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Hugo Rifkind

Jean-Claude Juncker is now the hardest Brexiter there is

If they have any sense, Angela Merkel and whoever leads France will lock him in a cell until the whole thing is over

25 March 2017

9:00 AM

25 March 2017

9:00 AM

The best thing about being a Remainer is obviously the dinner parties, where we all sit around being incredibly well-heeled in leafy Islington. Bloody love a good heel, I do. And a leaf. Honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Eddie Izzard and Nick Clegg crack jokes at each other in French, as Lily Allen and Matthew Parris do impressions of old people from Northumberland, while in the background Bob Geldof and Professor Brian Cox duet on the piano. It’s almost literally how I spend almost all of my time. Whereas Leaver dinner parties, so I’m told, are just IDS and a Scotch egg.

The worst thing about being a Remainer, though, is Jean-Claude Juncker. Indeed, I’d go further and say that he’s the worst thing about the European Union altogether. Even if the fantasists were right, and the whole thing was a Hun plan for a federal Fourth Reich, with borders collapsing and Turks taking your jobs and waves of possibly Eritrean immigrants coming off boats and setting up mosques-cum-brothels in formerly pristine Home Counties cricket pavilions. Not from the Atlantic to the mouth of the Danube, nor from Italy’s shoe to Finland’s pointy bit, would you find something more awful than Jean-Claude Juncker. He’s the pits. He really is.

It’s not just that he’s Luxembourgish. They’re all a bit Luxembourgish. It’s more the way he’s smug and lazy and unelected, and secure, and utterly impervious to everything. I am not fond of comparing the EU to the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, but if this was that, then the president of the European Commission would be Darth Vader. Only Darth Vader, in this case, would be an overly familiar struck-off dentist, a bit pissed on claret, which would mean that the Rebel Alliance would not just be oppressed but incredibly irritated all the time, too.

In fairness, at least he’s consistent. Before the referendum he was open with his threats, saying a Britain which voted out would be considered a nation of ‘deserters’ which ‘does not have its hair stroked in the right direction’. I’ve no idea what that last bit means, but it’s still very annoying. This week, he’s been at it again, promising that the ‘example’ made of Britain will make other countries fear to leave, and that ‘the remaining member states will fall in love with each other again and renew their vows’. He might be right. In fact, I fear he probably is. But he still ought to shut the hell up.


Theresa May will be triggering Article 50 on Wednesday. Technically it is the European Council that will strike the final deal, rather than the commission. This matters, because the council is made up largely of elected leaders from proper places, unlike the commission, which is quite a lot more, well, Luxembourgish. If they have any sense, Angela Merkel and whoever leads France will work hard to cut the Eurocrats out of the picture altogether. Better still, they should take Juncker and lock him in cell until the whole thing is over. He’s a menace.

It is not true that the EU is an inherently federalist, nation-smashing project. Europhiles with an alternative vision of its future include the actual elected leaders of pretty much every constituent nation bigger than Shropshire. Juncker, however, is that federalist bogeyman, forever mouthing on about the future stateless mush. Possibly for some in the EU, this is regarded as harmless idealism that nobody is supposed to take seriously — a bit like the way even New Labour used to indulge its own hard left’s fondness for Stalinism. They should comprehend, though, the damage that it has done. I cannot speak for Lily Allen, Bob Geldof and the rest of them, but I sure as hell didn’t vote Remain because I fancied more of that. Rather, it was in spite of that, because I feared the consequences, social and economic, of a hard severance. I still do. I still think anybody who doesn’t is a fool.

I do not know if I will be able to consider myself a Remainer, once the process of leaving has begun. Possibly that will no longer be the right word, because the terrain will have changed. Yet I maintain that, just as
a narrow vote to stay should not have been interpreted as a ringing endorsement of that smirking winesack, so a narrow one to go
is no real mandate for a hard, totalitarian severance, which turns Britain and the EU into foes.

In this, I stand against the Farageites, and plenty of Tories, and anybody else who thinks, in the maddeningly garbled words of our Prime Minister, that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. But perhaps it is time for the likes of me to realise that, after Article 50, those people will have allies on the other side. Come next Wednesday, Jean-Claude Juncker will be the hardest Brexiter there is. So, my friends, know your enemy. Everything is about to change.

Remainers rethink

Speaking of changing terrain, keep an ear out for the rhetoric of Britain’s remaining Remain parties, because they are changing, too. Having announced plans for a second Scottish referendum entirely because of Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon is now incredibly cagey about whether her independent nation would even be part of the EU, or perhaps more like Norway.

The same is true of the Lib Dems. Last weekend, Tim Farron managed to give a whole speech to his party’s spring conference railing against only a ‘hard Brexit’ and thus never quite saying whether a Lib Dem government (humour me) would leave the EU or not. These people need to get off the fence. Mind you, so do I.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.


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