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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Harsh words from a former French Ambassador

It is never pleasant hearing home truths, and no doubt the views of Sylvie Bermann, France’s former ambassador to the UK will attract controversy, but if we don't heed the words of these outside observers, we will never learn.

The Times has an interview with Bermann in which she puts across her views forcibly and without the usual diplomatic filter:

Despite her close contacts with the British intellectual and artistic world as well as the politicians, the Brexit vote came as a shock. “No one saw it coming, including the Brexiteers who always told me, ‘It’s never going to happen. We’ll never have the courage to leave’. ” Johnson was one of those predicting a Remain vote, she says. “He was saying it’s not going to happen . . . That wasn’t his goal. I think his main aim was to position himself with the hope of replacing Cameron.”

After the vote Britain felt sour, she says. The anger and hostility that had been under the surface was suddenly legitimised. The Brexit vote was the first eruption of an alarming global trend of populist rejection of “elites” and their devotion to charismatic manipulators.

She sees Johnson as a cultivated version of Donald Trump and President Bolsonaro of Brazil. Johnson and his Brexiteers got away with a fantasy version of Britain and the EU, she writes. “By feeding them false anxiety-inducing information about the EU and immigrants, the populists cleverly manipulated the people.” Her words closely echo Macron’s thoughts on the matter.

Britain has changed, she told me. “You feel all these little things you didn’t feel before. The cliché was that the British were very open. Very indifferent about whether you belonged to one religion or another. We had the impression it was a country that was more open than ours, more free, more optimistic. It’s different now.”

Cameron stumbled into the disaster by failing to make any positive argument for EU membership, she says. “He was always saying we’ll be safer and stronger and better off without explaining why. The other side said, ‘Take back control’ and people got the impression that they would recover something.”

France offered to help to boost the argument but Cameron refused every time, she says.

A Remain vote would have swung Britain the other way, she believes. “The people who were racist and aggressive would have shut up. They were like that already but they were legitimised by the success of Brexit. And that’s what happened in the United States,” she says. “If Trump hadn’t been elected everything that appeared might not have happened. Like the gilets jaunes in France,” she added, speaking of the French anti-government grassroots revolt. “We didn’t see them coming because the signals were too weak. If Marine Le Pen [National Rally leader] is elected it would legitimate a form of xenophobia.”

Bermann says Britain is a victim of its delusions about an imagined past and its belief that it won the war single-handedly, without the sacrifice of 22 million Russians and US might.

“The partisans of Brexit are reciting a history in which the UK is never defeated, never invaded. The corollary of an England saving Europe is a detestation of Germany and contempt for cowardice — the term is often used for those who allowed themselves to be occupied, not to mention collaborated,” she writes.

While Britain had among the finest universities in the world, the popular press, led by the Daily Mail, she says, helped the country to imagine it was living in a world of Dad’s Army and Downton Abbey. Its slogan, she suggests laughing, should be the Beatles’ lyric: “I believe in yesterday.”

With the world quickly resolving into three poles of economic and military power — the US, the EU and China — Britain has doomed itself to unappetising choices, she says. By removing itself from a union that is a big player and by putting up the backs of its former partners Britain has welded together a continent that it has throughout history worked to divide. “London will have succeeded in bringing together a continental bloc of 27 countries. This was the famous blockade organised by Napoleon and which England so feared.”

China is the big global challenge, she says, and Britain has downgraded its influence. In the book, she asks: “How has this country, whose influence had been decisive in Brussels, which insolently rolled out the red carpet for French entrepreneurs and which Xi Jinping had elected in October 2015 as the gateway to Europe, undertaken to scuttle itself?”

Britain now faces few options. It can become an American state “dependent on Uncle Sam” or it can attach itself to the Union, enjoying none of the advantages of membership, she says. President Biden believes Brexit is a “historic error” and is not keen on close ties with Johnson’s Britain, she writes.

“Joe Biden has a very negative view of Boris Johnson, who he calls a ‘physical and emotional clone of Donald Trump’.”

Bermann, who wrote a book on China after her years as ambassador, has been accused by some of indulging an undemocratic regime. She responds: “Democracies are in crisis. There was Brexit, Trump, the gilets jaunes. The Chinese have stopped listening to western criticism. They say, ‘We don’t need you any more’. I don’t think the Chinese want us to have their system. What they want is that we leave them in peace.”

It all sounds very familiar.
Presumably "they (China) want us to leave them in peace" so they can ‘peacefully’ occupy the South China Sea, imprison Hong Kong, finish off the Uighurs and colonise Africa, SE Asia and then South America, hold us to ransom over access to supplies of rare earths and finally …

The rest is an objective statement of where we (both as a country and a party) are now.

Thank you Nick.
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