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'UK show us the way' say the French dreaming of Brexit
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'UK show us the way' say the French dreaming of Brexit

Ben McPartland · 7 Jun 2016, 14:16

Published: 07 Jun 2016 14:16 GMT+02:00

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“Don’t leave us.”

That’s been the official message to the British time and again from the French government and its president François Hollande. A similar call has been made by French business leaders in recent weeks.

But many French people think differently to the establishment and are openly hoping that the Brits will divorce from the EU.

One of the most outspoken is French MP and 2017 presidential candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan.

The Gaullist Dupont-Aignan (pictured left below) is head of the sovereigntist movement, "France Arise" (Debout la France) and is staunchly anti EU.

“It’s now or never. The British have an historic chance to escape from prison and when you see a prison door open up, you have to get out,” he told The Local.

For him there’s no doubt a Brexit would pave the way for an eventual "Frexit" because he believes the EU would fall apart without one of its most powerful members.

“The French will be able to see that the UK will not be hit by catastrophe once it leaves the EU. It won’t be the apocalypse. Norway is not living in an apocalypse, Switzerland is not living in poverty.

“Britain was the first democracy in the EU and they are always giving us lessons, so it’s no surprise they go first,” Dupont Aignan said.

“And when the French get the same vote one day, there’s no doubt they will vote to leave the EU,” he added.

Recent opinion polls in France suggest Dupont Aignan and co might be onto something, although he would end up disappointed in the end.

In a survey in March a majority of French said they too should also get to have their own referendum on whether they stay in the EU.

But while 53 percent said they should also have a vote, some 44 percent said they would vote to stay, against 33 percent who would leave.

Nevertheless those who attended an event titled "Brexit and Us: A risk or a Chance for France", at the French parliament this week to hear Dupont-Aignan and several other pro-Brexit  and pro-Frexit speakers, just want the chance to have their say.

“We want the British to show us the way,” Eric Raoul-Duval told The Local. “I think if you ignore all the politicians and the media, then a majority of French people would vote for a Frexit.

"The French already voted against the EU constitution in 2005 and we would do again."

(France's most powerful EU sceptic Marine Le Pen. Photo: AFP)

There’s no doubt that over the years public opinion towards the EU in France has hardened.

A poll, published on Europe Day in 2014 showed that slender majority of 51 percent of the French still want their country to be part of the 28 nation bloc.

However that was down from 67 percent a decade before. In the same poll only 2 percent of French people said they were “enthusiastic” about the EU.

In December’s regional elections the anti-EU National Front party led by chief Eurosceptic Marine Le pen scored a record high number of voters – almost seven million.

And that came after her party topped the polls in France at last year’s European elections. Le Pen's party have long called for a Frexit referendum.

In the conference room at the French parliament the same complaints about the EU that have been heard in Britain in recent years echoed around the room.

The “unbearable constraints” the lack of “democracy”, “unchecked immigration from eastern Europe”, the fears of Turkey joining the bloc, the imbalanced US-EU free trade deal, and the loss of French identity and language, were all evoked.

In another repeat of the Brexit campaign in the UK, there was also much anger about the alleged scaremongering of the Remain campaign.

“Every time I look at the media I get the impression Big Ben is going to fall down in the UK leaves the EU, or that they will have to close up the Channel Tunnel,” said Francis Choisel, a historian and president of the Alliance for the France.

And most attendees to the round table echoed the belief of the Vote Leave campaign leaders who say that France would be just fine if it ditched the EU.

"We have the biggest tourism industry of any country in the world," Jean-Christophe Lebert told The Local.

Story continues below…

"The economy of a country is not everything, sometimes the personality of a country is more important. We have to be ourselves. We will never starve to death in France if we left the EU because there's food for everyone," said Eric Raoul-Duval.

Away from the conference however and opinion across France was changing towards the possibility of a Brexit now that the crucial vote was getting near.

In previous opinion polls the French have stood out as the one country in Europe who were in favour of seeing the Brits leave. In fact one poll revealed there were more French in favour of Brexit than Brits themselves.

But this week a new poll suggested there was a clear majority of the French public who want Britain to stay in the EU.

Some 60 percent responded to a survey by the CSA institute saying they did not want to see Britain quit the EU.

The shift in opinion could be explained by the difficulties Europe is in right now with the migrant crisis and the threat of terrorism.

“In these troubled times, we have a tendency to look to keep the status quo,” professor Yves Doutriaux from University of Paris I told the Direct Matin newspaper.

“We don’t want the exit of a country to give ideas to others,” he said.

But that’s exactly what Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and other anti-EU voices in France are hoping for. And the latest opinion polls from the UK suggest they might just get what they want.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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