Jean-Claude Juncker could have been invented by Nigel Farage’s spin doctors. He is sneering one-man advert for Brexit, Frexit and any other kind of EU-exit. As Hugo Rifkind argues in this week’s magazine, he is a caricature of the arrogant Eurocrat: “smug, lazy, unelected and utterly impervious to anything.” He is a notorious boozer, and managed ‘head of state’ by running Luxembourg, which a country with a population about the size of Sheffield. His ascension to President of the European Commission embodied everything that was wrong with the EU, a huge signal that it was time to abandon ship. When Michael Gove was once at a party and asked to make up a version of John Lennon’s imagine, his first line was “imagine there’s no Juncker/It’s easy if you try.” And try we did. Without Juncker, I suspect the 2016 EU referendum would have ended in victory for Remain.
An inability to understand Britain, or the British, informed the series of disastrous decisions made by the EU that led to its losing the UK. Specifically, the belief that the Brexit vote was an expression of national disorder rather than self-confidence. On the day of the result, the denial was palpable. Mark Rutte, the recently re-elected Prime Minister of The Netherlands, said after the 23 June vote that Britain had “collapsed: politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically.
In an FT interview today, M Juncker elaborates on this theme introducing the claim that Cameron somehow “destroyed” his country. Here he is:-
“I have met in my life two big destroyers: Gorbachev, who destroyed the Soviet Union and Cameron, who destroyed the United Kingdom to some extent, even if there is no wave [sic] of Scotland to become independent”.
He is, at least. right about the lack of support for Scottish independence: it remains stubbornly unchanged from the 2014 referendum. Brexit made no difference. This has led a desperate Nicola Sturgeon to ask for a second referendum before Scots deprive of of her majority in the next Holyrood elections. In the absence of public support for a second referendum, Theresa May has rejected the SNP’s request.
So how does Juncker believe that Cameron “destroyed” Britain? The point, which he and Rutte don’t seem to grasp, is that it was the success of Cameron-era policies helped give Britain the confidence of going it alone in 2016.
For six years, Cameron rejected the economic orthodoxies of the Eurozone – and Britain flourished. For example, the unemployment across the Eurozone is notorious. But Britain cut taxes, on employers and employees, and engaged in some root-and-branch welfare reform as well as rejecting the EU anti-austerity consensus. The result:-
The job creation level had no parallel in recent British history.
And what type of jobs?
Then there was the transformation in secondary education:-
And yes, there were tough economic times. But progressive policies ensured the lowest-paid fared best (their taxes were cut the most, and welfare reform moved far more into work).
Meanwhile, crime fell…
And the best-paid contributed the largest share of income tax- under Cameron (and only under Cameron) the top 1pc paid a greater share of income tax than the bottom 75pc. That’s a statistic you won’t find in any Polly Toynbee book.
It’s quite true that Cameron mishandled the European Union referendum. He thought that the EU would have the sense to realise that Britain was quite serious about leaving and offer a few significant concessions. None were forthcoming and Cameron – trying his hardest to save Britain’s EU membership – was contemptuously dismissed. This was when I, personally, went from Remain to Leave, concluding that the EU was incapable of reform.
David Cameron’s longstanding weakness was to appoint personal friends into positions of power, which blunted the efficacy of his operation (including sending his mate Andrew Cooper to the Remain campaign). So yes, he can be taunted for that – but did pay the price.
But Cameron left Britain stronger, fairer, richer, and confident enough to go it alone. As a result, the causes of his downfall lay in the success of his reform.