There are two delusions here. The first is that Wilders is the same as Brexit. That there’s a continuum of populism, starting with Brexit and running through Trump, Le Pen and Wilders: an indistinguishable blob of ‘far right’ sentiment that clings like a tumour to Europe. This continuum of populism is pure invention, a construct of increasingly tetchy anti-populists in the media. These people either lack the nuance to understand that the growing opposition to the old politics takes different forms around the world, or are keen to tar every new political sentiment with the same brush of ‘FASCISM!’ in order to make their task of demonising it, and avoiding looking at what’s behind it, that bit easier.
The truth is that the Wilders worldview is a million miles away from Brexit. That both the Moroccan-bashing, Koran-banning Wilders and millions of working-class people in formerly industrial parts of England and Wales oppose the EU is neither here nor there. It’s like saying the Olympian who waves the Union flag after winning a race is the same as the BNP skinhead who waves it as he stomps menacingly through an Asian suburb. Where Brexit was a clean, positive rebellion against the EU – not for UKIP, not for clampdowns on immigration, and certainly not for the persecution of Muslim immigrants – the Wilders outlook comes with all kinds of backward ideas. His party wants to ban the Koran, a deeply reactionary idea. It wants to shut down mosques: an intolerable assault on freedom of religion. He wants to ban Muslim immigration. There was no such reaction or illiberalism or shrillness to the broad Brexit vote.