HER face had that jutted chin set of righteousness; her head that angle of cocky arrogance. The man near her had similar body language but used his words relentlessly to batter any opposition. Both, and others who came forward, repeated as if a mantra: “It’s the will of the people. Right? The majority.” Not just repeated, but spat it out with the belligerent stance of leery streetcorner fighters looking down on the vanquished. When an articulate Polish woman among them tried to explain how unwelcome and lost she felt, they jeered and booed her.
Watching the edition of Question Time broadcast from Hartlepool and the often moronic ignorance on display, I found myself sinking further into my seat in south-west France. Although I knew no French people in my area would be witnessing this Brexit discussion, I felt shame and embarrassment that, by speaking English, I might be identified with this gathered mob.
I also felt a surprisingly jarring sense of shock at seeing the real face of the mixed movement for Brexit en masse; pushing forward the demand for some mythical Engerland.
It is not a pretty face. Wreathed in anger, yet glorying in the belief that the people have somehow got one over on the “elite” and the “snobs”, it is mindless in its perceived new power. And frightening in its lack of awareness that, far from grasping power, it is running headlong into its own economic destruction.
If feeling kind, one can forgive those poor saps who, by virtue of their limited circumstances, have nothing to lose.
One can never, ever forgive the cynical, mendacious, self-centred manoeuvrings of those professionals, the politicians, who led them up and over the hill to a promised land, knowing it was a mirage.
Perhaps one day, looking back, I will say that this was the moment I knew that if I ever returned to England, not Scotland, it would be to a land as foreign as France once was to me. But a land far less cultured. Or perhaps the moment I knew I could never return to a people who have retreated to a xenophobic, tiny corner of the world while in their heads believing they are still the superior race and Britannia rules the waves.
Increasingly I feel I am sitting, eye pressed to the telescope, looking towards a country that has lost all honour, all grace, all compassion, all empathy and all dignity. That is certainly the view of the French press. The core of all is a collective bewilderment that a country could choose its own destruction.
They produce the figures that have been, and are, dismissed as scaremongering, and come to the same conclusion as those Remainers now dismissed as Remoaners: disaster looms.
Earlier in the day, I was embarrassed too when Theresa May arrived in Brussels for the EU summit to be given polite but short shrift from the 27 other member nations. She doesn’t get it, does she? Inserting herself into the front line for the group photo, it’s plain she doesn’t feel the ice from those who are offering her hard negotiations for hard Brexit.
No but, no but, no … We haven’t triggered Article 50 yet, she cries as she shuffles her backside into the line-up. Oh, we will, of course, but we want to play in the first team until then. It’s our right, you know.
Meanwhile at the National Assembly in Paris, at a round table discussion between French and British, it was stated that Brexit would be “cataclysmic” for Britons in France unless reciprocal health and tax agreements were honoured during negotiations. Well, it didn’t take a genius to work that out before the referendum.
And it doesn’t take a genius to understand that there are far more British retirees in France than there are French in the UK. What bit of “if you want out, you’re out” don’t the Leavers understand? Europe is not a pick-and-mix counter for the prime minister to go along with her basket before checking out. “I’ll take that, that, but no thank you, not that.”
Of course France is not exempt from racists, xenophobes and smallminded individuals. There are as many Little Frenchmen as there are Little Englanders and the Front National, revamped as they may be, are the party of choice for them. It is pretty certain Marine Le Pen will get to the final round of the upcoming elections and her desire is to hold her own Brexit.
Sitting here with my telescope to the UK and my ear to France, however, I have hope.
Hope that those in the European Union, particularly in France, see the quagmire the UK is in following its referendum.
See markets, pounds and euros crash and tumble and think: “Mmm, maybe not such a good idea.”
In the end, dear Hartlepool Question Time audience, it’s not about “we are the people”, it’s about rising food costs, dearer holidays, dearer fuel and heating.
Well, it’s too late perhaps for you. Hopefully not for France.
Frankly, I earn in one and live in the other, so I’m buggered either way.