Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller

France’s farmers’ revolt isn’t all it seems

Farmers burn tyres, as tractors block the entrance of Toulouse airport (Credit: Getty images)

The toll station on the A9 motorway near the French-Spanish border is closed with cones and guarded by the local gendarmes. A few dozen trucks are parked on the grass verges, waiting for the farmers’ barricades to open. The farmers themselves have gone, heading north to barricade Montpellier. The autoroute is utterly, weirdly silent. A thundering corridor of commerce completely closed.

The truckers I talk to like that I’m British, congratulating me on Brexit as if I was personally responsible. They uniformly support the farmers although it is their livelihood that is being disrupted. Why? It is long past the time that credulous French people should support petulant farmer ‘unions’ demanding ever more enormous handouts.

Those guys with the big John Deere engines are not peasants

The peasants’ revolt now laying siege to Paris isn’t all it seems. Those guys with the big John Deere engines are not peasants. They are industrial-scale farmers of subsidies who masquerade as horny-handed sons of toil. Their tractors have air conditioning and cost €100,000 (£86,000). 

They’re right to push back against the crazy net zero attack on farming generally across the EU. But their demand for more handouts is insolent and their demand for protection from non-French imports is impossible in the context of Europe, although some sort of fudge may eventually be contrived.

Only the brave dissent, and only in private. Driving back to the village after lunch in Pézenas, my passenger noticed that someone had turned our official village sign upside down. This basculation of place signs has become a popular gesture of solidarity with the farmers, and is happening all over France.

‘Connards,’ pronounced my passenger, triggered. ‘The farmers should go…themselves. They’re the most privileged people in France.’ In the popular imagination, the peasant farmer occupies a mythological place, even if, in the era of the hyper supermarket, it is ever more detached from reality.

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