New Brexit Hooligans

27/05/2016 09:16 | Updated 27 May 2016

Looking across the Channel from my home in Paris, it is easy to view Britain's Brexit debate with rather sad detachment. Yesterday morning, the former head of the SAS said that: "European law has seriously undermined the UK's combat effectiveness."

I wondered how - something to do with not being able to serve misshapen carrots in the mess? Or would the lack of EU border controls make it easier for an invading army to reach Britain?
This talk of combat has come after David Cameron warned of European war if Britain votes to leave the EU, and Boris Johnson compared the eurocrats to Hitler's army.

French people I know find this verbal violence hard to believe. To many Anglophiles in France, Britain is a country populated by tea-sipping introverts who love to cross the Channel and mispronounce menus in loud voices in French, and practically every continental language. Where, they ask, is all this hysteria about Europe coming from?

I feel obliged to remind them that Britain is also the place that invented the football hooligan. When we Brits are supporting our team (in this case, either Brexit City or Europe United), we get carried away. The home of garden parties and royal babies becomes the nation of partisan insults.

We've (more or less) cured football hooliganism, but the political version lives on.

I remind French friends that comparing Brussels bureaucrats to Hitler is by no means the first time that the British have got hysterical about the European Union. I try my best to explain the Sun's infamous "Up Yours Delors" headline from 1990 (which takes a bit of doing because in French his name is pronounced to rhyme with "poor").

I also quote some of the insane rumours about the EU that have appeared in the British tabloids over the past few years. These include the reports that smoky bacon crisps were to be banned by Brussels, that it would be illegal to sing in pubs, or even that touching euro banknotes could make men impotent.

These were all absurd interpretations of actual EU laws or studies on food safety, noise levels and ink ingredients, but they were printed as gospel truth by British newspapers.

The French have a good laugh when you tell them that even today, a large proportion of Brits think that Brussels dictates the shape of their vegetables - no French person believes that Brussels can dictate anything to a French farmer, except how to fill in the subsidy claims.

Fortunately I am able to salvage some national pride, because it is true to say that it is partly Brussels' own fault that many Brits will listen unquestioningly to this kind of anti-EU propaganda.

While researching my novel, Merde in Europe, I interviewed a press officer from the European Union's communication department, and asked why they didn't contradict these ridiculous British rumours. I was told that they didn't dare, because they were afraid that it would only push London's tabloids to greater anti-EU extremes.

In short, the eurocrats are scared of a fight. They're as unlike Hitler as you could get. But European pacifism is apparently not something that Messrs Cameron and Johnson want to hear about.

For me, the only amusing thing about this climate of panic politics in Britain is that when Boris Johnson made his "EU equals Hitler" comment, he added that Napoleon had harboured exactly the same ambition to create a dictatorial superstate. Napoleon equals Hitler? From what I can gather here in France, Boris is in danger of provoking a whole new wave of immigration, as the Bonapartists come looking for him, their Napoleonic sabres drawn ...

Stephen Clarke's latest novel is Merde in Europe. An Englishman working undercover in Brussels poses the question, to Brexit or not to Brexit? - and comes up with some comic answers.