song can change lives. A great film or painting will inspire millions. Imagination is crushed and individuals are silenced. Those considered controversial are censored by omission.

Relatively few writers, musicians or artists have challenged the EU head on, which shows how bad things have become. The European Union is a political organisation that exists to create a super-state, and in time this will mean the break up of its member nations and the homogenising of their cultures. The EU is undemocratic and potentially anti-democratic. It works for the corporations and the banks, and does not represent the people. The EU is not Europe. If George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were writing now I firmly believe they’d reject the EU, but would today’s publishers print Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World if they were seen to be targeting the EU? Probably not.

For me, Brexit means democracy, independence, identity, localism, culture, difference. It is romantic and idealistic. I wish immigration had not been a focus of the referendum, but believe we are one of the most tolerant and diverse countries on the planet, and this owes nothing to the EU. Neither is it something that has happened over the last ten years, but rather across the centuries. On top of this, Brexit offers us the chance to create a better politics based around issues rather than party dogma, and while our political class is doing its best to resist this as it clings to power, now is the time for the freethinkers in the arts to reject the cheap smears and cut through the propaganda and confront the establishment just as the wider population has done.

These writers, poets, musicians, illustrators, painters, film-makers and so on won’t be given grants or much help, but that can be a strength, as it rules out censorship. Artists for Brexit offers a platform and a rallying point. There is strength in numbers. Things are already changing as members have started to collaborate. A bland, conformist mainstream needs to be shaken up. Leaving the EU is a radical move that has exposed our controllers. It is time to burst some bubbles. Brexit can be a revolution – bold, brave, honestly open-minded and liberal. It represents the people’s vote..


Novelist John King is a long-term opponent of the EU and remembers the sense of betrayal felt by the adults around him when the UK joined the European Community in 1973. They and millions like them knew that the ‘common market’ was really a political takeover disguised as a trading arrangement, and this Big Lie has been on his mind ever since. He has talked about the EU in his writing over the years, but challenged the subject head on in his 2016 novel The Liberal Politics Of Adolf Hitler

In White Trash (2001) he confronts the same smears being pedalled by some remainers since the vote to leave the EU. Stupid, uneducated, racist, too old – these prejudices are at the heart of White Trash, which is essentially a defence of the NHS and the British people. A new edition will be published in 2019.

John rejects the idea that the EU is static and will ever give up its super-state ambitions. He believes the UK establishment is one part of the EU establishment, and that the threat to our independence and democracy comes from within. He expects a ‘compromise deal’ that will see the UK somehow linked to the EU, and that this will then be used to draw us back in. The EU is not going away, and ‘Brexit’ has highlighted the issues of power, culture, class and history that he has been writing about since his debut The Football Factory was released in 1996.