It has become popular to do down Britain and sing the praises of our continental friends. But are some people just wearing EU-tinted spectacles?by Robert Tombs / November 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
Why do critics of Brexit caricature their opponents, creating a monster that exists essentially in their own imaginations? Presumably a caricature is easier to deal with: metaphorically putting your fingers in your ears. In November’s Prospect, Dutchman Joris Luyendijk, having just returned home from London, wrote a Britain-bashing cover story which went viral online. For him, Brexit is nothing to do with the manifold failings of the European Union, but rather “the logical and overdue outcome of a set of English pathologies.” How else could “a working-class mother” (a “warm person” to boot) presume to disagree with a “well-to-do mother” over Europe? The dysfunctions of the eurozone? Youth unemployment? Inability to deal with migration? The Catalan crisis? The rise of extremist parties? Fingers in ears: nothing but the ravings of the tabloid press.
England has pathologies and I am willing to accept that the Dutch school system is more egalitarian. And yet far more people in Holland than in England support extremist politics with a racist or xenophobic tinge. So do more people in France. And in Germany. And in Italy, Greece, Hungary, Austria, Poland… These docile members of the EU seem to have pathologies at least equal to ours. In some of them, violence against foreigners is commonplace, whereas here prosecutions for “hate crime” are few and falling.
It suits some to see Euroscepticism as an English deformity. But polls in 2016 showed resentment against the EU was as high in Germany and the Netherlands as in Britain, and higher in Spain, France and Greece. But we, unlike them, did the unforgivable: we voted legally and peacefully in accord with the Treaty of Lisbon. What “pathology” is this, precisely? A refusal to share the fears that cement the European project. First, fears of the ghosts of the past: civil war, dictatorship, foreign occupation, genocide. Then fears of the consequences of leaving. And now a new fear: of one’s fellow citizens. In Emmanuel Macron’s words, “the sad passions of Europe have reared their heads once more and are drawing people in.” Those annoying “people!” If only one could follow Brecht’s advice: dissolve the people and choose another.
Britain’s history has spared it this dread of Europe’s “sad passions.” It joined the EEC…