In June 2016, the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union resulted in a majority vote to leave, by 51.9% to 48.1%. Rather than settle the issue, the vote and its ramifications has shaped public debate ever since, with advocates of both Brexit and EU membership continuing to make their case.
One such event occurred on 15th April in London, where the People's Vote movement held a rally aimed at building support for a public vote on the final Brexit deal between the UK and the European Union. While the event was well-attended by the usual MPs, activists and campaigners, support for the movement also came from a rather unexpected source: Professor X declared his support for Britain remaining in the European Union.
Or to be more accurate, Sir Patrick Stewart, who played the Professor in five movies (and assorted cameos) between 2000 and 2017, did so. Since the Brexit vote, Stewart has been open about the fact that he believes it was a mistake, and that the choice may be detrimental to Britain's future. Enlisting the support of Professor X, he argued that Charles Xavier would have voted remain due to the fact that "unity, common cause, wellbeing of society and debate were paramount to the belief of this fictional character."
Professor Xavier wasn't the only one of his past roles that Stewart drew into the campaign to remain in the EU. Appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Stewart described his two most famous characters, Professor Xavier and Captain Picard, as excellent, admirable individuals who were compassionate and concerned for the wellbeing of everyone. arguing that they would both have voted to remain.
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, responded to Stewart's comments in his own unique style. After claiming that Stewart had appeared in Star Wars (perhaps adding yet another name to the long list of celebrities who have supposedly been hidden under Stormtrooper helmets), he voiced his belief that Brexit would allow the UK to "boldly go" into new parts of the world and seek out new opportunities.
The involvement of superheroes with politics is a contentious one, with previous efforts to show the political leanings of superheroes often being rather clumsy, as in DC'S 2008 miniseries, DC Universe: Decisions. But the use of Professor X in this context is interesting because - regardless of anyone's personal feelings on Brexit - Stewart's use of Professor X in this debate focused on his better qualities - his belief in unity, integration and cooperation that dates back to his earliest appearances. The last two decades of X-Men stories have seen so many unsavory revelations about Professor Xavier's past that this is a welcome reminder that at his best he is a figure that can inspire and promote unity and hope.
This isn't the first time Charles Xavier has been associated with political movements. With their theme of a group struggling against prejudice and fighting for equality, X-Men comics have long been associated with topical issues of the day. Stan Lee has often stated that the underlying message of the X-Men was "love thy fellow man," and the opposing philosophies of Professor Xavier and Magneto have often been compared with the dynamic between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
In 2010, Lee told CNN that the conflict between Xavier and Magneto was "meant to emphasize the conflict between people who felt that we've all got to work together and find a way to get along, and people who feel 'We're not treated well, therefore we're going to strike back with force!'" Whether Lee and Jack Kirby did indeed base their characters on King and Malcolm X matters little; what is apparent is that many readers did infer this connection, with the X-Men's struggle against a world that hates and fears them proving relatable to any reader who had ever felt like an outsider.
So, was Stewart right and would Professor X have voted to remain in the European Union? There is a risk involved in co-opting beloved characters for political ends, and depending on individual perspective an argument could certainly be made for him coming down on either side of the argument. Stewart strongly believes that Xavier's core beliefs are reflected in the aims of the European Union but an alternative view could well be that equality is best achieved by leaving a Union viewed with distrust and skepticism by some.
It remains to be seen whether the endorsement of Professor Xavier or Jean-Luc Picard will affect British public opinion. If Captain Britain were to enter the debate and share his thoughts, perhaps that would be another story...