The silence of the Remainers

Europe's populist surge has shattered the simplistic, snobbish worldview of Britain’s pro-EU elite.

Jacob Phillips

Topics Brexit Politics World

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Ever since the results of the European Parliament elections came in, the silence from Remainers has been deafening. They appear to be struggling to come to terms with a populist, Eurosceptic surge that was almost as dramatic as the Brexit referendum itself.

The victory of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France has prompted President Emmanuel Macron to call a snap election. In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party surpassed all expectations by polling second. Hard-right parties also came first in Austria and second in the Netherlands. Even in Belgium, the beating technocratic heart of the EU, prime minister Alexander de Croo was forced to resign after his party won just 10 per cent in the federal parliamentary elections and barely five per cent in the European elections.

This populist, Eurosceptic turn of the EU seems to have struck many Remainers dumb. The vitriol and condemnation they sent Leave voters’ way in the years following the 2016 Brexit referendum has been notably absent in the past few weeks.

There have been no claims that French, German or Belgian voters were insufficiently educated or not intelligent enough to vote the ‘right way’. No thinkpieces claiming that if only more Europeans went to university then they would have embraced the pro-Brussels parties. No suggestion that great swathes of continental voters are suffering imperial nostalgia, or that their societies are still in ‘the last throes of empire’, as they claimed after the Brexit vote.

Even LBC’s Remainer fog-horn, James O’Brien, has been quiet. He has so far spared Europeans the patronising lectures he once delivered to Leave voters daily, denouncing their supposed bigotry and idiocy.

The fact that many of Europe’s young people gave their vote to populist parties has also caused problems for Britain’s Remainers. They could hardly blame National Rally’s victory on older voters ‘wanting to turn the clock back’, or claim that Generation Z’s future had been stolen by anti-EU Baby Boomers.

No doubt the silence is because these results shatter the simplistic Remainer worldview. In the years immediately following the Brexit vote, the #FBPE crowd talked endlessly about how mainland Europe was more sophisticated, more moderate and more intelligent than backwards and ignorant old Britain. The roots of this attitude lie deep in the psyche of the British middle classes. Their identification with Europe, their elevation of its politics, culture and food, is born of their snobbish desire to distance themselves from Britain’s working classes – their desire to distinguish themselves from their own nation’s popular culture and politics.

The European election results have left Remainers embarrassed and mute. The arguments they used to make their case for the EU, fuelled in large part by cultural snobbery towards Britain, are useless in the face of the political and cultural reality of Europe.

So where do they go from here? Perhaps they’ll form a pan-European alliance of Waitrose-shoppers and campaign for a re-run of the elections as part of a continent-wide ‘People’s Vote’. Or perhaps they will finally accept that the EU is not the land of milk and honey they’ve long claimed it is. Perhaps they’ll recognise that these election results show that many EU citizens feel frustrated and ignored by their own pro-EU elites.

You never know, the results might finally prompt them to acknowledge that the Brexit vote was not about ignorance, nostalgia for empire or narrowmindedness. That it was in fact a demand for greater sovereignty and more democracy. Because right now, that is a demand that is being made all across the EU.

Jacob Phillips is an academic living in London. Follow him on X: @Counteredlogos

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Topics Brexit Politics World


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