Travelling across Europe provides the opportunity to quiz people of many nationalities about their views on a UK return to the EU.
“I think European unity was a great achievement and good for all members,” says Spanish-born Jose Antonio. “I believe Brexit was a hasty decision and without proper debate. The separation has hurt both parties. It would be good if the UK returned.”
“Yes,” says Stefan who lives in Sweden, “it would be good if the UK re-joined. Nordic states would be happy.”
Is UK participation in the EU a topic Europeans discuss?
Anna, living in Paris, says: “It’s not that we think the UK re-joining the EU is of little importance, it’s just that there are more important matters for France. With the pandemic and Ukraine, Brexit hasn’t been on our radar for a long time! Brexit just happened. Discussion of it got quickly wiped out by the other striking news.”
John, a Parisian economist, concurs: “I think the topic had a lot of resonance in French news when it happened / was on the verge of happening. But since then, it isn’t much in the news.”
He goes on to say: “I haven’t travelled to the UK since Brexit and I’m not even sure it changes much apart from the fact that we need a passport instead of an ID card. But since the UK was never in the Euro Zone and never really in the Schengen free-movement zone, the UK outside the EU doesn’t change much for us in practice.”
“But of course we would prefer if the UK was in the EU,” says Anna. “And even more if the UK had adopted the Euro. For the French travelling in the UK, the UK never really felt like a European country without the Euro.”
Is a UK return likely?
“It would be great if the UK re-joined the EU,” says British-born Chris who, after living in France for many decades, recently took French nationality, “But I seriously doubt that such a request would be accepted. It seems to me that the UK has a history of behaving like a spoiled brat, starting in Thatcher’s era! Later there was a problem with the Maastricht treaty, the non-adoption of the Euro and the Brexit negotiations. The UK always seemed to have one foot in the EU and the other outside, wanting to benefit from the advantages but refusing the constraints.”
Constanze agrees, explaining that the feeling in Germany is that the UK, like Hungary and Poland, wants the EU money and none of the commitments. “The UK seems to forget that the we Germans also have to follow the agreed rules. The EU needs commitment. If you are in, you are in.”
“There is also political rivalry involved” says Chris. “France and Germany in particular would lose influence if the UK re-joined. So I can’t see the UK as a whole joining but I could imagine Scotland joining. They have been pretty close to becoming independent.”
The Scottish view
Scottish born Lorraine smiles, “I hope so. Scotland continues to keep connected with key European leaders such that the possibility of joining as an independent Scotland remains. After all, since the 13th century and The Auld Alliance, our history is closer to France than England.”
“Scots feel culturally, politically and educationally closer to Europeans and don’t recognise the Westminster ‘lies’, the rumours, the racist and bigoted distortions.”
What of Boris Johnson’s Brexit leadership?
Inevitably this brings up the topic of Boris Johnson. “Boris Johnson was very entertaining with his tousled hair and crumpled suits. Great for a dinner party,” chuckles Stefan. “But he made wrong decisions.”
“Ah,” says Klaus, “that reminds me of a joke that was doing the rounds in Germany during the Brexit negotiations.”
Boris Johnson: We want a Unicorn!
EU: Unicorns don’t exist. You can have a Pony instead.
Johnson: We decided by a referendum that we don’t want to have a Pony.
EU: You can have a Pony or Nothing.
Johnson: We decided by referendum that we don’t want to have Nothing.
EU: You still don’t understand at all, do you?
Johnson: We need more time to think about it.
EU: About what? The Pony or the Nothing?
Johnson: We want a Unicorn!
On a more serious note, Christina observes that Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have given more life to a pernicious legacy: the three-word slogan. “That’s why memes are so popular”.
“It’s the same in Germany,” says Klaus. “People are only prepared to read headlines.” He laments how worrying it is when friends say about a well-written article that they didn’t read it because “it was too long”.
He goes on to say that another worrying trend is the adoption of innocuous-sounding names for political parties and think-tanks that give an impression completely the opposite of their intent. “In the main it’s the right-wing groups that adopt these.”
“I would really love to have the UK back in the EU,” says Constanze. “In these times, we need to be strong together in Europe. A single, small country can’t be successful on its own nowadays. But the EU can only be successful with strong members that are willing to discuss and find compromises.” She pauses, then adds, “Most of the big serious problems like climate change, migration and economic problems are not stopping at borders, we have to find solutions for that all together.”
“Maybe soon”, says Lorraine hopefully, “Scotland will be working with you as your EU partner….”
As Brexiters leave the field of battle, humiliated, they leave behind them the catastrophes they caused. Returners may have won the arguments, but there is a growing schism among EU supporters about strategy.
Next Friday we look at the arguments.
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