The imperial nostalgia of the EU flag-wavers
When did Last Night of the Proms become a celebration of fealty to the Brussels bureaucracy?
One of the many amusing things about the Remoaners, those well-to-do liberals who have never reconciled themselves to Brexit, is that they are everything they accuse us Leavers of being.
They call us ignorant of Brussels and its workings. But ask a fulminating #FBPE type to explain what Coreper is and they’ll look at you like you’re speaking Dutch. They call us bigoted and inward-looking, but these Little Europeans’ ‘internationalism’ only seems to extend to the predominantly caucasian confines of the continent.
But easily the most glaring hypocrisy of theirs is around mindless jingoism. They accuse us of being ‘flag-shaggers’, given to outbursts of imperial nostalgia – a resurgent longing for the British Empire that, going by the polls, exists only in Guardianistas’ imaginations. And yet since the Brexit vote Remainers have become the most prolific flag-shaggers around. They will take any opportunity to wave an EU flag, don some EU-flag-coloured face paint, and express their nostalgia for the days, pre-2016, when we Brits were happily ensconced in what you might call the Brussels Empire, which imposes its imperious writ on restive European nations and peoples; which is run by leaders who are unelected, unaccountable and openly declare that ‘there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties’.
Just take Last Night of the Proms. What was once a carnival of naff-but-harmless British patriotism and eccentricity, at which the audience would wave Union flags and belt out ‘Rule, Britannia!’, has been overrun by EU imperial nostalgia. For years now, anti-Brexit groups have been distributing EU flags outside (clocking that posh people who frequent the Royal Albert Hall are among Remain’s key social bases), thus turning the Proms’ finale into a sea of EU blue and yellow, rather than the traditional red, white and blue.
This year was no different. According to the Guardian’s gushing account, Union flags were ‘easily outnumbered by the EU ones’ on Saturday night, typifying a ‘different, more hopeful kind of patriotism’ that has supposedly blossomed at Last Night of the Proms post-Brexit. Meanwhile, the same paper has mocked a few prominent Brexiteers who have dared to criticise the Remoaner spectacle the Proms has become.
I’m no Blimpish British nationalist. I’ve neither watched nor attended a Last Night of the Proms. I certainly wouldn’t go as far as former Tory MP Harvey Proctor, who has called for a full BBC inquiry into all the EU flag-waving. But there is something equal parts bizarre, lame and revealing about the Remainer colonisation of this once quintessentially British occasion. For one thing, it is an almost perfect encapsulation of how this bourgeois pro-EU subculture is shaped at least as much by elite Remainers’ discomfort with Britain – its history, symbols and people – as it is by their love for the faceless, distant Brussels bureaucracy.
Indeed, what is it that they love so much about the EU? The corruption? The lobbyists? All those sweet, sweet regulations? Perhaps these supposed internationalists just love how EU protectionism batters African jobs and exports? Or how the EU’s unfathomably cruel immigration policies – which include paying North African dictators and militias to keep migrants away from the Mediterranean by any brutal means necessary – make the UK’s illiberal Rwanda scheme look like a week in Butlin’s by comparison?
In truth, elite Remainers know little and care even less about the workings of the European Union. None of them owned the flags or the face paint or had any idea who Guy Verhofstadt was before 2016. There were no pro-EU marches before the referendum. These people just loathe the working-class Leavers who so rudely intruded on history, demanded more clout in politics, and made it slightly more difficult for them to travel to their second homes in the south of France. The People’s Vote demos, the endless wittering on #FBPE Twitter, the Last Night of the Proms nonsense… this is all just one big wail of disdain for Britain and the plebs elite Remainers are forced to share it with. To the extent that these people like the idea of the European Union itself, it is because they see it – correctly, as it happens – as a technocratic check on the democratic aspirations of the ordinary, Brexit-backing Britons they loathe so much.
Remain’s imperial nostalgists long for a time when voters were firmly in their box. That’s what all their EU flag-shagging is really about. Let’s never let them win – and let’s never stop making fun of them.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
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