Anyone who has ever been in love with the wrong person will know what an irrational, even damaging and destructive force love can be. No matter how unsuitable the love object, how unrealistic the hope of a happy end, and how indifferent the loved one themselves may be to our feelings, the passion sweeps on towards the inevitable crash while friends whose kindly advice has been ignored shake their heads and avert their eyes.
Since the stunning shock of the Brexit referendum result on that midsummer morning in 2016, die-hard Remainers have been like lovers struck by a sudden coup de foudre. Reason has flown out of the window and pure emotion has taken over. Taking their cue from Joni Mitchell’s line that “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” they have discovered how deeply they are in love with the European Union. But unfortunately for them their love has been unrequited.
The behaviour of the EU towards Britain after the referendum has made the Leavers’ case for them. Veering from bored indifference to downright hatred and cold contempt, Michel Barnier and his Brussels officialdom have proved correct what Eurosceptics have argued all along: that Britain’s presence “at the heart of Europe” is a sham. As cultural, political, historical and geographical outsiders we have never been part of the “gang”; the inner core of countries who control the EU, and who have always regarded Britain as a barely tolerated interloper.
We were latecomers to the European feast when the main courses had already been consumed and only stale crumbs were left. The undemocratic foundations of the organisation were firmly set in stone, and any ideas that Britain had of “reforming” the embryonic superstate were stillborn. They would have been equivalent to building a neo-Gothic first floor on top of a Cubist ground floor designed by Le Corbusier.
The love that Remainers bear for EU derives from a misty mush of sentiment
In retrospect, we can see that De Gaulle’s rejection of Britain’s first tentative moves to join the “Common Market” in the early Sixties was fully justified. Although motivated by the old General’s resentment of the country that had saved his jambon in 1940, De Gaulle’s critique that Britain would have been an Anglo-Saxon Trojan Horse inside the citadel of Fortress Europe was completely correct. Our traditions of Parliamentary democracy, individual liberty, trials by jury, free speech and resistance to an overweening state are inimical to the authoritarian ways of our continental cousins. We are simply not a good fit.
It is surely no coincidence that of the 27 remaining states in the EU, only two – Ireland and Sweden – have not, within living memory, been either communist, fascist, or military dictatorships or occupied by the forces of such regimes. The founding fathers of the EU deliberately eschewed democracy when building the institutions of their organisation, firmly believing that a self-appointed elite knew better than the people themselves where their future should lie.
Moreover, they lied to the people about the ultimate destination of the European train. They knew full well that if they had levelled with voters that their intention was to abolish their ancient nation states and replace them with the same sort of top down bureaucratic dictatorship so gleefully overthrown by the oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe in 1989, their vision would have been rejected out of hand.
Instead, the Eurocrats indulged in a game of grandmother’s footsteps, creeping up step by covert step, steadily and stealthily whittling away the rights and sovereignty of member nation states piecemeal until the people realised that, in the words of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Metaphors” they had “boarded a train there’s no getting off”. Britain leapt from the train only just in time.
It is striking that during and since the referendum campaign very few of the myriad op ed articles of the Remainers explained the arcane workings of the EU or argued that it represented a bright future. Instead they concentrated on the politics of fear: the dire consequences of Britain once again becoming what it had always been, a free and independent entity forging its own destiny.
This is scarcely surprising. For this unlovely behemoth does not stand up to close scrutiny by anyone not blinded by a lover’s passion. Unwieldy, inorganic, springing not from popular will but from the arid minds of Franco-German civil servants, the European Union may clothe itself in the trappings of a nation with its flag, anthem and governmental powers, but it is impossible to imagine anyone actually fighting and dying for it.
The love that Remainers bear for their project is born – as such unthinking passions often are – not for the dull reality of the beloved, but for a misty mush of sentiment. The dream of the Dordogne gite, the Tuscan villa, the Parisian cafes, the Alpine ski slopes and the Roman ruins are what first spring to mind when we hear the word “Europe”, rather than the shiny bottomed bureaucrats, the verbose diktats and the colossal waste and corruption that makes up the true face of this misbegotten and profoundly un-British monstrosity.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5Subscribe