They call it the Trojan Horse strategy: Brexit supporters furious at their government’s failure to leave the EU on time are aiming to undermine the European Parliament following elections next month.
The Greek myth about the hollow wooden horse Odysseus used to sneak his men into Troy to capture it from within was invoked by Conservative MP Mark Francois ahead of Wednesday’s critical EU summit.
“If we were to be held in the EU against our democratically expressed will because some in the EU hope against hope that we will change our mind, then they will live to regret it,” Francois told a Brexiteer conference in the heart of London.
“We will become a Trojan Horse within the EU and utterly derail all their attempts to pursue a more federalist project,” he said from a lectern bearing a portrait of Margaret Thatcher — a premier whose views on Europe grew darker with time.
Francois warned EU leaders meeting in Brussels later Wednesday to consider the UK government’s request for another Brexit delay that “they will need to bear all these inconvenient truths in mind”.
‘As difficult as possible’
These inconvenient truths were first raised in a tweet last Friday by Jacob Rees-Mogg — the leader of a rightwing insurgency tearing at Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party.
“If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible,” Rees-Mogg wrote moments after May asked Brussels to push back Britain‘s departure to keep it from crashing out.
EU leaders’ expected approval will put Britain in the paradoxical situation of having to take part in European Parliament elections on May 23 — nearly three years after voting to chart its own course.
Rees-Mogg said Britain should make best use of its predicament by vetoing “any increase in the (EU) budget, obstruct the putative EU army and block (French President Emmanuel) Macron’s integrationist schemes”.
Francois pointed cheerfully to a response to Rees-Mogg’s tweet from the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt that also went viral.
“For those in the EU who may be tempted to further extend the Brexit saga, I can only say, be careful what you wish for,” Verhofstadt wrote.
“Who am I to put try and put it better than Guy Verhofstadt,” Francois chortled.
Rees-Mogg and Francois voted against the Brexit deal that May struck with the EU all three times it came up for a vote. They view it as too EU-friendly.
Only 26 of the 314 Conservatives in parliament joined them the last time around — a shrinking group that May hopes will grow even smaller by the time she tries to get her pact through on the fourth attempt.
Her ability to do this quickly could still keep Britain from having to actually fill its 73 seats when a new European Parliament opens its doors in July.
Some of the current places have in any case been reassigned.
Yet the level of Conservatives’ anger with May seems to be rising as the possibility grows of Brexit being pushed further out of reach.
Ninety-seven Conservative MPs voted against a measure Tuesday aimed at averting a no-deal scenario. It prevailed by a 420-110 margin.
Veteran EU foes such as Nigel Farage — a poster boy of the pro-Brexit campaign who once headed the nationalist UKIP group — hope the groundswell of discontent will carry his new Brexit Party to big gains in Europe.
“If we have to fight those European election on May 23, we’ll fight them because it’s time we taught them a lesson,” Farage says in a video campaign message.
And even those not running themselves sound tempted by the idea of Britain making a nuisance of itself in European halls of power.
Asked whether he might consider running in the European elections, veteran Conservative MP William Cash told parliament this week: “I must admit that if I were to, there would be quite a lot of fireworks in the European Parliament”.