Anna Soubry, Brexit, and the rise of antagonistic politics

Anna Soubry talks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters)
Anna Soubry talks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

In a shocking video circulating ahead of parliament’s Brexit vote, Conservative MP Anna Soubry is seen being mobbed on the street outside parliament. A group of angry pro-Brexit protesters bark questions at her and taunt her with jibes of “Nazi” and “Fascist”.

One of them waves his phone around as he shouts at her. This small but vocal and intimidating group have been haunting parliament recently, getting in the faces of Remain-supporting MPs and journalists.

These people do have a right to protest. Free speech and free assembly are cornerstones of democracy. However, democracy also necessitates an acceptance that others may legitimately hold opposing viewpoints to our own and, with it, a willingness to listen to such views.

It was clear that the demonstrators who surrounded Soubry were interested in neither debate nor discussion. As the gang circled, hurling multiple questions at her, along with a steady stream of abuse, it became apparent that these protesters were interested in neither answers nor discussion. They were there to create a highly antagonistic spectacle for consumption on social media.

Since the EU referendum in 2016, political discourse has become increasingly polarised. There is a fine line between democratic debate and populist antagonism. Brexit has unleashed an “us” and “them” mentality that is dividing our democracy along increasingly antagonistic fault lines.

Conflict with democracy

There are continuing pro- and anti-Brexit demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament in London (Photo: Simon Dawson/Reuters)
There are continuing pro- and anti-Brexit demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament in London (Photo: Simon Dawson/Reuters)

Conflict will always exist within democracy and Brexit is perhaps the starkest reminder of this. After all, Remainers and Leavers cannot both have their way. Conflict cannot and should not be eradicated within a democracy because, as the political theorist Chantal Mouffe has argued, “the specificity of modern democracy is precisely the recognition and…

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