Brexit: French left asking 'why is this vote even happening?'

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Brexit: French left asking 'why is this vote even happening?'
The top story in Direct Matin on Thursday.

The French will no doubt be glad when the word "Brexit" can be resigned to the past and they can concentrate on other issues.


It feels like Britain’s crunch referendum vote has sneaked up on the French almost unnoticed.

In recent weeks the news in France has been dominated by domestic issues, whether floods, strikes, terrorism, protests or hooligans - so much so that the word "Brexit" has hardly had a look in.

But on Thursday, the day of the crucial vote on whether its neighbours across La Manche will remain part of the EU, Brexit was at the top of most news sites (although only until the latest labour reform protest began to knock it down the order. France clearly has bigger issues).

Even on the day of the referendum itself, however, many news sites felt they had a key question to answer for their readers.

“But hold on, why are the UK even voting on Brexit?” was the headline in one Le Figaro article, a question repeated across other sites.

A sign that many in France don’t quite understand how all this has come about and have to be told that it dates back to 2013 and PM David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum if the Tories got back in to power.

"Ah oui, c'est vrai?" you can almost hear readers saying shock.

Another question the media and economists were frantically trying to answer was the impact a Brexit would have on France.

The French could be forgiven somewhat for choosing to ignore the subject of Britain and the EU after growing tired over the years of the UK constantly making demands on the rest of the bloc or choosing to opt out of treaties and the single currency.

Many had the view that the UK was never really part of Europe anyway.

There was more annoyance and frustration in February when David Cameron headed to Paris to in a bid to win support for his bid to negotiate more concessions from EU leaders that would allow him to campaign for Britain to remain in the bloc.

The French remained wary of Cameron using Europe to solve a domestic crisis in his Conservative party and the message was "we won't risk breaking up the EU".

Some expressed anger that Cameron had created another crisis in Europe and helped boost anti-EU sentiment in France, when there was no real need.

Finance Minister Emmanuel Macron even accused Britain of “holding Europe to hostage”, or perhaps what he really should have said was the Conservative party.

But on the whole the issue of Brexit was seen as a distraction from across the water. France and Europe had far more important things to worry about, whether it was terrorism or migration.

(Liberation newspaper, one of many trying to answer the questions surrounding Brexit)

Plus the French have always been confident that it was Britain who stood the most to lose if they left the EU.

But then the polls narrowed and suddenly the thought of a Brexit became real prospect in recent days.

President François Hollande issued a late warning to the British public on Wednesday night, telling them the vote will be irreversible and that the UK risked losing access to the single market.

Of course some in France have been watching the fierce and at times hysterical debate in the UK with interest, mostly those, like Marine Le Pen, who have been hoping a Brexit could trigger a Frexit.

But most in France will be quite glad when the whole question is settled, one way or another, to allow France and Europe to move on.

While most are not in favour of Brexit, many may see the positive in either result.

If the UK leaves, at least that will mean the end of having to put up with the British making their demands on the rest and if they stay then at least after having espoused the merits of the EU over the last few months, Cameron should be a little more humble and grateful towards the rest of the bloc.

While there will be many in Britain suffering from referendum fatigue, the French will be equally grateful if the word Brexit can be resigned to the past on Friday.

Let's hope the bookmakers are right and France can start concentrating on avoiding a Frexit from Euro 2016 on Sunday.





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