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Brexit is like the Great Fire of London – destructive, but making way for a new reality

Brexit, like the Great Fire of London, has already destroyed much of the Westminster we knew, but it will make way for a new political reality with different priorities, says David Herbert, a South Welsh smallholder producing eggs and poultry.

On February 22 2016, David Cameron lit the blue touch paper and announced the UK would hold a referendum on EU membership.


Some 127,632 days earlier, in the City of London, another spark had been struck that would cause the destruction of communities and forever change the landscape of the country.


On Saturday September 21 1666, Thomas Farynor closed up his bakery shop in Pudding Lane for the day. Having banked the fires in the ovens and cleared up he retired to bed.


But as he slept into Sunday morning, a fire took hold below the family lodgings and began a series of life-changing events, the likes of which the country had never seen.


As the fire grew, Farynor and his family managed to escape the inferno through a window to relative safety before the adjoining properties caught alight and caused the fire to spread.




With the fire now well underway, and the culprit nowhere to be found, it fell upon the highest authority in the district to come up with a solution that would minimise the damage and prevent potential disaster.


However, the Lord Mayor of the time, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, was quite overwhelmed at the task and failed to act swiftly and decisively.


It is said his position of authority was more a matter of convenience than due to any particular requisite political skill.


Within hours, churches, homes and businesses had been destroyed as the authorities failed to put together a workable plan.


Buildings and infrastructure were destroyed in the hope of allaying the conflagration, all to little effect except to stir up the anger of the city’s inhabitants and landlords.




As that evening drew to a close, the very heart of the country was a blistering inferno with the lives of those affected being altered forever.


London burned and the skies glowed apocalyptically as nearby towns and counties watched on in horror at what was befalling their neighbours.


On Monday, the flames reached the financial district of Lombard Street. Bankers, financiers and the wealthy business owners rushed to relocate their stashes of gold, even as those from other districts took voyeuristic pleasure in watching the old guard burn.


Once the wealthy had been affected and their stability threatened, a scapegoat was needed – who could be blamed for bringing this malady upon such pious folk?


At that time, the English were engaged in war against the Dutch, and suspicion immediately fell upon the Netherlanders once tales of deliberate fire-setting had begun.




However, it was not the Dutch alone that suffered as French painters, Italian papists and anyone ‘foreign looking’ were summarily lynched or arrested.


Rumours and speculation caused chaos as order broke down in the streets, and seemingly friendly neighbours and colleagues began to fight as mob rule took hold - all the things which had previously bound them together forgotten in the madness.


The following day, after a series of destructive plans which never quite managed to stem the damage and spread of the inferno, the fire reached the retail area of the city, ruining businesses in its wake.


Moments later, the very symbol of the city’s soul, St Pauls Cathedral blazed. Even that pillar of faith where so many had sought sanctuary crumbled under the heat and pressure of the event.


By Wednesday, the fire had reached its zenith, with the winds then abating and the authority’s fire-plans finally taking effect.




It had been so intense and all-consuming that even after the rains fell, embers continued to glow for months to come.


Although a huge death toll had seemingly been averted, the scale of the damage and destruction had displaced so many souls that the grieved and dispossessed sought succour in the fields of Islington.


A city had been brought to its knees. Allegations of European plots fomented rebellion, and the continent gloated over England’s misfortune, attempting to take the advantage to claim dominance over trade across the Channel.


A new plan was required to rebuild from the ashes. But much of the city’s filth had now been cleansed – the plague-harbouring rats and unsteady ancient wooden edifices wiped from existence, making room for more modern and suitable conventions.


Now, 353 years later, Cameron’s spark has ignited a new flame that has engulfed not just London, but the whole of the United Kingdom.


Brexit has raised a cyclone of fiery rhetoric and flammable sentiment in a hellish environment that once again threatens the very fabric and structure of Westminster.




Once again, England – and by extension the whole UK – will be forced to rebuild, but now in terms of its political landscape.


The rats have been flushed out and the old, gnarled creatures of the benches in the Commons creak, groan and snap under the heat of today’s dispossessed electorate.


If one thing now unites the country, it is the realisation that the old ways and allegiances have shifted.


New lines have been drawn, new expectations and demands on our decision-makers exist.


Fanned by the oxygen-rich winds of the press and social media, the fire of Brexit rages on and now we must look for a new political phoenix to rise from these ashes to lead us into a brave new future, even as the embers of our decisions smoulder.


David can be found tweeting at @hermitcrabeggs

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