MARIANNE is blind. Inside the Arc de Triomphe, a statue of the symbol of France – the Goddess of Liberty – stands with her head caved in, her right eye smashed from her face.

If you stood on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Saturday, as rioters literally defaced Marianne, amid the smell of the tear gas and burning buildings, you would have caught a scent of something else in the air – a warning to Britain on the brink of Brexit.

The clashes between the Gilets Jaunes – the Yellow Vests – and police show just how easy it is for a nation to be violently riven apart when a government seems to favour the rich and big business, over the poor and struggling.

In this era of populism, President Macron has dangerously underestimated the rage of the masses when the state favours the real elites – the multi-millionaires and rich-as-Croesus tycoons – rather than the phantom elites of experts, economists and scientists vilified by the likes of President Trump and the Brexiteers. This is a lesson that Britain has only a few months to learn. To not heed what happened in France would be folly.

The civil unrest came to a head over taxes, as so many similar conflagrations have, from Boston tea taxes in 1773 to the London of the Poll Tax riots in 1990. The central issue of the French disturbances is the simple matter of a fuel tax hike – but that is merely the germ at the heart of the wound. The cost of fuel is symbolic – it represents the increasing struggle of the ordinary French to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, Macron seems to kiss the feet of the rich. The president favours tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations, while targeting the public sector. He also supports the El Khomri law which makes it easier to sack staff, cut overtime payments and reduce severance packages. It is widely hated.

If a person can’t afford to drive to work while the company which employs them seems to be getting money showered on it by the same government which has left them poor, then anger should not be unexpected – and this is what Britain must be aware of, as it walks the plank towards Brexit.

Brexit will not favour the poor or the struggling – it will hurt those people. If the Tories lead the UK into the grey future of life outside the EU, the focus when it comes to protection will be on business, not ordinary people.

We know that jobs will be lost, that the economy will shrink. City Minister, John Glen, has stated that the Conservative government will do ‘whatever it takes’ to defend the position of London as a global financial centre amid the disruption of Brexit. He said that the government would use every lever it had – tax, regulation, overseas worker visa rules – to keep London attractive for international financial services companies.

His comments came in October during a visit to Japanese bankers, already jittery at the prospect of Brexit. A week previously, Theresa May told business leaders in New York that post-Brexit Britain would be ‘unequivocally pro-business’.

There seems to be a worrying foreshadowing in the events in Paris. The UK is entering a period when those at the bottom could be crushed while those at the top will be protected. What may make the future even more febrile is that, in the crudest of terms, many business leaders opposed Brexit, while many of the least well-off supported it. If the post-Brexit economic future turns into one in which low-income Leavers can be portrayed as the victims, and wealthy Remainers the winners – then we’ve an ugly problem brewing.

Just as in France, the far right will walk in and turn anger and chaos into opportunity. In the Paris protests, far right agitators were at the forefront of the violence. It was not the ‘sans dents’ – literally ‘without teeth’ or the great unwashed as we might say here – tearing the city to pieces, it was those for whom violence is part and parcel of political activity.

Of course, members of the far left used the demonstrations as an excuse for trouble too, but it’s not the far left on the rise across Europe and much of the rest of the world, it is the far right which has momentum.

Yesterday, the Vox Party in Spain became the first far right group to win at the ballot box since the return of democracy after the death of General Franco. It exceeded all expectations and took 12 seats in Andalusia. Vox leader Santiago Abascal put his party’s success down to listening to people on ‘issues that they felt and no other party represented’. France’s far right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted her congratulations.

Meanwhile in Britain, the far right grows – even in its most hateful form. There were calls yesterday for membership of the extremist organisation System Resistance Network to be made illegal. It preaches against non-whites, Jews, Muslims, and calls homosexuality a disease. The group has been praised by the already outlawed neo-nazi organisation National Action, which glorified the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in the run up to the EU referendum.

One National Action member, Mikko Vehvilainen, was a lance corporal in the Royal Anglian regiment. During a police raid on the Afghan veteran’s home officers found Nazi paraphernalia, weapons and encrypted messages. One said of black people: ‘I could shoot their children and feel nothing.’ He was jailed for eight years.

Some Brexiteers have hinted at civil unrest unless the will of the people is heeded and Britain exits Europe. Now there is a sense that leaving, in a way that hurts the poor and helps the rich – seemingly the only plan for exit on the table – could also lead to simmering tensions at risk of boiling over.

Perhaps, as the wisest, most calm voices have been saying for some time, a second vote on the EU, clarifying how the people wish this country to move forward, is the best and only option. Unlike Marianne, who is today blind, maybe Britain can see this as the only way to preserve our deeply fractured society from sundering apart altogether.