Sunday 24 March 2019

There are consequences when you have the cheek to upset the EU chieftains

Anger in the EU, and embarrassment among the Tories, as the reality of the Brexit vote hits home, writes Gene Kerrigan

Defiant: British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says he won’t resign like David Cameron. Photo: Getty
Defiant: British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says he won’t resign like David Cameron. Photo: Getty
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

They couldn't conceal their anger. The EU chieftains, caught by the TV cameras on Friday morning, were shocked and they were furious.

"Are you angry?"

Yes, one said, yes, very angry. But he didn't need to say a word, it was all over his face.

Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the EU Commission, hissed that he wanted the divorce finalised quickly, a spurned sugar daddy throwing a drawerful of CDs after a departing lover.

These guys really don't like failing to get their way, do they?

It's very unusual to see those with power unable to keep straight faces. They are practised at putting on a convincing show, accepting a setback, even welcoming it, as they manoeuvre to reverse it.

I'm out: British holidaymaker Andy McPhee, who voted to leave the EU, in Benidorm. Photo: Reuters
I'm out: British holidaymaker Andy McPhee, who voted to leave the EU, in Benidorm. Photo: Reuters

Their priority now is to demonstrate to other countries that the price of not doing what you're told will be severe. And such is their worry and anger that they cannot mask their emotions.

The fallout in the UK, as reality dawns, is entertaining. There's great stuff in watching the Boris Johnson faction shrugging their shoulders.

Oh, sorry you got the impression that we'd actually do something about immigration, old chap - that was just a bit of an old dodge, you knew that, didn't you?

And that £350m a week for the NHS? We made that up! Sounded good, bit of a joke, take it like a man, old chap!

As the pound becomes as attractive as a used tissue, Scotland consults its calendar in order to choose a date for the next independence referendum.

It was as though the vote was part of a TV reality game show. Evict Dave or evict Boris, maybe vote for Nigel to eat some worms, with no consequences in the real world.

The morning after, it was like watching a child on Santa's knee, realising the implications as he grabs the old gent's beard and it comes away in his little hand.

But, entertaining as all that might be, the more instructive story is in the anger of the EU chieftains.

They've got used to getting their own way. They failed to prepare the Euro mechanism for a range of economies at different stages of development. They failed to regulate the European banking system. When it all went tits-up they took none of the blame, they issued edicts.

We voted down the Nice Treaty, they made us do it again.

Our leaders told us they hadn't bothered to read the Lisbon Treaty - what was the point - but we should vote for it anyway. And when we voted it down, the EU chieftains made us vote again.

When people from this country questioned why we were instructed to pay 40pc of the cost of the European banking collapse, they didn't bother to answer.

Our leaders told them that was fine, we'd manage somehow. Don't suppose there's any chance of an oul debt write-down, yer honour?

Bugger off, Paddy.

Consider it done, Jean-Claude.

Year after year of austerity, straight from the Neoliberal Book of Making the Mugs Pay for the Actions of Their Betters.

Greeks pointed out that major bankers had collaborated with right-wing politicians to falsify information prior to joining the Euro - they shrugged. The people should have known.

The rich weren't paying their taxes? Well, someone had to pay. So, the poor had to tighten their belts, ever-tighter, ever-tighter. As suicide rates rocketed in Greece, Irish politicians enjoyed sleazy jokes about feta cheese.

The left tell us that the Brexit vote was a howl of rage from an angered and ignored British working class, and there was no doubt a bit of that in it, but that's not really what it was about.

The demographics of the vote tell their story.

The old, those least likely to have a passport, to know anything about anywhere beyond their own narrow borders, wanted their country back.

But the country many of them wanted back was the mythical England of their youth, a town in Midsomer County where Diana still lives and the marriage to Charles worked out; where DCI Barnaby and Miss Marple investigate cutesy murders; Mrs Dale still writes her diary; and there's no "political correctness" to dissuade them from calling Idris Elba a dirty name.

It was about foreigners, and getting shut of them. It was about Muslims, and getting shut of them. It was about the modern, globalised, neoliberal world and all its brown people and black people and people with Eastern European accents, and getting shut of them.

Media owners who could bribe or intimidate British politicians didn't like the fact that EU elites were beyond their control.

The media barrage of lies about EU regulations, of mourning the loss of "control", the slurs on emigrants and the promise of a brand new day, paid off. The fact that the same media backed the invasion that created a flow of refugees was lost in the shuffle.

And it was about Boris, and his ambitions. Boris wanted his turn.

He doesn't give a toss about borders, emigration or the NHS - it's all about Boris.

By Friday morning, emigrants were being jeered - why aren't you gone, we voted you out?

By Friday evening, even Boris was getting nervous.

Suddenly, the money people were making decisions with long-term consequences for the British economy.

And the EU chieftains were frothing at the mouth. They hadn't expected to come a cropper over internal Tory rivalry and boorish hatred of anyone with a different skin colour or a different accent.

The exit clock starts ticking when Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked. Cameron created breathing space by putting that off until October. There's talk that perhaps if they just let it lie there, and the months and the years go by, they might pretend none of this happened.

But that's to reckon without Farage, and the unpredictability of a society in which raving fascists are passed off as "euro sceptics".

Sunday Independent

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