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Brexit: What image best sums up our departure?

On 25 September 1984, 70 years after the start of the First World War, German chancellor Helmut Kohl and French president François Mitterrand met in a cemetery in Verdun.

Mr Mitterrand extended a hand to Mr Kohl – symbolising the lessons learned from one of the bloodiest battlefields in world history.

Image: Helmut Kohl standing hand in hand with Francois Mitterrand was a historic moment

Margaret Thatcher reportedly saw the image and said: “It’s two men holding hands.”

But the German Press described it as “a picture that will go down in history”.

It’s was a symbol of something the EU set out to achieve and had achieved, bringing together a war-torn generation to live in peace.


But the EU came to represent many other things, and so I set a test for a few famous campaigners.

I asked then “give me the image that best represents what we are leaving”.

For “Mr Brexit” Nigel Farage it was the Berlaymont building in Brussels.

Image: The Berlaymont building symbolised ‘power without accountability’ for Nigel Farage

The European Commission HQ, as far as he is concerned, is the ultimate symbol of “power without accountability”.

Vote Leave chief Matthew Elliott sent me an image of boxes stacked up ready to be moved from Brussels to Strasbourg.

He said: “When I worked for an MEP in the early 2000s, I was struck by the amount of money wasted, and the environmental damage, from moving the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month.

“This involved an army of people packing up offices and transporting thousands of metal boxes 217 miles.

“To me, this illustrated the propensity for the EU to waste taxpayers’ money.”

Image: The monthly relocation of the European Parliament illustrated EU waste to Matthew Elliott

No surprise then that Elliott was instrumental in creating Vote Leaves slogan about spending £350m a week on the EU.

Prominent remain campaigner and former New Labour Spin doctor Alastair Campbell asked if he could have two images.

Firstly, a picture of Tony Blair leading the leaders’ bike race in the summit in Holland shortly after he became prime minister.

The other leaders appear to be floundering behind him.

Mr Campbell said: “I would say that at the time of the Tony Blair bike picture and the mood around it it finally felt like the UK was taking its rightful place as a genuine leader in Europe.

“We are now losing that role and with it losing relationships and power that have helped to deliver peace and prosperity and friendship with nations – the three things claimed for Brexit on the back of their ridiculous 50p coin.”

The coin is his second image.

Image: The ‘ridiculous’ Brexit 50p coins represents what we have lost, argues Mr Campbell

He said: “In truth whether in Ireland (peace), economic hit (prosperity) or the evident decline of our standing in the world even before Brexit has happened, we are putting all three (peace, prosperity and friendship) at risk.”

“The contrast between the two pictures tells me we failed to cement that leadership role in Europe in the hearts of all the people, we failed to push back properly on the relentless anti-European propaganda of politicians and media but that now we will all as a country pay a heavy price.”

But at least we will have bendy bananas.

Image: Bent bananas summed up ‘the whole ludicrous EU institution’ for Andy Wigmore

Andy Wigmore the right-hand man to Leave.EU funder Arron Banks sent me a picture of some wonderfully curved bananas with the caption: “Brussels, Brexit and Bent bananas.”

He said: “This picture sums up the EU for me, truth or myth, who knows but it’s a feeling and emotion that has perhaps summed up the whole ludicrous EU institution. Who makes rules up about how a banana should look.”

James O’Brien, remain campaigning LBC broadcaster said: “I really like the picture of the square in Brussels decked out in red, white and blue lights.”

Image: The lighting up of the central square in Brussels was James O’Brien’s chosen image

Departures were very much on the mind of Sir Craig Oliver, who served as David Cameron’s spin doctor and was the man who headed the Stronger In Campaign.

He said: “I think it would be the arrivals and departure from EU signs when travelling.

Image: The shared border and its loss is poignant for Sir Craig Oliver

“Lots of levels: literally not using them anymore; but also broken connections, separation and unwillingness to set things aside and compromise for something bigger.”

Clearly, as a nation we are still divided on this. Hopefully, as with Mr Kohl and Mr Mitterrand, the wounds will heal.


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