Brexit Dancing – The New York Times

Brexit Dancing – The New York Times


LONDON — Just after work on Halloween, people congregated in a cavernous steampunk-themed bar in the financial district here, drinking No Deal Daiquiris, Bo-jitos and Tequila Mays: cocktails dreamed up for an “End of the World Brexit” party, planned for a night when Brexit was supposed to happen but didn’t.

A string of European Union flags hung above the bar. An actor dressed to look like Boris Johnson was roving, posing for selfies and pontificating about Brexit in character to anyone who would listen. (The actor, Will Barton, has played Mr. Johnson onstage and said he makes occasional appearances like this as a side hustle.)

Damien Rivoire, 41, was wearing a mask and carrying a sign that said, “Ditch Boris!!” — a reference to the prime minister’s declaration that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask the European Union for another delay on Brexit.

“It’s a scary time,” said Mr. Rivoire, a photographer who is French but has lived in London for 14 years. “I knew Boris would be here tonight and I thought this was a good message, since Brexit didn’t happen.”

Oct. 31 was, for a few months, the Brexit deadline, meaning that Britain was scheduled to leave the European Union with or without a deal. If a deal wasn’t passed by Oct. 31, a “hard Brexit” (a departure with no rules in place, a deeply unusual global just-winging-it strategy) was supposed to occur.

This deadline became less threatening in September, when Parliament passed a law requiring Mr. Johnson to seek another extension if a deal wasn’t reached.

Still, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, it still looked possible he would have one, and ties with the European Union would be severed on Halloween. A deal didn’t pass, and there is now an extension of the deadline until Jan. 31, and a general election on Dec. 12.

The meaningless and ominous coincidence of the Brexit deadline falling on Halloween had been hanging over British life since the spring, making possible a range of metaphors for the fear that Brexit inspired, especially for those who voted Remain.

The specter of a hard Brexit was genuinely terrifying; the prospect of a deal and an actual departure was frightening to Remainers too.

Inevitably, hybrid Halloween-Brexit parties sprung up. In Glasgow, a “Brexit bunker party” was planned; one nightclub there announced that it would accept euros at the bat all night.

In Eastbourne, a party at a historic priory advertised Brexit-themed games and “spooky disco.” The Facebook invitation asked: “Will we all die from lack of medicine? Will there be food shortages?”

But the apocalypse metaphors were rendered a bit moot by the slow motion of politics. “Kieran here was pretty disappointed,” said Sam Fenton, a graphic designer and fitness influencer, at the steampunk party in London, pointing to a friend. “He thought something would really happen tonight.”

Yet again, nothing did. “In some ways, it’s like having your head in the sand,” said Andrew Watson, 47, of the more-than-three-year dance since the referendum. (He is a staunch Remainer.) “Every day is a little different but also the same.”

His wife, Caitlin Ferguson-Nir, 52, commiserated. “It’s like a comedy show but tragic,” she said, adding that she can’t help but be constantly glued to the news, and they came out to the bar for a little tragicomic relief.

The party was organized by Dominic Wong, the creative director for Dotdotdot, an events company that puts on “immersive experience” nightly for the bar.

“The British way is just to have a bit of fun, tongue-and-cheek, take the mickey out of it,” he said. “Brexit is never-ending, isn’t it? We just thought, you’ve got to have an end-of-the-world party at some point, or else you’ll never have it.”

Around 9:30 p.m., the actor playing Mr. Johnson was dancing alone in the middle of the floor, bobbing a bit and holding two miniature Union Jacks — a metaphor for something, to be sure.

Meanwhile, at Soho Zebrano, a multilevel bar with a dance floor, a Brexit “zombie nightmare” was just getting going. “We were thinking of doing a Brexit clown theme,” said Josh Johnson, 20, who helped plan the party. “But we went with zombies, because the nightmare continues, and Brexit is a nightmare, whatever you want to happen.”

Some attendees brought placards: “BREXIT … OF THE LIVING DEAD” and “NO BRUSSELS THIS XMAS.” Amid fake cobwebs, propped around the bar, were cutouts of politicians, including Boris-as-a-clown and Nigel Farage’s face on a baby’s body.

But most people on the dance floor were there for Halloween. “I’m just here for a good night,” said Henry Foster, 27, who works in tech and was dressed as Wally (the British version of Waldo from “Where’s Waldo?”). “We’re bored of it all, there’s nothing we can do. I’ve stopped following the news.”

The evening before, at a “Nightmare Before Brexit” drag party in Oxford (an extension of a drag night called Haute Mess that is popular with students) the theme had mostly dissolved.

The vibe, at the Bullingdon music venue, was mostly that of a queer college Halloween party, divorced from current events.

“I don’t think anyone here is really thinking about Brexit. We’re just here to have a good time and maybe a bit to drink,” said Liam Willis, 19, who is studying philosophy, politics and economics.

A few seconds later, he mentioned that he was a registered member of the Labour Party, and shared some thoughts on the upcoming election, yelling over the music.

A cutout of Jeremy Corbyn’s face hung above the dance floor. Brexit wasn’t in the foreground, but it was still looming. Some attendees dressed to theme, irreverently. “EXTEND ME DADDY!,” a guest had written on his back, with an unprintable slogan about Mr. Johnson on his stomach.

Neeli Malik, a recent Oxford graduate, was there as “sexy Nigel Farage”: fishnets, the telltale newsboy cap and a UKIP pin near her crotch. “He’s a big old racist,” she said. “I’m sick of it, and that’s why I want to make fun of it, because what else can you do?”

Among her friend group, there was also a Jacob Rees-Mogg, a “B.D.S.M. David Cameron,” and a pig — a stand-in for the one David Cameron allegedly, you know. The pig, who refused to give even a first name, said, “The only saving grace of this whole thing, though there really is no saving grace, is that it can be hilarious.”



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