A member of the Tory right is getting penalised for putting up a rude sign about Brexit – where are his pro-free speech friends now?

The plumbing company boss maintains that his sign is an exercise in freedom of expression. You know, the thing that Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg get all teary eyed about when they say offensive things

James Moore
Monday 08 October 2018 14:29
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Rows over business owner's B-*llocks to Brexit sign

The sign screaming “bollocks to Brexit” that controversial businessman Charlie Mullins has put up near London’s Waterloo station is a thing of pure beauty.

It’s a piece of punk-rock art that ought to find its way into that Tate when this madness is over.

The fact that it has been erected (sorry, sorry) by a pillar of the Tory right, who is using a Sex Pistols court case to defend it against a Labour council in one of the most pro-Remain parts of Britain that’s getting in a tizzy about how the planning rules apply to it? That just makes it even better.

Yep, you really couldn’t make this one up.

The fuss Mullins, the 64-year-old boss of Pimlico Plumbers, has created with his sign says an awful lot about Brexit, Britain and the stupidity that has engulfed us.

The plumbing impresario’s rationale for it is simple: Brexit, he says, is an assault on businesses everywhere.

He’s quite right about that. Mullins says he’s already feeling it through the increasing cost of the parts he imports and the difficulties he’s facing in getting hold of the people with the skills he needs. He’s far from alone in gnashing his teeth over those type of issues, and the farce that’s playing out in front of him.

And the worst is yet to come.

If, when, Brexit happens, it will strangle people trying to run firms in a vast tangle of red tape that doesn’t currently exist with the UK in the European single market.

The latter was, by the way, one of the crowning achievements of Margaret Thatcher, the heroine of both Mullins and the Brexiteers he opposes, who have a very poor grasp of history in addition to their dismal policymaking.

What separates him from them on this issue is that his views are informed by real-life experience that they don’t have. They might have run the Oxford Union or the tuck shop at some public school or other, but he runs a real business.

None of this matters to Lambeth Council, which seems set upon ramming home the point that Britain needs no lessons from Brussels when it comes to bovine bureaucracy.

Those who innocently voted Leave in the hope it would lead to a little less of that are going to learn some very hard lessons.

As well as Lambeth having (surprise, surprise) received complaints about the glorious piece of Anglo-Saxon language Mr Mullins has used, it says the sign may or may not breach planning laws.

I don’t propose to bore you with the minutiae of that. Working your way through the arguments that have been deployed will get you almost as much of a headache that Mullins will face in getting his parts into the country when his beloved Tory Party has finished kicking it, and all those who live in it, in the guts.

Anyway, Mullins maintains that his sign is an exercise in free speech. You know, the thing that Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, the members of the Bow Group and their fellow travellers get all teary eyed about when their even more obnoxious mates (yes, that is just about possible) rock up at British universities with a view to say things typically a lot less pleasant than the word “bollocks”.

Mullins sensibly isn’t relying on their commitment to defending free speech that cocks a snook at them. He is on the case himself, pointing to a 1977 court case in which a former Anglican vicar defended the Sex Pistols in the wake of another fuss created by his favourite oath.

Then it was over the band’s use of it in the title of their album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which faced indecency accusations. It seems that the vicar traced the root of the word to the Anglo-Saxon for “small ball”.

It gets even weirder when you realise that the former lead singer of that band, John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has spoken in support of Nigel Farage and Brexit.

Being anti-Brexit makes for some very strange bedfellows. That includes Mullins and me.

As well as being a Thatcherite and ex-Tory party donor, he lost one of those gig economy court cases over the treatment of a nominally self-employed plumber who worked for him and was seeking the rights most workers enjoy. I imagine if I got in a room with him there’s almost nothing we’d agree on apart from the fact that the only offensive thing in this story is Brexit, and that the sign should stay up.

Brexit is an act of paralysing stupidity that was sold to the nation with a pack of lies. Now it’s become clear just what a load of old bollocks it is, we need to be given the chance to vote on whether we still want to go ahead with it or not.

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