Are we going to build ‘a better Europe’ WITH the British, as Garton Ash claims? I honestly doubt it
Best-selling author Bert Wagendorp‘s 12 December 2018 column in de Volkskrant
Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European Studies at Oxford, wrote us a letter. It was published in The Guardian on Thursday. ‘Dear European friends,’ it read, ‘all we need from you, my friends, is a clear, simple, positive message, without ifs or buts: “We want you to stay!”’ One is in the process of divorcing one’s hoity-toity ex, the shit has hit the fan, one is having squabbles about everything but the kitchen sink, has been called every name under the sun; and then all of a sudden this letter. It confused me. How was I to answer?
Garton Ash is not just anyone. He used to be one of ‘100 most influential people’ in the world and he is widely being held in high regard for his articulate geopolitical views. There is presumably no-one who knows more about recent European developments than he does. Garton Ash is simply devastated about his country leaving the EU, he champions a strong Union with Great Britain as a member. For thirty months now he has been living an absolute nightmare, and finally decided to write us a letter in an ultimate effort to avert catastrophe.
One has to bear in mind the British were not expelled from the EU, nor have the EU ever nudged them in the slightest way towards the conclusion that separation would be best for all parties involved. They chose a referendum of their own free will and, as a majority of British citizens opted out, Brexit is on the table now.
A lot of hate speech has been channelled through the Tunnel towards the continent lately. Some resentment may have been returned to sender by the Hoek van Holland ferry, especially when Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared on television – that snotty public school bully, insufficiently flogged at the time. The hate speech, however, was mainly aimed at Europe, not the other way round.
And now Garton Ash has tabled a request for a declaration of love – if we, the Europeans from the continent, merely begged the British to please stay, he supposes, a second referendum might happen. Garton Ash believes there is a growing majority to be found for it in the House of Commons. How a request on our part could possibly help trigger a second referendum, I fail to see – I can see it coming though how Boris ‘Kremlin Gremlin’ Johnson is going to exclaim in disgust European interference knows no limits, and I can also see the headlines in the tabloid papers: now they are demanding us to stay, for crying out loud!
Moreover, it has been said many times and in many ways in Brussels, as well as in every other European capital: ‘We would very much like you to stay!’
Nevertheless, Garton Ash wants to hear it once again: ‘If you have worked with British colleagues, spent time at a British university, enjoyed some aspect of British sport or culture, or have British friends; if anything the British have ever done has touched your heart; then give us your solidarity and support. In helping Britain you will also be helping Europe.’ Well, I have worked with British colleagues, I adore Julian Barnes, English humour and marmite, Arsenal is my favourite football club and Garton Ash’s letter has touched my heart.
Yet, I am having serious doubts about its last sentence. For ages the British have been ailing Europe, they have been obstructive and have spared no effort to abate the EU from the inside out. Are we really doing ourselves a service by inviting them back in? Are we really going ‘to build a better Europe’, as Garton Ash foresees? I sincerely doubt it.
I honestly feel for all the desperate British like Garton Ash that voted Remain, especially the youngsters. They are victim of populist elitist delusional pipsqueaks and incited crowds. But, hey, that’s referendum democracy for you.
The past thirty months of chaos since the referendum may very well have been a secret Remain campaign – anything is possible in perfidious Albion. And I must admit that I am secretly looking forward to a second referendum, and to the dramatic and hilarious turns of events it entails. Perhaps the Scots should remain EU member – then all Remain voters can emigrate to Edinburgh and let the English in splendid isolation stew in their own juice.
Dear Timothy, thanks for your letter. I fear it’s too late though. All the same, friends we remain!