And so, it finally came to pass: a relationship which got off to an extremely rocky start in 1973, finally ended with a process initiated by a referendum that was marked by the greatest turnout of voters in British history. The referendum held in 2016 revealed that a majority of Brits wanted to leave the EU. Those who wanted to leave didn’t register a huge majority – 51.89% voted to leave while 48.11% voted to remain. Although those numbers appear close, in actual fact they represent a difference of 1 million, two hundred and sixty-nine thousand, five hundred and one people.
1, 269, 501 people is an awful lot of people.
The battle to either leave or stay within the EU was a closely fought one, and one which revealed a deep split in the population of the UK. Voices were raised and tempers were lost. As in an election campaign, insults were traded freely.
Those who campaigned to convince Britons to stay within the EU rolled out the big guns for their cause: David Cameron, Theresa May, Tony Blair, John Major. That’s 4 prime ministers! 4 prime ministers from different eras, from different political parties, lining up, uniting to convince people that Brexit was a terrible idea. The reasons offered ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: there were suggestions that the country would slide into recession and also suggestions that super-gonorrhoea would result from Brexit.
Anyway, one thing that stood out both throughout the campaign and beyond was how the EU reacted to Britain’s contemplation of leaving an organisation it had had trouble joining in the first place. De Gaulle famously denied Britain entry into the EEC as it was then in 1963, and then again in 1967. De Gaulle warned his EEC partners, all five of them at the time, of Britain’s ‘deep-seated hostility’ to European integration. There is a temptation to see De Gaulle as precognitive, given the 2016 referendum result, but even if Britain did side with the US in the invasion of Iraq, that was in 2003, many years after joining, and when Britain did decide to leave, it was 43 years after joining.
Our old friend, “Warring” Weber has been in the thick of the fight, as is his wont, since the very beginning, with Weber stating that Britain had not done enough to warrant the start of a new phase of negotiations.
“We need to warn the British government and call on them to put proposals on the table”
Well, the language he’s chosen is typically inflammatory. This man is meant to be a politician. This man claims that he’s trying to be constructive. Surely that doesn’t tally with the use of the word ‘warn’. How is the use of language like that meant to appease, rather than provoke the British?
The EU followed this line all the way to the end of the line. The chief Brexit negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier continually stoked the fire and sought to dictate rather than negotiate:
“The EU wants an agreement – and we are doing everything to succeed – but not at any price.”
In 2020, Barnier accused his British trade negotiation partners of a lack of respect. Again, this can hardly be seen in the light of pouring oil on troubled waters:
“The EU expects, in turn, its positions to be better understood and respected…”
The attitude of the EU has, from the very beginning been that of wanting to punish Britain. In 2017 at a private Brexit dinner, Theresa May hosted Jean-Claude Juncker.
Juncker then leaked an account of the dinner to the German press, claiming that Mrs May “begged” him for help. Juncker further claimed that May appeared “tormented”, had “rings under her eyes”, and was “despondent”. Suddenly we’re being treated to all this minute detail from a man who failed to notice that he was wearing non-matching shoes at an EU press briefing. This is the man who blamed his inability to walk at a NATO summit on sciatica, rejecting the idea that once again he’d been hitting the bottle. Yeah, I’ll believe you, thousands wouldn’t.
And of course, we were repeatedly entertained by the old stalwarts, people like “Warring” Manfred Weber and Guy “The Tooth Fairy” Verhofstadt. These two are forever talking of one thing: democracy. However, when faced with the democratic decision of almost 17 million Brits to leave, they suddenly developed blind spots regarding the will of the people.
Verhofstadt, fresh from avoiding another trip to the orthodontist,stated that Brexit was a result of the British people’s wish to:
“…desire what is extremely stupid”, “not only what is intelligent”
So, the 17 million-odd voters are stupid. Verhofstadt went on to reveal the essential arrogance that lies at the heart of the EU:
“No-one in their right mind ever really believed closing yourself off from your closest economic, political and geopolitical partner would be a constructive thing to do.”
Verhofstadt, never one to understate an outrageous idea, went as far to say in 2019 that Brexiteers could suffer a similar fate to the first socialist revolutionaries of the French Revolution who were all executed on the guillotine. Verhofstadt can always be relied upon to calm and soothe.
Manfred Weber, never one to be outdone, followed his lead:
“Brexit with a deal is better than no deal, but it is still a historic mistake. People and businesses will be worse off and next generations will pay the price of this failure.”
Manfred, enough already. For all your talk of democracy, you seem truly unwilling to accept that this is democracy in action. The people voted, in numbers never seen before. The will of the people is clear. To continue to accuse them of stupidity, of having made a ‘historic’ mistake, to continue to try and scare people and their children highlights your arrogance, nothing more. Isn’t it possible that your arrogance contributed to the success of the Brexit vote?