Anybody in France unlucky enough to have witnessed drunken English soccer fans causing havoc during the current UEFA Euro soccer tournament may well have a vested interest in the British Referendum (taking place on Thursday, June 23) on whether or not the UK should remain in the European Union. The French may justifiably cry: “Vote to leave Europe so that we can enjoy our apéritifs in peace!”
And, for the time being, the Parisians can breathe a collective sigh of relief that the English soccer team’s performances has thus far been characteristically underwhelming: that means they will not be playing in Paris this weekend, so the locals should be able to enjoy their kirs royals on a terrasse de café without being assailed by hordes of beer-guzzling yobs chanting “F*** off, Europe, we’re all voting out” (which is what some groups of fans reportedly shouted while in the South of France).
As a committed Europhile and an even more committed Francophile, I have viewed with increasing despair the debates in Britain over what has been dubbed Brexit. Both sides of the argument seem to have engaged in almost entirely negative campaigning, appealing to the public’s most selfish instincts, but it is those campaigning to leave the European Union (made up mostly of political opportunists from the Conservative Party such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove or extremist figures like the leader of the right-wing UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage) who have employed the most underhanded tactics, concocting figures and statistics and playing on the public’s basest fears about waves of immigrants about to invade the hallowed shores of Albion’s green and currently very unpleasant land.
Blithely ignoring the warnings of almost every reputable expert on economy, business and culture, the Brexiters have repeatedly trotted out the same scare stories about the European Union that for years have formed the staple headlines of the right-wing British press, many of which were invented on his own admission by Boris Johnson himself, who used to be the Brussels correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.
As readers will no doubt know, campaigning for the referendum was halted for a few days last week when, seven days before polling day, Member of Parliament Jo Cox was murdered in her constituency in the North of England by what appears to be a right-wing fanatic.
Cox was a passionate supporter of remaining in Europe and had fought assiduously since her election to Parliament a year ago for immigrants’ rights. The fact that at the time Cox was killed Farage was posing in front of a poster depicting waves of immigrants supposedly waiting to come into Britain (in fact the picture was of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015) only The migrants in the poster were not crossing into Britain, as implied in Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit ad.underlined the sense that such extremist rhetoric could have and was having awful consequences.
The possible aftermath of a British departure from Europe is, of course, worrying for the preservation of the European Union. In France, the leader of the far-right Front National, Marine Le Pen, is already calling for a similar referendum, and many political factions in Europe will undoubtedly feel more justified than ever in promoting nationalist causes at the expense of the Union.
As horrible as the prospects may be, the actual debates on social media have been lively and often humorous. My favorite document was a mock polling card by a supporter of the Remain campaign that managed to point out a few home truths in the small print under each option:
A mock polling card found on Facebook.Another contributor to Facebook discussions reproduced pictures of various non-British workers currently in the UK with this comment: “Bloody immigrants. Coming over here, making a massive contribution to our society.”
Let’s hope that those bloody immigrants will continue making a valuable contribution to all our societies for generations to come, and that no walls, metaphorical or real, need ever be constructed between the different nations. In the meantime, is there a desert island far from France and Britain where we could safely deposit all those rampaging soccer hooligans?