Matthew Lynn

Juncker’s Brexit delusion

Juncker's Brexit delusion
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Regrets? It turns out he has a few. The former president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker does not seem too bothered by the EU's miserable growth rate during his time in office, its geopolitical marginalisation, or indeed the growing power of corporate lobbyists in Brussels. But there is one thing that makes him at least a little sad. Not deploying the formidable force of his personality to swing the British referendum behind staying in the EU.

In an interview this week, Juncker revealed that David Cameron told him to keep out of the campaign. As in so many other ways, Juncker now reckons the former PM's judgement was a couple of bottles short of a full case. Juncker argues that if he had been allowed to make the case he could have explained everything the EU does for its citizens, the importance of the single market, and the value of its social model, and prevented the British from being 'brainwashed' into voting to leave.

Really? It is slightly hard to believe. The thought of the former prime minister of Luxembourg hitting the stumps in Sunderland, or shaking hands in Southend, is amusing. The heckling would have made for great viewing on YouTube. And yet when it comes to changing minds it would not have made any difference. The multi-millionaire businessmen fronting the Remain campaign often seemed remote and out of touch but they were fire breathing populists compared with the machine politician from Brussels.

Of course, Juncker could have won it for Remain if he had genuinely wanted to. If he had granted any meaningful reforms to the UK, offered an opt out on the free movement of labour, and allowed a two-speed Europe in which the UK was essentially an associate member, the vote would probably have turned out differently. But that would have meant abandoning the EU's centralising mission, and that is the one reform Juncker was never prepared to contemplate.

Juncker's comments simply reveal a larger truth. The Brussels elite still doesn't get why the UK decided to leave. It comforts itself with myths of lies and betrayals to avoid assessing its own flaws or thinking about how it might need to change. Still, at least if the French or the Italians ever get a chance to vote on their membership of the EU we now know that Juncker will be out there on the hustings, an enthusiastic Ursula von der Leyen at his side, making the case for the union. Heck, what could possibly go wrong?