Has Brexit made UK more ‘woke’ than rest of Europe?

An illustration by Charles Dana Gibson (1867 - 1944) titled ‘Six A.M. - Just Before He Woke’, 1902. (Photo by American Stock Photos/Getty Images)


When Brexit occurred it was obviously quite the shock to all. The UK lurched into uncharted territory. There was a sense of all bets are off and anything could happen.

But I don’t think anyone imagined that post Brexit — which after all was championed by a conservative government — the UK would put on its ideological rocket boosters to leave the rest of Europe trailing in its woke wake.

Just recently Costa Coffee, the UK’s largest coffee chain, has endorsed and displayed a cheery cartoon image of a “trans man” with breast removal scars.

In response to criticisms of the image adorning the side of a Costa Express van touring events around the country, the company offered further proof that the flattering US perception of innate British intelligence is indeed a flattering (mis)perception.

The company stated that its intention was to offer an “inclusive environment”, to encourage “people to feel welcome, free and unashamedly proud to be themselves”, and that the image “showcases and celebrates inclusivity”.

At this point, it becomes a close-run thing between which is more disturbing: an image celebrating what in the military is known as a life changing injury, or the spaghetti soup of feel-good banalities.

With apologies to the Left, but it doesn’t get much more woke than that — or more disingenuous.

“It’s been clear for a while that ‘inclusivity’, when used in this way, actually excludes large numbers of people,” Joan Smith writes for UnHerd. She highlights how this exclusion extends to the 15,000 female breast cancer patients who endure a mastectomy each year in the UK, as well as “all of us who are horrified by an ideology that promotes lies to vulnerable young people”.

Unfortunately, Costa’s upbeat trans mastectomy “mural” is not a UK one-off. The legendary British shoe company Dr Martens has released a new boot design that also appears to endorse transgender surgery.

Admittedly — thankfully? — the design comes from Dr Martens’ US arm. Though perhaps therein lies the point. When it comes to aping the US’s ideological exports of recent years, the UK seems keener than the majority of European countries to jump on the bandwagon.

Take the example of Hungary, which is positioning itself as the anti-woke standard bearer of Christian values in the EU. Or Germany experiencing the ongoing rise of Alterative für Deutschland, with its pitch for “Deutschland. Aber normal” — “Germany. But normal” —  winning over Germans exasperated by ideological and practical changes being imposed on their country and economy (a UK version of AfD may well emerge at this rate).

Admittedly the EU is experiencing its fair share of wokery too, but there seems more overt pushback across Europe, while most of the UK’s proclaimed conservatives continue to struggle to articulate an adequate response.

Gauging just how much Brexit has actually influenced this ideological shift in the UK is probably impossible, but the shift certainly gained momentum since the shock of 2016 and amid the uncertainty left in its aftermath.

As Covid illustrated, and successful business tycoons have long trumpeted, times of disruption provide opportunities for profit and gain, which extends to both those looking to make money but also those looking to make ideological and political headway.

Perhaps the discombobulation and “chaos” of Brexit, and the attendant psychological fallout of the UK turning its back on the EU, led to dazed Brits subconsciously turning westward to the US in search of some sort of support and solace.

When you also factor in how the pandemic followed on the coat-tails of Brexit, Brits have arguably had to deal with more discombobulation than others recently, getting two grand disruptions for the price of one, so to speak, compared to the rest of Europe.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosts a US NFL match between New York Giants and Green Bay Packers in London, England, 9 October 2022. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Or is the rise of Woke Britain more related to that innate British sense of “fairness” that has been taken advantage of and appropriated by activists and modern-day fakirs spinning jargon around “inclusivity”, “rights” and “values”.

The UK was perhaps always going to be more susceptible to woke compared to most of Europe due to its uneasy relationship with Empire and its colonial history, making it more self-conscious and less capable of speaking out more boldly on contradictions related to “minority” issues or going against the trendy consensus.

Either way, it’s spreading throughout corporate Britain, while even the country’s most famous schools appear to be signing up to woke based on some pretty spurious rationalising of what kindness means.

The UK is leading the way in ushering in the notion of “thought crime” while censoring freedom of religion based on spurious “hate speech” laws (closely followed by Ireland). It has imposed more liberal abortion policy in Northern Ireland, while continually undermining family values, traditional marriage and child-friendly policies. As if that wasn’t enough, the UK is embracing one of Europe’s most aggressive green agendas despite the cost to ordinary citizens.

Arguably the UK has been embracing, while also being undermined by, the mechanisms underlying woke ideology — whereby you make something up and promote abstract theories at odds with established norms to suit your agenda — ever since Henry VIII instituted the Reformation to enable him to subvert Catholic rules preventing him remarrying.

The Reformation and a king’s foibles sent the UK on a different trajectory to the rest of Europe that has lasted centuries. Brexit — which no one could or still can predict exactly how it might fully play out — may well prove another latter-day Reformation. Not just for the UK’s relationship with Europe, but also for the very heart, soul and nature of the country that the Isle of Albion and its Northern Ireland protege claims to be.

Increasingly the main headline of the post-Brexit story is just what a failure Brexit has turned out to be in terms of the proclaimed promises made about the referendum result enabling the UK to become a better, more prosperous and sovereign country — a failure to which the Costa Coffee silliness, while a lone and what may seem insignificant example, very much speaks.

Suffice to say, the next time I fly back to London from Brussels, I think I will buy a coffee from somewhere other than Costa Coffee.