"Britain is at peak tabloid," according to one tabloid editor.
21 August 2019 12:00 AM

The great Brexit 'up yours': How three decades of euroscepticism made the UK go full tabloid

21 August 2019

By Stefan Stern

Friday November 1st will be, if the government has its way, the UK's first day as a former member state of the EU. It will also be exactly 29 years to the day that The Sun newspaper published its infamous "Up yours Delors" front page.

Jacques Delors, younger readers may need reminding, was at the time president of the European Commission and regularly portrayed as a bogeyman for eurosceptics. The Sun's front page listed some of the appalling crimes Delors, the EU and especially the French had apparently committed.

They had "flooded our country with dodgy food", the paper said. They wanted to replace the pound with the faceless Ecu" (look it up), and had "banned British beef after falsely claiming it had mad cow disease". At the time British beef did contain mad cow disease, but never mind that. Worse, the French "gave in to the Nazis during the Second World War when we stood firm". And you wondered, perhaps, where Farageism came from.

Delors had got under the sceptics' skin because he had been moderate in tone and also pretty effective. The British left, long the home to as much euroscepticism as the right, had fallen for 'Frère Jacques' after an appearance at the TUC in 1988, where he had discussed the benefits for working people of a "social Europe". Ron Todd, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, the forerunner to Unite, declared that, with the Tories in power, Brussels was now "the only game in town" as far as his members were concerned. Those were the days.

The Sun's headline writer had tapped into a traditional British – or perhaps English – instinct to cock a snook at authority and defy the boss class. 'Up yours' is a classic response.

The opening sequence of the 1959 film 'I'm All Right Jack' is set on VE day in 1945, with crowds celebrating the end of the war. But Churchill's celebratory words are greeted with a triumphant V sign – not for victory- from a drunken squaddie who had climbed up a lamp-post. That V sign reflected the response of voters in the general election of that summer, in which Churchill was dumped out of office after a Labour landslide.

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