For decades — even before it had its name, which sounds thrilling, as words with an X in them tend to — I’ve been a Brexiter. I even mistrusted the Common Market, as we called the mild-mannered Dr Jekyll before it showed us the deformed, power-crazed face of the EU’s Mr Hyde.
The adored MP of my childhood, Tony Benn, preached against it in any shape or form. ‘When I saw how the European Union was developing,’ he said, ‘it was very obvious what they had in mind was not democratic. In Britain, you vote for a government so the government has to listen to you, and if you don’t like it you can change it.’
I’m aware that being against the EU has always been about as popular in ‘civilised’ circles as being pro-capital punishment. (Which I also am.) Imagine my delight when, in recent months, two of the contemporaries I admire most — Suzanne Moore at the Guardian and Janice Turner at the Times — wrote magnificent columns in support of Brexit. And interestingly, they took robustly feminist views of the proceedings, which is handy, because of the third of Britons undecided on how to vote on 23 June, 60 per cent of them are women.
From Britain’s dubious induction into the wretched gang by that arch-misogynist Ted Heath to Neil Kinnock’s shameful monstering of the brave Brussels whistleblower Marta Andreasen, it’s hard not to see the EU as the biggest boy’s club of all. The recent letter by the ‘Women In’ group claimed that Europe has given us equal pay and anti-discrimination laws — but countries outside the Magic Circle have those too, while inside (Ireland closest to home) are only just dragging their attitudes to women into the 20th century. We Brexiters are fighting back by pointing out that £350 million a week is blown on the EU, which could be better spent on the priorities of women voters, such as healthcare.
Women are thought to be less Eurosceptic than men — but this doesn’t indicate open-mindedness, in my book, so much as fearfulness, which is surely not to be encouraged. What has quite rightly been called Project Fear plays on the Nervous Nellie in all people, evoking anxieties about more expense and less security, as though Britain had been some sad wraith of a nation in the pre-EU 1960s instead of the robust, confident country it so memorably was.
In fact, the behaviour of the pro-EU mob makes me think of the mode of manipulation known as gaslighting — ‘a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favour the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity’. Repeatedly, this small but dynamic country is told: ‘You’ll be nothing without me!’ ‘No one else will want you!’ and of course ‘You look fat in that dress.’ (See constant comparison of overweight, fun-loving Englishwomen to dull, thin French ones.)
It’s creepily similar to a bad marriage even before you bring in the German Question. Is Germany a homicidal maniac itching to start the third world war the minute we leave (those warnings that the EU has ‘kept the peace in Europe for 70 years’ — nothing to do with Nato, then?), or is it the cool-headed big brother that keeps unruly Britain in sensible shoes? It’s hard to see how it can be both.
The country is being ‘mansplained’ — another word popular with we feminists meaning ‘to explain something to someone, typically a man to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronising’ — on a massive scale when it comes to Brexit. But the mansplainers aren’t aware of how dumb they look, and how much their own desires distort their point of view.
There are lots of high-flown reasons to want to stay in the EU. But there are, I suspect, a sizable tranche of deeply uncool people who imagine that a bit of subtitled European cool might rub off on them. Emma Thompson’s recent rant about baked goods comes immediately to mind.
EU cheerleaders imagine themselves to be the repositories of French savoir faire, Italian passion and Scandi egalitarianism, but they are, ironically, generally a horribly recognisable English type — the metropolitan smuggie whose self-love is matched only by their loathing of their fellow citizens and the country that made them.
I see a stuck-in-the-mud, male-power institution that needs a good feminist kicking — and then I feel that even that would be a waste of our time, energy and pedicures. Let’s just leave them to get on with it, and go our own merry way. As every broad worth her weight in pinches of salt knows, the endgame with any gaslighter, bully or abusive spouse is not confrontation but non-engagement. Bring on the Brexit!