Perfidious Albion is a phrase whose origins are lost in the mists of time. But, it’s pretty clear it is intended to be an insult, not a concept to be embraced.
However, Mark Francois, vice-chair of the ‘European Research Group’ of hard-Brexiteer Conservative MPs, used these words to describe this country as he warned the European Union to beware allowing any further delay to Brexit.
“This is the 21st century and you cannot hold a nation captive against their will ... if you now try to hold on to us against our will, you will be facing Perfidious Albion on speed,” he said.
The Leave campaign has faced accusations about being perfidious – which can mean false or untrustworthy – over the suggestions that quitting the EU would save £350 million a week which could be spent the NHS and that getting a trade deal with the EU would be easy, for example.
Francois further demonstrated this tendency to bend the truth to breaking point in his speech yesterday. It is utter nonsense to suggest the EU is holding the UK against its will. If MPs had agreed to Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, this country would have left on 29 March. The main reason this didn’t happen is that hard-Brexiteers refused to support it.
The UK’s ‘will’ – as expressed by its democratically elected Government, which is the only representative the EU can deal with – is to delay our departure to give MPs more time to make their minds up.
Francois said that the UK and EU should “pursue our separate destinies, in a spirit of mutual respect”. If only he had shown some. Whether the UK leaves the EU or not, the liberal democracies of Europe should always be among our closest friends and we should act accordingly. It is in our interest to do so.
And it’s not just The Scotsman that has lost patience with ERG rhetoric. One leading member, Daniel Kawczynski, yesterday resigned from the group, praising its chair Jacob Rees-Mogg but criticising those who had voted against the latest edition of May’s deal and warning of a “hardcore element of ‘Unicorn’ dreamers now actually endangering Brexit”.
There is a risk of bad feeling in any divorce and the UK must guard against this, if only because we need allies. It can only be hoped that Albion remains honourable and true in its dealings with the EU, regardless of the advice from Peridious Francois.