ENO chief on Brexit

ENO chief on Brexit


norman lebrecht

June 10, 2016

Sir Peter Jonas shared his views today with Die Zeit:

Can nations commit collective suicide? It is possible and the prospect of Brexit shows us, not for the first time in history, that humans can behave like lemmings charging headlong to a fatal cliff top in mass hysteria. Brexit: no thank you! Do Brits really wish for Boris, simply a more likeable and brainier version of Donald Trump, as leader? Are they nostalgic for a Britain of the 1950’s and early 60’s? Do they really want a return to a disunited Europe with the malignant instability that cursed it with uncertainty and conflict over centuries?

Do they really hanker after that “Little Britain” mentality encouraging insularity and enabling bulldog jingoism a la Farage to have its day? No – the best of Britain could and should be the best of Europe: freedom, understanding, European cultural values, tolerance and diversity. A united Europe is no longer a dream but can be a reality, warts and all. The Brexiteers (usually older, white and male) blow the trumpet of their own version of fantasy economics and chauvinism. I pray that my fellow Brits will not throw the European dream away in a fit of “wogs start at Calais” pique!

Sir Peter Jonas


peter jonas


  • Old Whig says:

    Make no mistake: Mr. Jonas’s main argument is that he believes Brexiters are racists. (He uses code words like “jingois[t]”, “insular[]”, “older white males” and implies that Brexiters lack “tolerance” for “diversity.”) Perhaps the contours of policy debate in the UK differ from those in the US, but in the US, resorting to this argument is an admission of intellectual bankruptcy.

    In “Brexit: The Movie” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqzcqDtL3k), which (whether you agree with it or not) seems to be a fairly authoritative view of the Brexit advocates’ view, the model they look to is Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, but nonetheless is a member of the common market.

    My question for Mr. Jonas is whether the Switzerland model–independent self governance and self determination within a common market–is “suicidal,” as he claims it would be for the UK?

    Are the Swiss “bulldog Jingoists?” Do they lack “European cultural values, tolerance and diversity”? Is their economy faltering in comparison to EU states?

    If the answer to these questions generally is “No,” then why would the risk for the UK be greater?

    Mr. Jonas’s moral preening and posturing–that is really all he offers–not only fails to answer these pressing questions, but fails even to raise them.

    Stick to art, Mr. Jonas

    • Nicholas Riddle says:

      The Swiss pay into the EU budget as though the country were a member. They have the same free movement of people as if the country were a member. They incorporate all EU commercial law into the country’s own law automatically as though the country were a member. The main difference is that they have no say in what the EU decides, including any and all of the decisions that affect Switzerland in some way. If the Brexiters want this, well, not much would actually change for us from today, except that we would give up any and all of our influence. How would that be better?

      • Old Whig says:

        Thank you for the substantive reply!

        My first reaction is that, if there is no big difference, then it’s hardly worth Mr. Jonas’s intemperate hyperventilation.

        My second, more considered, reply is that the main concern about the EU is that its anti-democratic institutions are unaccountable to the English people, not by accident but by design. (The second main concern is that it dampens the economy with protectionist regulations that are developed within this process.)

        Switzerland has entered into bilateral agreements with the EU on specific matters, but not on all. Its people (through its representatives) can pick and choose, and re-calibrate the arrangement as its priorities change.

        Even if the resulting arrangement is similar, people prefer self-government to unaccountable people far away making the decisions that effect them.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Are the Swiss Cultural Bulldogs?

      Last week I caught the train from Milan to Lugano, which is just over the border in the Italian part of Switzerland. When we got to the border, the Swiss border police naturally came to check our documents. Except they immediately arrested ALL the black people without looking at their papers, and took them to the police station (there were about 20). No white person showed their passport, or even got their passport out. When I got mine out to show the border police he waved it away without looking at it.

      Next day I remarked on this to some colleagues working in Switzerland. They couldn’t see the problem (“of course they were stopped, the black people commit all the crimes”) or why I was surprised by just how blatant the border guards had been.

      But of course, the Swiss are a role model for Brexiteers.

  • Jimbo says:

    Hmm, the ENO reminds me of the EU a bloody disaster. If Sir Peter wants to hold hands with war criminal Blair, Flashman bully Cameron, terrorist sympathiser Corbyn and sing Euro Euro Uber Alles, that is his prerogative.

    The contempt that the Elite have for democracy and their willingness to disenfranchise ordinary people is morally repugnant.

    • David Nice says:

      By which I assume you mean Johnson, Gove, *unelected* Farage et al? Quite.

      I love Jonas’s bluntness. This is treasurable: so far we’ve had some magnificent rhetoric from the Remain side, and as far as I can see nothing but lies and woffle from the opposites. Collective suicide, no other way to put it – or let’s say attempted suicide, because nothing as big as this ever really dies. And you won’t ever persuade the Brexiters with facts, as some of these comments show.

    • Holly Golightly says:


  • celt darnell says:

    Given that the whole purpose of the EU is to end national sovereignty — and thus the very basis of the nation state itself (read Jean Monnet’s memoirs some time, Sir Peter) — remaining in the EU would be suicide for Great Britain.

    What a silly blighter.

  • John G. Deacon says:

    I am afraid that this is total piffle. Opera and music were around for a long time before the EU was formed and the EU have brought little to the party.

    The issue here is one of two (vital) issues : the EU is totally undemocratic and secondly it is corrupt. The accounts haven’t been signed for over 20 years (which would be a criminal offence in any other state). The immigration chaos is not acceptable to UK neither is a Federal EU and an EU army. David Nice has already written in this regard but what was said was so stupid that nobody commented.

    This isn’t worthy of more comment either except to say that the EU is an economic dead zone, going nowhere, with massive unemployment in the southern regions (around 50%). It is not surprising that the Brexiteers are beginning to win the argument.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The cook fears difficulties with importing real paté de fois and the annual Xmas crates of Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape (which we really do like), and what about the German string quartet that comes three times a year to rehearse mr B’s awful pieces? Maybe they will need visa after a brexit. But mrs B says she will move back to her parents in Paris if the UK is no longer European, and that promises quite some emotional storms here. So we pray for the paté and the wine.

  • Maria Brewin says:

    If that’s how you feel Mr Jonas, get yourself invited to a debate on the issue.

    In the meantime, do a little research into such things as NATO, population density, trade tariffs in 2016, Greece, the problems faced by people in northern towns and cities that you never set foot in these days, house prices, demand for public services, the opinions of ethnic minorities already established in the UK, and how countries like Australia and New Zealand are able to survive. You might also like to ponder why so many people want to get into a country which, according to you, appears to be such a deeply unpleasant, intolerant place.

    On the other hand, as you’d be lucky to last two minutes, it might be better to stick to music. If we want advice on that, we promise to come to you, not Boris Johnson.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      What absolutely appalls me is that Merkel wanted population replacement and she could have looked no further than the end of her own nose and seen the massive numbers of unemployed (particularly young people) in Greece, Spain and Portugal. Just for starters.

      We’ve established that she’s a liar; what is enigmatic is why so many believe her – a child of East German Communism.

  • Ppellay says:

    Right now, Flanders and Swann’s Song of Patriotic Prejudice seems to be floating somewhere within earshot after reading all of this. I’m sure I’ve no idea why…………………!

  • Halldor says:

    I think you mean “ex-ENO chief”.

    If the Brexit camp carry it, god forbid, it’ll be in no small part as a reaction to this kind of privileged, Metropolitan contempt for one’s fellow-countrymen: to paraphrase Denis Potter, “based on nothing more edifying than rancid disdain… a prolonged jeer, twitching with genuine hatred, about the dreadful suburban views of the dreadful provincials”.

    I’m surprised that a man of his intelligence and culture can’t muster an argument more sophisticated than “disagree with me and my arts sector pals, and you’re basically a reactionary bigot”. I’m embarrassed on his behalf.

  • richard Hardingham says:

    I am afraid that after reading an article in opera magazine, some years ago, Sir Peter came across as a sneering ,patronising anti democratic individual , quite at home as a European bureaucrat. I regret saying that as I admired most of the powerhouse work at the ENO.

  • Una says:

    You can be part of the Europe without being part of this EU! And given the mess ENO are in when already part of the EU, what the relevance? All this just doesn’t add up, and he doesn’t live in England or any part of the UK from I gather? Another ex-pat who has lived away for so long and who then hasn’t got the vote perhaps!!!

  • Robert King says:

    As I’ve commented elsewhere on other threads, many world-renowned UK orchestras survive because they are freely able to perform in any EU country. Across the performing arts, European tours and concerts bring into the UK economy hundreds of millions of pounds each year. Those tours and concerts help ensure the livelihoods of thousands of UK performers.

    If the freedom of employment and freedom of movement that the EU gives UK performers ceases (and it is surely inconceivable that if the UK divorces 27 other European states simultaneously, they will all continue to welcome UK citizens with open arms – not many divorces end prettily), it has been argued very convincingly by major arts bodies (for instance, a well-researched and well-argued case put forward by the Musicians’ Union) that the livelihoods of many UK performers will be seriously endangered.

    Across the last year I have met very, very few UK performers who think that leaving the EU would be good for British arts and its performers. I’m not talking the rich ones (the soloists with managements who will fill in yards of paperwork for them), but the thousands of symphony and chamber orchestral players, the choral singers, the chamber musicians and suchlike. If the UK votes to leave the EU, the strong likelihood is that the livelihoods of these bedrock performers of British music will be, at the very best, seriously impaired.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      How refreshing to read a rational argument, so unlike Peter Jonas’ scattered thoughts.

      • Old Whig says:


        My question for Mr. King: Is it substantially more difficult for these artists to visit Switzerland on account of their non-membership in the EU? Or Norway?

        I don’t take Brexiters as isolationists who wish to sever their ties to Europe, merely as those who want more local decision-making authority, more accountability, etc.

        • Robert King says:

          My position is pretty clear by now to any SD reader. I don’t fervently support continued membership of the EU because I think the EU is faultless (I know it isn’t – no government or large organisation is faultless) but because the benefits EU membership brings British arts and British performers vastly outweigh the disadvantages. Musicians and other artists gain economic benefits, freedom of movement, freedom of work, interchange of ideas, interchange of performers – the EU has been, and continues to be, a huge door opener for British culture. This brings many hundreds of millions of income into Britain: indeed, EU touring income keeps a large number of our leading symphony and chamber orchestras, choirs, chamber groups and suchlike going.

          To answer your question, no, it is not all plain sailing with Norway and Switzerland. And the treaties that the UK has with these two wonderful countries regarding working in their countries (I’m not talking going on holiday, but taking work that could go to their resident musicians, and then pulling the money back to the UK) are treaties going back many years, which doubtless took a long time to negotiate. We won’t get 27 of those treaties made for all our current EU partner countries put in place for years. On a specific detail, a Swiss colleague who has played as principal with TKC for ages for years, having only Swiss citizenship, had hassles every time she came in and out of Britain – until she very sensibly married an EU citizen, got full EU residential rights, and we could stop having to wait that extra hour for her to get through passports (a real nuisance when there was a rehearsal or bus with 60 people waiting – it’s the sort of little niggle that stretches a tight tour schedule – straws and camels). EU freedom of movement is brilliant in resolving this kind of detail: we can all sail in and out of 27 countries and work anywhere in Europe without hindrance. The open skies policy has dramatically reduced flight costs: a huge benefit to international touring (makes many concerts possible – remember those fabulously high airfares in the past?). And then, little things like reduced phone roaming charges in Europe (a small detail, but for musicians touring, being able to stay in touch with the diary 24 hours a day in Europe and take on that extra date has been a wonderful saver). Every time I switch on my mobile as I land I bless the MEP (it wasn’t a Brit!) who fought and fought the reticent mobile phone companies and pushed it through the European Parliament – she saved me alone hundreds of pounds a year. The EU can achieve things – it just takes determined MEPs like that lady. So let’s source, and then elect, those sorts of MEPs: the ones who really do change things for the better.

          Back to the bigger picture, human nature being as it is, you can be pretty confident that if the UK suddenly divorces 27 countries simultaneously, some of those countries are going to find reasons to make it just that little bit more difficult to take UK performers (might the unions in those countries find reasons to retain the fees that we currently bring back to the UK for their own musicians?). 27 separate agreements with 27 other European countries? It won’t be fast: and meanwhile, orchestras who currently can go in and out of 7 EU countries in 7 days might find that tour schedules that used to tessellate don’t quite work anymore – less work, less income for performers: and less income coming back to Britain.

          Finally, I fear that those who see the rosy view of Brexit – that we can retain all the benefits we currently receive in terms of freedom of work, freedom of movement, but we can just remove ourselves from all the bits we don’t like – are a tad over-optimistic. Divorces are rarely without rancour: and I don’t think that even our finest politicians will manage to sort out 27 divorces simultaneously…

          • Old Whig says:

            I appreciate your thoughtful reply.

            I don’t know what ultimately serves the interests of the UK over time, but certainly the shorter-term considerations you raise are important and should be part of the calculus.

  • Simon Plain says:

    “The Brexiteers (usually older, white and male)”

    The EU is run by old white men, with grey hairy balls. As grey and hairy as your own.

  • DESR says:

    Jonas’ view of the possible motivations and justifications for Brexit is a tragi-comic travesty of the truth. It is just not persuasive.

  • Novagerio says:

    The corporations and their lackeys, all within certain obscure social orders, aswell as anti-democratic federalists controlling a Puppet-Multi-State as the United States of Federal Europe, are, if any thing, scared of their own collective suicide, hence all the bullying and threatening against anybody who wishes to defend National State Sovereignty and Independence. Heavens forbid England would become as prosperous and independent as
    Switzerland or Norway!….