Normally sensible people with whom usually you could have a decent conversation, suddenly turned into foam-flecked lunatics ranting about Russian dark money, sinister hedge fund conspiracies, advisory referendums and chlorinated chickens.
You can agree or not with our decision to leave a protectionist trading block and become an independent nation once again, and there are respectable arguments both for and against. But this emotional, bordering on the hysterical, reaction has always struck me as decidedly odd.
I’ve put this down to the shock felt by a privileged group of people accustomed to getting their own way and unfamiliar with being on the losing side, and naively I thought that they would get over it eventually and regain their senses in time.
Five years later that hasn’t happened – instead this weird and disturbing contagion seems to have spread to the rest of Europe.
The response by the EU to the UK’s decision to finally cut free from the cartel at the beginning of this year has been nothing short of astonishing, and has been characterised by petty vindictiveness, stupid irresponsibility and insane jealousy.
If you weren’t a Brexiteer before today, the behaviour of the EU over the last four months should convince you to join the Leavers’ ranks now.
First came the EU threat to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol – thereby risking hard-won peace in the province – simply to disguise the fact that in sharp contrast to the UK’s hugely successful rollout of the Covid vaccine, the EU’s efforts have been an unmitigated disaster.
Next came threats to block vaccine exports, seize vaccine supplies in factories and suspend intellectual property rights, as the EU behaved in a thuggish manner more akin to the Mafia than a respectable international institution.
Soon after no less a figure than the French President, Emmanuel Macron, was raving about some demented anti-vax conspiracy theory he probably found in the nuttier fringes of the internet, that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine – developed in the UK, of course – was “quasi-ineffective”.
This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. Take-up of the vaccine in parts of Europe is low and Macron’s irresponsible scaremongering has made the situation worse and put the lives of his citizens at risk.
But this week things reached a whole new level of craziness. France dramatically escalated its campaign of bullying and intimidation against the UK when its Maritime Minister Annick Girardin threatened to cut electricity supplies to Jersey in a row over fishing licences. More than 90 per cent of the island’s power comes via undersea cables from Normandy, 14 miles away.
Then French fishermen, backed by government Ministers, blockaded St Helier and threatened to prevent imports for food and medicine for Jersey’s 100,000 residents. In response, the UK has sent two Royal Navy ships to “monitor the situation”.
The details of the dispute are technical and it is complicated by the fact that Jersey is a British Crown Dependency and was never part of the EU or the Common Fisheries Policy.
But it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of all the parties involved – the British, French and the self-governing Jersey authorities – to thrash out a compromise. What you don’t do – if you are a decent, functioning democracy – is threaten to cut supplies of food, medicines and power to a close neighbour and supposed ally.
So what is going on here? Is there some undetected virus driving Remainers and Europe’s leaders out of their minds?
Probably not. I offer two alternative explanations. First, the biggest fear in the EU is not that the UK will fail, but that Brexit will be wildly successful.
Second, Macron is facing an election next April and possibly a strong challenge from the right by Marine Le Pen. This week saw him placing a wreath on the tomb of Napoleon, on the 200th anniversary of the dictator’s death.
He is clearly positioning himself as the “strong man” of France – hence the posturing over Napoleon and the foolish sabre rattling over fishing and vaccines.
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