Could Croissant-Wielding Parisians Have Stopped Brexit? Now We’ll Never Know.

A plan to give away free croissants in London to convince Brits to stay in the EU was scuppered by British election law.

(GERMANY OUT) croissant on a plate (Photo by Unkel/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) croissant on a plate (Photo by Unkel/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The croissant – the rich, buttery, breakfast pastry – is quintessentially Continental.

While today primarily associated with France, its origins actually lie in Austria, where bakers first produced dense, sweet, crescent-shaped delights; it was cross-border migration and trade that brought the croissant – then known as the kipferl – to France, where it evolved into the crisp, delicate indulgence we recognize today.

The croissant’s flaky intra-European charms were supposed to help persuade Brits to vote yes on the question of whether to remain in a union with the countries that helped bring it into existence. On Wednesday – the day before the U.K. is scheduled to vote on the question of a Brexit from the European Union — a group of friends from both sides of the English Channel had planned to gather at London’s Kings Cross train station in order to hand out croissants to passers-by, accompanied by postcards with messages of love from Parisians asking Britain to stay.

But it turns out that “Operation Croissant” came into conflict with a British election law, which bans the distribution of “meat, drink, entertainment” in connection with a message prior to a vote. And so, even though organizers said, “it was never our aim to buy votes with croissants,” Operation Croissant had to be scaled back on Wednesday to simply Operation Postcard.

Fifteen volunteers caught commuters on their way out of the station to hand out postcards with messages that pleaded the case for remain, and their love for things British, from the Beatles to Bovril. Here are a few:

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 4.09.55 PM

Three trays of croissants, freshly baked in Paris that morning, meanwhile, were delivered to a nearby homeless shelter, sans political messaging.

This isn’t the first time the croissant has been at the center of cross-border European scandals. In February, the French internet erupted in laughter when British retailer Tesco announced it would only sell straight, not curved, croissants, even though the word “croissant” means “crescent” in French. Mouths dropped even further at the justification: to make it easier to split open the croissants to spread them with jam, an unheard of practice on the Continent. Some even said the move augured of the Brexit to come.

It then prompted a small backlash to the backlash, with some French bakers defending straight croissants as acceptable alternatives to crescents. 

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.

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