The apocryphal newspaper headline — “fog in the channel, continent isolated” — famously said something about the British mindset. It’s hardly surprising that we are insular — we are literally an island after all — but this insularity is something that curiously crosses all barriers in British social and political life, whether of Left or Right, middle or working class, and on almost every issue.
This is true even for British liberals who, reeling since the night of 23 June, 2016, have made the continent a sort of spiritual home as they’ve become alienated from their countrymen.
Right-thinking Britons see their country as an embarrassment sliding towards populism, a sad contrast to the moral superpower that is Germany and France under centrist leader Emmanuel Macron. Yet the Continent of the Anglo liberal imagination is as unreal as the supposed nostalgic Britain of yesteryear loved by Leavers.
Britain, many people fear, is moving away from the European dream and towards fascism. It’s such an established meme that even the most recent BBC Agatha Christie adaptation was a thinly-veiled analogy about 1930s fascism and Brexit.
Amazon.com Gift Card i... Buy New $10.00 (as of 08:25 EST - Details) Yet people keep on coming to this Nazi hellhole, with the fabled “Brexodus” of migrants leaving the country actually seeing an extra 212,000 people arriving last year, and with record numbers of foreign students, too.
The fascist Brexit Britain theory is held among a minority of Remainers because they’re measuring the country by a theoretical ideal rather than comparing it to other — real — countries. So while the hate crime “surge” following the referendum mostly involved very minor incidents, Italy saw a number of openly racist murders during the late 2010s.
Whether they’re connected or not, Italy has also had a populist Right-wing government in power for most of the past four years, and the Lega may well return — at around 33% in the polls, it is by some distance the most popular party. Italian politics has been, as long as anyone can remember, chaotic and unstable, which makes me wonder if Mary Beard’s Italian colleagues who make her feel “embarrassed” about Brexit have been paying attention to their own country.
A central theme of fascism is a love of violence against ideological opponents, and so a visitor from outer space with a vague understanding of our human political philosophy would probably conclude that there was only one fascist state in the EU — France, where the brutality of the police is on a scale that would be unfathomable in England.
Among the recent victims of the gleefully violent French police is a teenager who lost an eye in Strasbourg and an elderly woman in Marseilles who died from her injuries after being hit by a rubber bullet. Just this month prosecutors launched a probe after a video appeared to show a policeman firing point-blank at protestors with a riot control gun.
Right-wingers often complain that the horrific behaviour of the French police towards the gilets jaunes has received scant coverage in the BBC; certainly if Hungary or Poland treated their citizens like that, I’m pretty sure it would be on our news more. But then France has always been a politically violent country.
The last mass murder of protesters in England occurred in 1819, when 18 people were killed by authorities in Manchester; in France police in Paris killed up to three hundred unarmed protesters in 1961.
Had anything even vaguely comparable happened during the US Civil Rights era it would have been the subject of about 500 films and even my children in an English primary school would now be learning about it now. But then Anglo liberals are fascinated with the Anglo world; not so much by the continent.
France is different to England, in some ways far more traditional; for example, the same-sex marriage campaign there was opposed by enormous protests, while, like many continental countries, it has a 12-week limit for abortion, when even talk of a 20 weeks-limit would have the Anglo commentariat dressing up in those Handmaid’s Tale outfits.