Like many who participated at the time, I can’t honestly say the European Union loomed very large in my life (if at all) before the Referendum of June 2016. Yes, I occasionally wrote about it on here because it was a topical story, just as I was aware it had been a running sore on the Conservative Party for the best part of forty years, something that provoked intense – and what seemed to me, disproportionate – passions in separate Tory factions; but the EU was not something I personally lost sleep over or frothed at the mouth about. Like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ or ‘Bake Off’, it was largely irrelevant to me; I didn’t really care one way or the other, and the fact I voted Remain reflected my ‘oh, well – better the devil you know’ attitude rather than revealing any deeply-held opinions. I only really took notice of the EU whenever the Tories returned to power and it proved to be the one factor that threatened to split the ranks and damage the brand. For them, it just wouldn’t go away.
Most looked on at this peculiar obsession and couldn’t really understand why it was an issue that got so many Tories so hot under the collar. When David Cameron announced there was to be a referendum on our membership of the Union, it appeared to be a move designed in response to two pressing factors, neither of which meant much to those without an investment in either. For one thing, the Tories were haemorrhaging votes to UKIP and their more traditional base was as opposed to Dave’s pro-Europe stance as it was to his socially liberal policies; secondly, the PM was evidently determined this issue would not bring him down as it had brought down previous Tory tenants of No.10, so here was an opportunity to finally lance the Brussels boil festering on the Conservative body politic once and for all with a (to quote Nicola Sturgeon) ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ vote. Thank God for that. It had become a very boring ongoing saga for far too long and was not a subject that would register much beyond Tory circles the moment it was done and dusted.
Imagine my surprise the day after the Referendum, then, when so many of my Facebook friends suddenly supplanted their regular profile pictures with the EU flag as though the EU were some über-cool band they’d just discovered; indeed, imagine my surprise when so many of them, who had previously never aired any political opinions on the forum, had transformed overnight into Great Political Thinkers, little Edmund Burkes, one and all. Grand pronouncements on the issue replaced enjoyably frivolous trivia, as if Facebook had abruptly changed channels from ‘The Generation Game’ to ‘The World at War’ with the flick of a switch. The unexpected rush of love for the EU on social media reminded me a little of the way in which the imminent closure of Woolies provoked a rash of sentimental shoppers to flood through doors they’d summarily ignored for decades. Yes, the usual suspects had been vocal in their support before the Referendum result, but now it seemed the majority of apolitical folk I followed had become possessed by this newfound passion that evoked unwelcome memories of the vicious tribal splits that characterised opposing camps during the Miners’ Strike of 1984; and their fury has multiplied as the rest of us who voted Remain have gradually realised just what a rotten shower the EU really is.
Since that moment, the approach to every issue has been cast in the black & white Brexit mould, whereby all is politicised in the most aggressive and divisive Us and Them ideology. We, the good people are virtuous, unsullied and pure; our enemies are the worst people who ever lived – like, literally Nazis. Brexit has narrowed, shaped and defined political and social discourse for five years now, and it appears there’s no letting up; even the pro-lockdown/anti-lockdown debate languishes in its toxic shadow. For many of us whose natural home had always been leaning towards the left, this atmosphere opened the floodgates for the lunatic fringe to seize control of the argument and edge the rest of us towards the no-man’s land of the middle ground, branded ‘far-right’ for not submitting to the propaganda, and painfully severed from friendships that had been fine before battle lines were drawn by the malignant hands of others. The instinctive response to BLM being put forward for the Nobel Peace Prize should be to wonder why the KKK haven’t received the same accolade, for there is no discernible difference between the ultimate aims of the two other than the former have successfully exploited the fear of being labelled racist by duping every conceivable institution and corporation in the West into supine compliance with their odious dogma. Yet whether through ignorance, reluctance to risk cancellation, or simple cowardice to reject the mantra of the herd because the herd offers an illusion of safety and security that social exclusion doesn’t, many continue to be blinded to the uncomfortable truth – and this is part of the 2016 fallout.
However, the past week has offered a sliver of hope that threatens to shatter the narrative. Unlike many Brits post-2016, I had never regarded ‘Europe’ as a single entity, which is what it suddenly became the day after the Referendum result – a myth the EU has always been keen to propagate in order to validate its existence. Personally, I like different European countries for their differences, just as I like the four constituent countries of the UK for the same reason. A huge landmass viewed as a de facto ‘One Nation’ that rides roughshod over independent sovereignty doesn’t work; it didn’t for Europe in the long run when much of it fell under the sprawling bureaucracy of the Holy Roman Empire, and history shows us how rarely it has successfully worked for the USA. The European Union has repeatedly tried to sell itself using the ‘one-size-fits-all’ idea, but it was always a sham. The way in which the institution has treated Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal in recent years whilst simultaneously favouring Germany and France has made this blatantly obvious. Continents are not countries and the EU is not a democratically-elected government.
Attempts to apply its official principles to the issue of the coronavirus vaccine have exposed the unattractive reality of the EU to many of those who proclaimed their love for it five years ago. The leading cheerleaders of the EU project dragged their heels when it came to a vaccine rollout, forbidding member states to import vaccines without EU permission, and resulting in the European Commission pointing the finger at Oxford-AstraZeneca to obscure the fact that EU officials hadn’t moved with the same swiftness as the UK when it came to ordering the antidote. Both Germany and France have tried to cover Brussels backs by badmouthing the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab at a time when their respective populations sorely needed it; and then the EU badly misjudged the global mood by falling back on emotional blackmail and trying to use the vaccine as a weapon in Brexit trade wars, making it look petty and vindictive, prioritising trivial grievances over the lives of the European citizens in whose interests it has claimed to be acting.
The below-the-belt attempt to threaten the Northern Ireland Protocol, the survival of which has been central to disputes over Brexit, made it look like a hard border on the island of Ireland was something the EU was prepared to invoke whenever it suited them and brought the authentic EU attitude to Ireland into the open. For the last few years we’ve been repeatedly warned by Brussels how Brexit would be the harbinger for the Troubles Part II, yet the EU throwing its toys out of the pram by sanctioning vaccine for Eire and refusing it for Ulster, theoretically erecting the very hard border it has repeatedly claimed Brexit would disastrously lead to, managed the impressive feat of uniting the DUP and Sinn Féin in condemnation. The vaccine issue has been a PR disaster for the EU all across its fiefdoms, yet none more so than in the very ex-member state it has been determined to punish for having the nerve to expose its sales technique as bullshit. Five years on from Brexit, perhaps now is finally the moment when Leave voters can say ‘told you so’ without fear of a spontaneous backlash of the kind we’ve become accustomed to. Silver linings and all that…
© The Editor