The war of Johnson’s sausage – UK 2021

The EU takes a stab against Brexit legislation

Themes: Gender Taboo

Humour form/genre: Cartoon

Humour mechanisms: Parody Sexual innuendo

Country: United Kingdom

Author: Delia Chiaro

Affiliation: University of Bologna

©Dave Brown/The Independent 2021

What do we see here?

This cartoon by Dave Brown Cartoon was published in the The Independent newspaper on June 6th, 2021. This cartoon is a parody of the well-known editorial cartoon from the Victorian-Era “The Plumb Pudding in Danger” by James Gillray that depicts William Pitt the Younger and the newly self-crowned Emperor Napoleon carving up the world into spheres of influence like a Christmas pudding. Facing each other across a steaming hot plum-pudding globe, each carves a generous portion of the world for himself.  A calm and confident Pitt spears the pudding with a trident indicative of British naval supremacy and lays claim to the oceans and the West Indies. In contrast, a mad-eyed Napoleon Bonaparte reaches for Europe and cuts away France, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and the Mediterranean.

Dave Brown’s contemporary parody has Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a chair furbished with the Union Jack, seated across the table from Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in a chair furbished with the European flag. In place of Gillray’s plum pudding, there is a golden tray in the shape of Ireland. The tray, the Irish geographical entity, consists of the Republic of Ireland, that is part of the EU and Northern Ireland that is part of the UK. In one hand, Ursula von der Leyen is viciously impaling three quarters of a sausage that she has just severed from Johnson’s crutch  with the sword she is brandishing in her other hand. Boris Johnson is depicted holding his crutch, grimacing in pain and sweating profusely.

Which public issue is being addressed here?

The cartoon refers to EU food safety rules that do not allow fresh meat to be imported into its single market. With the UK no longer within the single market, English sausages, or ‘bangers’ can no longer cross the Irish Sea which is part of the EU  in order to get to Northern Ireland that remains part of the UK, and therefore Brexit applies. In June 2021, this controversy triggered the so-called ‘Sausage Wars’ between the newly Brexit-ed UK and the EU.

What does the humour do?

As well as being a clear parody, the cartoon plays on the allusive semiotics of sausages. Presumably, Johnson is in pain as von der Leyen has left him only with a small remnant of his penis – just as the UK is suffering from the commercial effects of a no deal Brexit that involves Northern Ireland that may remain sausage less. The cartoon’s verbal text “The Brexit Banger is in Danger or The War of Johnson’s Sausage” falls neatly into the categories laid down by the General Theory of Verbal Humor.  Two opposing scripts overlap each other to form two separate scripts – a ‘sausage’ script and a ‘penis’ script. The term ‘banger’ is not only a synonym for ‘sausage’ but also denotes a sexually promiscuous male and Mr Johnson has an active love life, having allegedly fathered at least six offspring. Significantly, the licentious British premier is being emasculated by a strong female figure.

The colours used in the cartoon and the art style recalls the British tradition of the “saucy” seaside postcard, replete with unrefined double entendres made popular by the artist Donald McGill.


George Orwell The Art of Donald McGill: An Essay by George Orwell. Available at:

James Gillray Caricaturist: