Benedict Spence

What should go in the Brexit museum?

What should go in the Brexit museum?
Banksy Brexit mural, Dover Image: Getty
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Have you ever wondered what happened to Boris Johnson’s Brexit bus? One might think such a large, controversial item would be too conspicuous to vanish into the ether, but for the life of me, I have no idea where it is. Yes, I know, red buses aren’t exactly a novelty in the UK, being the favoured mode of transport of Liverpool footballers, the loud actor fellow who was in Lewis, and most of the city of London. Perhaps it’s decided to leave its infamy behind and hide in plain sight, and is currently ferrying people from Hammersmith to Chiswick.

But that particular bus shouldn’t be left to a quiet, mundane life out of the spotlight. It deserves a special resting place for the cacophony of opprobrium it unleashed on the nation — the most controversial mode of transport since the Trojan horse. It’s so central to the story of Brexit, that it should be in a museum.

Well, perhaps that reality is more likely than you’d imagine — and no, not as part of an exhibition on the prime minister’s curiously long relationship with this particular mode of commuting. Instead, plans are afoot to establish a Brexit museum, located in a Leave voting town like Dudley, to preserve the tale of how a nation decided to have an argument with itself, and lost despite winning.

Brexit would make a prime candidate to be added to the pantheon of seismic British events involving dust-ups with Europe through the ages. The UK already has some of the best museums and galleries in the world: the Natural History Museum, the V&A, and the Lowestoft Maritime Museum. If the London Dungeon can rake in the readies, there's nothing to say the assorted horrors of the ghosts of Change UK can’t do the same.

The museum will have a fair few things going for it, if it does get the funding. A captive audience of 52 per cent of the voting population ought to give it a steady income and footfall, not to mention the revenue from the gift shop, where people who hate the UK will queue up to buy union jacks to burn. That’s not to mention curious European tourists - assuming they’re ever allowed out again to face down the 'British variant'. Freedom of movement, eh? All fun and games until Mother Nature tries to do you in.

Another advantage is that it will be the only museum in the UK that won’t become a target for ‘decolonisation' and restitution. Sure, there will still be protests, placards and petitions. People will try to deface it, and its curators, commissioners and clientele will be called racists. I’m sure someone, somewhere, will try to get the thing shut down for being the living embodiment of a hate crime. But at least it won’t have the added complication of other countries asking for items back. Or at least, not until Scottish independence.

But on that note, what, exactly, will be in the museum? Let’s assume the bus will be the centrepiece, like the blue whale skeleton at the Natural History Museum, or the B52 at Duxford. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to document a lot of the best content from the period, as most took place on online. That fact alone proved controversial even then, but needs representation somehow - perhaps in the form of Carole Cadwalladr’s much derided Orwell Prize, captioned with the famous Abraham Lincoln quote about it being wise not to believe everything you read on the internet.

Michel Barnier's carefully placed cupcakes- which he served up to Theresa May in reference to Britain trying to have its cake and eat it - may well be too stale to go on display, but the hiking stick he gifted to David Davis to signify that Britain's attempt to negotiate would be an uphill battle would find a home here. That and the giant stack of paper he used to signify his preparedness at a meeting with his British counterparts - which, legend has it, wasn’t really notes on the intricacies of trade policy at all, but in fact just the complete deranged tweet history of AC Grayling.

Given that the museum, despite being funded by Brexit supporters, intends to be non-partisan, perhaps we can expect some of the more below-the-belt campaign posters to make an appearance. 'Turkey - population 76 million - is joining the EU,' or the rejected Remain poster of Nigel Farage dressed as Hitler, and perhaps the taxpayer-funded leaflet that explained voting leave probably wouldn’t result in Armageddon, but wouldn’t rule it out either. Framed copies of the two columns Boris Johnson wrote when he couldn’t decide which side to back should also be given a central plinth, like a latter-day Rosetta Stone for our descendants to use to decipher what, exactly, he thought he was playing at.

Then again, maybe the museum would be better off embracing the profane. Nigel Farage’s prodigious collection of cigarette butts and half empty pint glasses could be a goer, or the top hat and megaphone belonging to the ‘Stop Brexit’ guy. Speaking of bad headgear, Dominic Frisby’s ‘Seventy million f**k offs' could play on speakers in the atrium, interspersed with classics from EU Supergirl’s greatest hits album, and the Ode to Joy. There is also great potential for waxwork recreations of the key characters: Junker, Cameron, the Tory Eurosceptic 'Spartan' MPs, presumably dressed as… actually, maybe not.

At the time, even those who wanted Brexit felt floored by the pettiness the vote unleashed, and longed for a time when what was meant to be a clean democratic exercise wasn’t mired in bureaucracy and insults. Then the pandemic came, and locked us all inside. Now, frankly, we yearn for the time when there was more news than we could stomach, and harmless political drama round every corner. A good day out is what is needed. What could be better than a trip to a time when debates about passports concerned their colour, not whether they should allow you to leave your house?