They Certainly Have the Rhetoric: Brexit and the Irish Border in the Mockumentary Soft Border Patrol

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The objective of my thesis is to explore how popular culture, in particular, the British mockumentary titled Soft Border Patrol (2018-), portrays and responds to the political discourse generated by Brexit. The years following the referendum of 2016 on whether the United Kingdom should stay within or leave the European Union were marked by confusion, uncertainty and directionlessness in the United Kingdom as Northern Irish writer Glenn Patterson narrates in his non-fiction Backstop Land (2019). Even though the referendum was only advisory, under the pressure of English conservative voices, the United Kingdom officially left the EU on 31 January 2020. One of the most problematic issues of Brexit was the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As Northern Ireland is a country in the United Kingdom, whereas the Republic of Ireland still belongs to the EU, with Brexit, a new trade regulation has become inevitable at the border. Moreover, as the well-known Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole has claimed, by re-disrupting the border, English politicians risk bringing up past grievances, since leaving the EU undermines the entire contextual framework of the Belfast Agreement of 1998. Nevertheless, Boris Johnson and his government keep overlooking and simplifying the multi-layered dimension of the currently invisible boundary in Ireland. BBC miniseries, mockumentary Soft Border Patrol resonates with Johnson’s “can-do spirit”: the sitcom portrays a fictional post-Brexit Northern Ireland, where a set of overly optimistic and supposedly highly skilled units patrol the border. I will specifically focus on two of these units since they resonate most closely with Conservative attitudes to the question of the border in Ireland. The Virtual Border, similarly to Johnson, intends to control the border remotely with the help of advanced technological devices. Nevertheless, the proposed technologies turn out to rely on absurd pseudo-scientific methods that are not only ineffective but also highly expensive. The mockumentary also reflects on how Brexit has intensified binary thinking in terms of a United Kingdom or a United Ireland. The members of the Road Patrol have to deal with protesters that envision an alternative autonomous space, a United Ulster.

Brexit, cultural studies, Northern Ireland, political rhetoric, European Union, United Kingdom, satire, mockumentary