1.A proxy, first, for our dislike of being told by government what to do. Think how the European Union, ‘Brussels’, ‘faceless bureaucrats’, and that generalised vision of insolent officialdom that enrages every Briton, is being made an easy stand-in for everything we hate about government, all government.We resent regulation but older readers will remember we did have an awful lot of regulation before we joined the EU, entirely unprompted by Brussels. Most of the regulation that has ‘come from the EU’ only substitutes for the home-grown variety. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP pointed me accusingly to the green-man fire-escape sign at the exit to our school hall. He’s right. These signs are now standardised across the EU. But do we not want standardised signs that we’ll recognise in Spanish hotels? A bonfire of the regulations could indeed take place after we left the EU.
We’re closing 2016 by republishing our ten most-read articles of the year. Here’s No. 7: Matthew Parris’s article, written two weeks before the referendum, in which he called on Spectator readers to vote ‘Remain’ Like almost everyone, I’ve piled angrily into this fight. But as the debate nears resolution I feel ashamed of all my furious certainties. In the end, none of us knows, and we shouldn’t pretend to. So I’ll try now to express more temperately six thoughts that persist as the early rage subsides. From the first three you’ll see that I’m beginning to understand that for many the EU is now a whipping boy. ‘Europe’ has become for many what in other ages Rome, or communist plots, or America, or international Jewry, or big business represented: a conspiracy against us, an explanation. In the words of Cavafy’s poem ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’, ‘a kind of solution’. Europe has become a punchbag for our fears and frustrations. Hating the EU has become exciting, brave, a source of self-affirmation, a proxy.