Remainers are about to discover the real face of Europe

Celebrating victory: AfD leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla rejoice at beating the Social Democrats in Sunday's European elections
Celebrating victory: AfD leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla rejoice at beating the Social Democrats in Sunday's European elections - FILIP SINGER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Earlier this week, the Lib Dems finally gave voice to the policy that dare not speak its name. There is a part of the British centre (and it is generally them rather than the hard-Left, who are either in retreat or going full crank) that harbours a deep hankering for one particular objective: rejoining the European Union. Mostly they limit themselves to moaning about passport queues. But they are quietly beginning to speak about it as an actual policy, or rather as a series of policies incrementally bringing Britain back into the EU orbit.

What Sir Ed Davey will say out loud, many in Labour will be quietly salivating about, especially if they win the expected super-majority next month.

Closer relations may not be on the horizon immediately, but recent changes in Europe would make it grimly amusing if this lofty aim came to pass. Those who advocate reunion invariably have a view of the EU as preserved in aspic around 2016, an abstract ideal much preferred to the messy reality of continental politics. On Monday, Davey seemed taken aback when a journalist mentioned Europe’s Right-wing surge. All this ignores how the tectonic plates have shifted since the Brexit vote.

And shifted they have, in an election where Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy cruised ahead with almost 30 per cent of the vote, Olaf Scholz’s centre-Left coalition suffered a stinging defeat, and the Greens took a battering across the board.

Especially striking are the voting habits of young people. An astonishing 40 per cent of 18-24-year-olds in France plumped for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. The German Bundestag recently voted to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to participate in the Euro elections, some supporters no doubt hoping this would play into their hands.

In the event, the extreme AfD (who resisted the change) topped the table among 16-24-year-olds; tied with the centre-Right CDU on 17 per cent. The Greens, the runaway winners of the youth vote in previous Euro elections, were shunted into third place on a measly 11 per cent.

Following the EU referendum, some commentators announced they would be moving to continental Europe to escape “far-Right” Britain. You wonder how they are doing now. Probably with heads still in the sand. At the heart of this mindset is to see Brexit Britain as backward, a pariah state.

Never mind that remarkably similar policies to those pursued here are being put into practice on the Continent. Meloni recently struck a Rwanda-esque deal with Albania, expected to be operational within a couple of months. But it’s not just the milder face of European populism; the EU itself has funded a scheme moving asylum seekers from Libya to Rwanda.

Social Democratic Denmark, meanwhile, has pursued some of the toughest immigration policies in Europe in recent years. Danish lawmakers insist on integration in ways that would be anathema to leftish British sensibilities; migrants who commit serious crimes can lose their social housing, for instance. Interestingly, Denmark’s harder line on migration appears to have shielded its government from the fate of many other centre-Left parties. It’s almost as if voters reward you for listening to them.

Perhaps a certain level of “America brain” leaves us more fixated on events across the pond than on the changing shape of politics across the Channel; the farmers’ protests, the bitter internal wrangling about migration policy, and support for Ukraine – whose future, sadly, looks less assured following the Euro elections.

Whatever the cause, our view of our own place in the world can feel parochial and self-contradictory. The NHS, for instance, is often branded “world-beating” and our greatest national achievement, while being so creaky and dysfunctional that other countries (Australia) actively feature it as a cautionary tale in political adverts. On migration we are monstrous outliers, even when other countries are actively copying our policy – and sometimes going further. We are Schrödinger’s island to these people: admirable and awful at the same time.

Amusingly, the social-media accounts of the Labour frontbench are full of disobliging messages about politicians with whom they will soon be geopolitically involved. David Lammy, our probable next foreign secretary, has particular form here; accusing Boris Johnson of “twisted priorities” for hosting Viktor Orban at No 10 in 2021.

In 2017, he tweeted: “First America, now Le Pen. This virus is contagious, just as it was in the 1930’s [sic]”. It’ll be interesting to see how Lammy the statesman will conduct relations with the woman he declared a political anthrax; especially in vital areas such as the small-boats crisis.

Many of those sweeping to power in Europe despise the equivalent political class in their own countries. The idea that they will turn into fluffy liberal technocrats when a Brit arrives in a nice suit is delusional.

Europe might well prove important for Britain’s next government, but perhaps not in the way that those who lust after rejoining a long-vanished Europe think. First past the post insulates our politics from “extremes”, but at the cost of insulating politicians from voters’ true sentiments. The European body politic is already being reshaped by populism. How long that will continue to be resisted here remains to be seen.