Are Brexiteers witnessing a domino effect for liberty? And in, of all places, France? Your Brexit Diarist asks because of the turn that is being taken by Europe’s chief negotiator on Britain’s independence, Michel Barnier, who is entering the political fray across the Channel on the issue that first animated Britons to consider leaving the EU — immigration.
This story might take a while to ripen. When the United Kingdom succeeded in effecting independence from the European Union, Brexiteers hoped that, in concert with Pitt the Younger, they could say “England has saved herself by her exertions, and will save Europe by her example.” When Pitt voiced these sentiments in the midst of the Napoleonic wars, nine years were to follow before victory at Waterloo.
Today, Britain has yet to enjoy the full promise of sovereignty regained; indeed, there have been as many setbacks for liberty as triumphs. Nevertheless, the Brexit hope remains alive in Britain. And, if what is happening in France turns out to have legs, it is not impossible to imagine France beginning to think about whether it was on the wrong side of Brexit.
France must “regain our legal sovereignty,” Mr. Barnier declares as he campaigns for president. If elected in April 2022, he proposes to halt all immigration from non-EU countries for five years. As a corollary, he would limit the reach of the European Court of Human Rights. Even Germany takes a hit, as Mr. Barnier takes aim at the Teutonic tilt within the EU.
Such campaign screeds are controversial primarily in the bien-pensant salons. Limiting immigration, though, is crosswise to EU ideals — and the Schengen agreement on borderless Europe — that Monsieur Barnier defended when he conspired against UK independence. His volte face is therefore surprising. Is he now endorsing Frexit? Sacre bleu, M. Barnier!
Two explanations twinkle. First, is that Mr. Barnier is trying to set himself apart from mainstream presidential candidates by adopting a controversial policy he believes will resonate within France. (Such as I argued in respect of British “minimum wage laws” and the open field, on the right, to challenge the Conservative Government.)
In defying “conventional wisdom,” Mr. Barnier also defies Public Choice economics and the strength of its median voter theorem. “Political parties converge on the center of opinion,” Eamonn Butler writes in an Institute of Economic Affairs public choice primer, “trying to position themselves close to the ‘median voter’.”
Yet it is difficult to believe that a radical Damascene conversion has altered Mr. Barnier’s former allegiances to the Brussels bureaucracy. A second answer is more likely and far more intriguing. Rather, that French voters are themselves moving to the right and that Mr. Barnier is but a symptom, as he opportunistically follows the voters’ lead.
Given the surge of legal and illegal immigrants into France, their inability or unwillingness to assimilate to French culture, and sometimes shocking reports of crime, there is a growing demand from French citizens for a return to law and order. France shows symptoms that Britain showed in the early stages of Brexit.
One French poll, Breitbart reports, finds that 41% of respondents favored a complete end to immigration, legal and illegal. In the 65+ age category, the ban was supported by 45%. More illuminating, and indicative of a shift in the median voter, young people between the ages of 18 and 24 also polled 42% for the migrant ban.
M. Barnier can see the writing on the wall — that the median vote is moving to the right. He hopes that his political experience will give him an edge among conservative voters, against the National Rally’s Marine Le Pen and popular broadcaster Eric Zemmour.
A recent Harris Interactive poll shows Mr. Zemmour beating Mme. Le Pen, 18% to 16%, in the first round of next spring’s presidential race. Both still lose to President Macron in the final run-off, with Le Pen enjoying the edge. With such fluidity on the right, though, Mr. Barnier might bank on his credentials — and Mr. Butler’s primer — to boost his candidacy against untested rivals.
Just as newsworthy are the post-Brexit repercussions, not only in Britain but among the remaining EU members. Center-right populist unrest in countries like Hungary, Poland, and Italy is increasingly pushing back against ideological direction from Brussels. And what we learned in Britain came as a — welcome, in the view of the Sun — surprise.
It was that while the Brexit campaign might have relied at the outset on the immigration issue, it didn’t really soar until Nigel Lawson and other pro-liberty sages began to give priority to — and much to the delight of the Sun — the broader implications of liberty and independence, what Boris Johnson, at the time, called the “sunny uplands.”
This will be the signal for which to watch in France. Allo, allo, ici la liberté, to coin a phrase. And there are signs that French citizens are increasingly at odds with their political establishment and finding common cause with Britain on patriotic Gallic ground of liberty and national sovereignty. Is it too much to hope that Britain will return to the promise of Brexit and that Frexit — and even a new entente cordiale — might not be so far behind?
[email protected]. Image: Britannia and Marianne dancing on a 1904 French postcard celebrating the Entente Cordiale.