According to Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, the Brexit vote was David Cameron’s fault: ‘If someone complains about Europe from Monday to Saturday then nobody is going to believe him on Sunday when he says he is a convinced European’, Juncker told the German newspaper Bild.
Thursday’s vote brought with it the inevitable pressure on the leaders of the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU to resign: Cameron will be gone by October, as might Corbyn if the no confidence motion brought by two of his MPs succeeds.
But there was also a sense of inevitability about three notable non-resignations: Juncker is remaining firmly in place, as are Martin Schulz and Donald Tusk as Presidents of the European Parliament and Council respectively.
Juncker not only blames Cameron for the Leave victory but has also insisted on his own innocence, telling Bild that it was ‘completely wrong’ to point the finger at Brussels as ‘the referendum was called by the British Prime Minister and not by the European Parliament, the Commission or the European Council’. It defies belief that Juncker thinks Cameron is at fault for daring to ask the people for their opinion, yet the EU officials who made so little effort to win voters around are blameless.
So far Juncker has got away with it – almost no one, save the Czech foreign minister, has suggested that he should go. That the EU’s three Presidents have avoided responsibility for the result is remarkable, especially when considered alongside the Scottish referendum campaign of two years ago. Despite insisting at the time that he would not resign if Scotland left the UK, David Cameron has since admitted that he would have felt forced to step aside in the event of a vote for independence. Whether or not Cameron should actually have gone in such circumstances is debatable, but questions about his leadership would rightly have been raised. The general consensus two summers ago was that England, as the largest partner in the UK, bore much of the responsibility for Scottish dissatisfaction with the Union: if the Scots voted to leave, it would have been because Cameron failed to persuade them to stay.
There has been no such consensus about Britain’s membership of the EU, and hence no such pressure on Juncker, Schulz and Tusk. Instead, we are told that the alienation felt by many British voters is their own fault – evidence of a Little England bigotry boarding on racism. Despite Britain being, like Scotland, dwarfed by the union it has voted to leave, the EU establishment seem to feel that Britain’s exit is no fault of their own.
While the realisation that many Scots were serious about independence triggered a flurry of concessions from Westminster, Juncker, Schulz and Tusk variously dismissed and threatened British voters: as Juncker ominously assured us, ‘deserters will not be welcomed back with open arms’. All three men singularly failed to respond to the concerns of potential Leave voters during the renegotiation process at the start of the year, and allowed Angela Merkel to make the ‘emergency brake’ on the ability of EU migrants to claim in-work benefits so unsatisfactory.
That almost no one is even asking Juncker, Schulz and Tusk whether they will be stepping down is further evidence of the total lack of democratic accountability that drove many Leave voters at the ballot box. While grieving pro-Unionists would surely have called for Cameron’s resignation following Scottish independence, there is no sense among Europhiles here or on the Continent that the EU’s leaders bear any responsibility for their failure to convince so many British voters of the benefits of membership. Outside the Czech Republic, it has so far been only the most extreme Eurosceptics who have suggested that the European Presidents ought to take responsibility for Brexit – everyone else is blaming Cameron.
Had Scotland voted to leave the UK last September David Cameron would have felt compelled to resign because he presides over a union that respects democracy - Juncker, Schulz and Tusk are not going anywhere, because the union they preside over does not.