“…throughout its membership, the United Kingdom has never totally felt at home being in the European Union. And perhaps because of our history and geography, the European Union never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe.”  THERESA MAY

 

It is impossible to overstate how offensive this trite nonsense from Theresa May in Florence  is. Yes there will be some who “Never totally felt at home in the European Union”. But it is precisely our history and geography which has made Europe without question an “integral part of our national story”. And for me it has been an almost lifelong cause to embrace friends across the continent. I am, of course, not alone. Politicians from Churchill through Macmillan, Wilson, Jenkins, Heath, Thatcher (yes Thatcher) Major and Blair have known the irrefutable – that Britain’s future is in Europe. When Dean Acheson said at West Point in 1962 that “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role.” he was right – but that role was emerging. Harold Macmillan had already started the process for Britain to join the Common Market. He was rebuffed by Charles de Gaulle who said that we had  “very special, very original habits and traditions and were very different from continentals”  – de Gaulle was concerned that the UK would be an “Anglo-Saxon Trojan horse in a European stable.” For Theresa May so closely to echo Charles de Gaulle should make us pause for thought! The reason that Edward Heath was eventually to get us into Europe was in part precisely what de Gaulle feared. Other Common Market members (especially Germany) wanted us to be a Trojan horse to counter the risk of a French-dominated Europe. That post Imperial role was clearly emerging – to lead Europe not to be detached from it. The leadership would not be shouldered alone of course and a tripartite leadership with France and Germany was the logical goal. It never quite happened but had the Referendum been won it surely would have. To think that the UK cut adrift from Europe is better than Britain playing an integral and leadership part in the government of the world’s largest economy and most successful political partnership is pretty perverse!

 

Are we European? Well we come from Norman, Viking even Roman stock. True over centuries we fought in Europe and the French especially were our enemies but that is a long buried rivalry. The Entente became solidly Cordiale a long time back! It is the European Twentieth Century that refutes completely May’s offensive statement. In two World Wars our European obligations – obligations that are directly a result of our “history and geography” – took us across the channel to fight in huge numbers – by air, sea and land we fought for Europe. Not behind our own shores in defence but on the Continent in attack where we freed the French, the Dutch, the Belgians and others from tyranny. The letter in The Times today from David Edward caught this perfectly. Were Britain’s actions in two World Wars those of a nation whose history and geography make us not part of Europe? Some who favour Brexit spout the solecism “Love Europe, hate the EU” – but this is poppycock. The EU is modern Europe and the one or two major nations like Norway or Switzerland who are not in the EU have very close ties with it. Ties which the UK will not have if Brexit happens. We will, uniquely in Europe, be disconnected from it.

The European Union was predicated by a great Englishman – Winston Churchill. Once the burdens of Empire were relinquished, along with the end of the Special Relationship with the USA, it became obvious that for Britain to be part of Europe was the only way forward. Post war and Economic and Political partnership was what the nations of Europe chose and, though it took us a while, we eventually took our rightful place as part of it. Margaret Thatcher and John Major negotiated certain opt-outs which gave the UK preferential status in the Union. Arguably our European partners allowed this because they saw the value of the UK being a committed member of the EU post Maastricht. Tony Blair picked up the baton – but his love affair with the US under George W Bush  suggested that some improbable “World Power” status for Britain was in his mind. And Blair’s involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars confirmed that for a time the Government’s eyes were not on Europe but across the Atlantic. It was this, I think, which led to Blair’s biggest mistake – not to enter the Euro single currency. With his mind on military adventures Blair failed to push hard for the Euro (not least with his Chancellor) and this caused him also not to stand up to the political Right who used the Euro issue as a test run for their later Brexit campaign. Full of bluff and bluster it all was, with faux-patriotiusm about the pound central to it. UKIP’s logo featured the pound strongly – it still does. “Hands off our pound” and all that.

Had Britain entered the Euro we would have been absolutely central to the management of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 – indeed a Euro denominated British economy would have been a key element in the resolution of the financial problems, at least the European part of it. A missed opportunity at the time but, as it turned out, fatal to the “Remain” cause later. Not being in the Euro we could be portrayed by the “Leave” campaigners as being disconnected from Europe already – which to an extent we were . “Remain” could not sell the business and consumer benefits of the single currency because we weren’t in it!

So the reverse of what Theresa May says is true. The challenge ducked by successive British Governments was properly to sell the benefits of Britain in Europe. The economic, social, political, cultural and military aspects of Britain as a European nation were clear. The two World Wars was evidence of our commitment to our allies – as was our part in creating modern Germany from the embers of Hitler’s Reich. The European Union members needed us as a full and enthusiastic participant in the building of a modern united Europe and to an extent we were (though the rejection of the Euro was a setback). And if they needed us we needed them even more. The EU is the triumph of internationalism over nationalism. As Churchill put it “Jaw Jaw is always better than War War”. Our history, our geography and our “national story” make us indisputably European. We must not reject this.

 

 

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