SHARE
COPY LINK
THE BIG BREXIT DEBATE

EUROPE

French Brexit fans: now is a really good time to shut up

If Britain leaves it will make Europe more French - but it will also make it much weaker. French Brexit fans should be careful what they wish for, argues The Local's James Savage.

French Brexit fans: now is a really good time to shut up
That's the spirit! Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP

Brexit is a tremendous opportunity. Those are the words of essayist Edouard Tétreau on The Local this week. An opportunity, he means, for France.

He’s not alone in thinking this. Though President François Hollande and PM Manuel Valls both say they want Britain to stay, others in the French establishment, including some senior politicians, don’t. Many others give the impression of being ambivalent at best. They view Perfidious Albion as a pro-market, free trade and English-speaking voice that always standing in the way of European integration.

The position of London’s City as Europe’s top financial centre also grates with France: French unease with David Cameron’s demands to protect the British banking industry have been one of the big sticking points in Brussels this week.

Charles de Gaulle, who blocked British membership for a decade, casts a long shadow. 

Many Brits would agree that they’re better off out. They complain that the EU has become over-mighty, that it’s strangling Britain with red tape, and that migration from eastern European countries is too high. 

They also think that the French will ultimately always stitch Britain up. Partly, that’s good, old-fashioned prejudice, fuelled by feral, Europhobic tabloids. Former Commission President Jacques Delors, a French socialist, was demonised by the British press – the immortal Sun headline 'Up Yours, Delors', summed up the level of debate.

But the way some French politicians speak, British voters' suspicion is sometimes understandable. Tellingly, Britons’ opinion of the EU took a (possibly terminal) nosedive when France led the charge to ban British beef, in a move many took to be anti-British protectionism. Nicolas Sarkozy imperiously telling Britain during the euro crisis that “now would be a good time to shut up,” was one in a long line of similar headlines.

Given the amount of negativity coming out of the Hexagon, it’s a shame that many Brits basically see Europe as a Greater France. Far more Brits speak some (usually mangled version of) French than any other language, it’s the country they visit the most, it’s a country far more comprehensively covered in the British media. 

But these days France is just another medium-sized European country, and many more countries out there have a lot more in common with Britain.

The fact is that Britain has lots of friends in Europe. Yes, most of them are fed up with British carping, but they nonetheless have the same views on all sorts of issues, they gravitate culturally towards the UK, and really want Britain to stay. 

Scandinavians share Britain’s fondness for free trade and suspicion of creeping federalism. Many eastern European countries see Britain as the key to keeping Europe firmly locked into the Transatlantic relationship.

Even mighty Germany, despite its much vaunted alliance with France, is closer to Britain on lots of questions, including trade, agriculture and the push to make Europe more competitive. Merkel might think the British referendum is a distraction, but she has been uncharacteristically passionate in her arguments for Britain to stay.

It’s also simply not true that only British voters see problems with Europe. What’s striking is that in general terms Brits, French and Germans are pretty much as keen on Europe as each other. A poll on attitudes to the EU last year showed that 51 percent of Brits had a favourable view of the EU, only slightly behind the French and Germans and 55 and 58 percent respectively.

Even France itself has plenty of reasons to want Britain to stay. French Brexit fans should ask themselves whether they really want to get rid of the only other European military power and whether they want the EU they helped create to suffer a decade or more of uncertainty.

Yes, a Britain-less Europe would probably be a more French Europe, but it would also be weaker – and as more liberal states saw themselves frustrated, Euroscepticism would only grow. The only people for whom Brexit is an opportunity are the likes of Marine le Pen – and Vladimir Putin.

As Britain gets ready to decide, French politicians should ask themselves if they really want to risk all that. And those countries that see Britain as a country that shares their values should make sure British voters hear it loud and clear.

 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TRAVEL NEWS

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.

SHOW COMMENTS