So, the pint guzzling, tab smoking scourge of civilised society has been hard at it again. Sensitive and enlightened souls are still picking themselves up from their carbon neutral reclaimed hardwood floors across a huge swathe of North London and the Cotswolds following this latest cultural and political mugging by the emboldened hoody of European populism.
While the Daily Mail characterises the former UKIP leader’s deliberately and unnecessarily provocative language as an act of defiance, the Guardian predictably paints Wednesday morning’s fiery exchanges as proof positive that the EU is attempting to reach a reasonable accommodation in the face of ongoing nationalist hostility. Business as usual.
Leaving the screeching hyperbole of frothing Brexiteers and finger wagging Remainers aside for a moment, if that’s even possible, we actually find ourselves on wearyingly familiar territory once again. All the noise emanating from Strasbourg this week boils down to the fact that Brexit means Brexit, and the UK cannot cherry pick the benefits of EU membership.
Okay, we get it, we heard you. No really, we did…ages ago, before we even voted in the referendum.
You know, as somebody who voted to leave the EU, I can say for sure that both my leave and remain voting friends are sick to the back teeth of hearing these increasingly clichéd and hackneyed phrases. It’s almost as though the big guns on either side believe that their opposite numbers are so monumentally dense that they cannot grasp these simple ideas, even though Theresa May has repeatedly stated that the UK will not seek to remain within the European single market or the customs union. Therefore, it is not clear to me where all this talk of cherry picking is coming from. Nobody’s asking for cherries.
One thing that has become increasingly clear is that Mr Farage is a man who thrives on controversy and confrontation, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s taking this opportunity to stick it to the European establishment while he still can. After all, he’ll have to find another platform after 2019, but I don’t think that will be too much of a problem for him.
The difficulty with someone like Farage is that he is most definitely a Marmite character, which leads people to either cheer ecstatically the moment he appears on screen or simply switch off. While these are admittedly heartfelt responses, neither lends itself to actually hearing the position he is espousing on any given topic.
One can always tell when Farage is in the chamber, as there’s a knot of expectant reporters and cameramen gathered whenever he is about to deliver one of his historically bruising and deliberately insensitive monologues. Whether you love him or loathe him, Farage has succeeded in making himself the single most famous MEP in the history of the European Parliament.
Wednesday morning’s verbal assault began with Nigel Farage’s entirely predictable condemnation of the European Union as bullying, dictatorial and undemocratic. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as such attacks are both his trademark and how he makes his living, which leads me to suspect that even an EU offer of a free gold bar to every child of woman born would be viewed with suspicion, and characterised as a form of bribery or financial coercion.
That said, the former UKIP leader did raise a couple important points that actually are worthy of serious discussion.
First was the vexed and increasingly malleable “divorce bill” which ranges from a straightforward payment of €60 billion, through various permutations of assets and liabilities and ends up the EU owing us an unspecified number of billions. Behind all the bluster and grandstanding, Mr Farage did make the very valid point that, at the moment, all of these figures appear to have been just plucked from the air. Maybe the EU is right and we do actually owe them a couple of well stacked pallets of clingfilmed currency, but the conspicuous absence of any supporting calculations is making this writer increasingly sceptical. The quicker we all put some meat on these bones the better, then at least we’ll have something solid to argue about. At the moment we’re all just shouting at smoke.
The other point which is well worth remembering was that Farage was quite correct when he pointed out that the UK did not in fact join the European Union in 1973, for the simple reason that the European Union did not come into existence until 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty was signed by the member states of the then European Community. Bearing this in mind, it’s quite revealing that the demographic who voted most strongly in favour of leaving the European Union is the same group who would’ve been old enough to vote in the 1975 plebiscite. Can this possibly be a coincidence? Naturally there is an army of bloggers and wailing commentators who see this as a vindication of their unfounded view that the grammar school generation is inherently xenophobic, probably a bit racist and certainly less well educated than their younger, intellectual superiors. The more likely explanation is that the older generation is the one that feels most abused and betrayed by the EU. When speaking to my father’s friends, I’ve found that they are almost of one voice in expressing their desire to leave because they feel they’ve been duped and deceived. The European Union of today doesn’t remotely resemble any trading bloc they voted to join…and we all know it.
In fact, the 2016 referendum has been the first and only time that the UK population has been offered any kind of meaningful choice as to whether they wished to be a part of “the ever closer union” of the European project. Their answer was clear enough.
If the European Project’s democratic deficit had been honestly confronted back in the nineties and not swept under the carpet, then smothered by an increasingly authoritarian EU and aided by a sycophantic, out of touch media class then history might’ve been very different.
Alas we’ll never know, as the EU is too far gone to be saved in its present form. It’s just a matter of time.