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Eurosceptic Crime Fiction: What Now?

July 2, 2016

Well the results are in, and to the astonishment of practically everyone, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. I’ve been studying and publishing about the rather niche subject of Eurosceptic crime fiction for a few years now, and I’ve made my feelings known about the EU, so you can probably guess the way I voted.

For millions of people throughout the country, myself included, the referendum put a strain on personal and professional relationships. I think we’re all relieved it’s over, even if the vote didn’t go the way we would have wished.

There has been some sour grapes on the Remain side, but I can hardly blame them. I found myself rereading George MacDonald Fraser’s memoir The Light’s on at Signpost (2002) in which he discusses the 1975 referendum in which Britain voted to stay in the EEC:

The holding of a referendum more than a year after entry was a cynical fraud, and not only because it was preceded by a massive campaign to ensure a “yes” vote. The claim that this was a fair procedure was rather like pretending that there is no difference between giving a man on shore a free choice of getting into a boat or remaining on land, and forcing him aboard, rowing him out to sea, and then asking him if he wants to get out or not.

In economic terms, the result has already put a few people out of work, for there is simply no reason to produce any more Eurosceptic thrillers (and only a few titles had been produced so far). Just as the genre looked set to take off, it lost its raison d’être. The question now is will the Eurosceptic genre spread to the continent like the Brexit contagion. We’ve already had one novel from an Icelandic writer, and another by a British writer which was set in Budapest. It’s an inventive, prophesying genre, and it has the potential to spread. It’s worth noting that the last two novels I reviewed, Peter Preston’s 51st State (1998) and Andrew Marr’s Head of State (2014), both accurately predicted Britain would leave the EU in a surprise referendum result. Marr repeated the prediction shortly before the vote.

Judging by their Twitter feeds, I’d guess that a majority of genre writers were in favour of staying in the EU, but the most vocal were the minority of writers who campaigned to leave. I’m thinking particularly of Frederick Forsyth, Tony Parsons and the incomparable Dreda Say Mitchell.

Most of the sensible Leave campaigners struck a conciliatory tone after the vote. I hope we can all agree that we are no less European. After all, the Norwegians and Swiss are every bit as European as the Germans and French, but there is no appetite in Norway or Switzerland to join the EU. Just as the Highland farmer doesn’t want the Westminster MP interfering in his life, ultimately the British people didn’t want to be governed from Brussels.

Final thought: I like to think that PD James would have been very happy with the result.


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