Yesterday, one Tory MP was criticised by many for describing the EU as “the enemy”. It may simply have been a military metaphor overstating the case, as he claimed (MPs overstating their case is hardly an unusual or noteworthy phenomenon). I’m not sure, though, that it’s really that far away from the thinking of many Brexiteers. It’s a very short step from seeing “the EU” as a foreign power controlling our laws to seeing it as an enemy which needs to be fought. And they’d find it hard to distance themselves from the accusation that they consider it a foreign power controlling our laws, given everything that they’ve said.
Whilst some of the Brexiteers do still seem to have enough of a grasp on reality to realise that the UK is going to have to negotiate with the 27 as a bloc, and that demonising an organisation which those 27 still see as a key part of their future may not be the brightest or most constructive approach, I do wonder whether even they, deep down, share that same antipathy to the very existence of the organisation. Others are more honest – how many times have we heard people greeting events in Europe with phrases such as “we’re leaving a burning building”, or “it’s going to collapse anyway”? It’s even possible that they may turn out to be right rather then merely doing a bit of wishful thinking - only time will tell; but at the moment, such attitudes are more likely to strengthen the resolve of the 27 than weaken it.
And, if they really do believe that the EU is some sort of tyranny from which we’re doing well to escape, one has to wonder why they would ever be happy to allow so many other countries to continue living under that same tyranny – the logic of their position is surely that they don’t just want to leave the building – they really do want to destroy it as well. Why wouldn’t they want everyone to be ‘free’? Isn’t ‘supporting freedom everywhere’ part of their mantra?
This question of the EU as some sort of tyranny deserves a little more examination though. Who do they really believe are the tyrants? In any organisation where decisions are taken through negotiation between 28 members over an extended period, there will inevitably be circumstances when the wishes of one or more of those members will be over-ridden. I don’t see that as tyranny; I see it more as ‘win some, lose some’ – a process of give and take where one has to judge whether the overall package is a net positive or a net negative. Only a spoilt child would demand that he or she has the right to win every time.But there is another possible interpretation of what they mean by tyranny, and that is that there is, in their view, one country in particular which drives the EU forward. That would, of course, be Germany. Some of the tabloids have put it very bluntly over the years, claiming that the EU is akin to Germany’s third attempt to dominate the continent and bend it to her will. I find it a laughable suggestion, but I have no doubt that it plays well to some. But is it really possible that, at some level, albeit not fully articulated, the Brexiteers (who seem determined to live in the past in plenty of other ways) see leaving the EU as a continuation by proxy of the last two world wars? Is that, perhaps, what they really mean when they talk about “the enemy”?