What Next?, Britain’s Future in Europe, by Peter Wilding
Bye bye Europe
On 23rd June 2016 the British people voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%. Peter Wilding was at the heart of the debate. He has been labelled as the man who came up with the phrase “Brexit”. This timely pamphlet of 106 pages examines Britain’s fractured relationship with Europe post World War II. From Britain seeking a role post Empire, to one of the big 3 steering the EU (along with France and Germany), and since 23rd June 2016 a country groping for a role in the 21st century.
Not A Kiss and Tell
This book is not truth and tell expose of the failed Remain campaign. That campaign sought to emulate the result of the 6th June 1975 referendum on the UK’s membership of the EEC, when 67% voted to stay and 32% voted to leave. The Remain campaign, advised by Peter Mandelson, embraced Project Fear, and sought to brow beat the British electorate by hectoring implicit threats from “Big Industry” and nightmare stories of economic carnage. What worked in 1975 did not work in 2016.
Peter Wilding was one of the few Remainers who challenged this failed thinking. I remember chatting with Peter about this from my hospital bed. I asked whether the Remain campaign was taken over by deep plant Leavers, so irrational and out of step with modern campaigning models . Peter assured me that such concerns were misplaced.
The British Victim Syndrome – Still Sulking Over the Loss of Empire
The book simply and clearly examines what role Britain has played with post World War II and the loss of its Empire.
As President Truman’s Secretary State, Dean Acheson, is often quoted “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role.” Britain is still looking for that role. As Wilding suggests whilst Britain can shine as a power, it all too often prefers to sulk.
The debate on the role of the UK in the EU during the campaign was surreal. The UK has managed to change the EU into the very image it wanted. Indeed, if it had remained, those changes would have deepened. Instead, a small majority of the British people choose to believe a small group of politicians who have done no actual law making in Brussels, except for turning up for 2 minute speeches from the floor for YouTube consumption.
Wilding looks at where the UK can go from where it is today. He makes it to embrace a combination of hard power and soft power that he terms “smart power”.
The Myth of Empire
I naturally don’t agree with everything put forward by this former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate. Wilding is uncritical of the British Empire, which whilst it may have brought unparalleled prosperity and power for Britain, was brought about by the economic, political and cultural subjugation of many of the colonial nations. Gladstone, surely Britain’s greatest Prime minister, dislike of Disraeli was in large part due to Gladstone’s loathing of the British Empire.
After World War II the Americans systematically obliterated the British Empire. It was a condition of financial support during World War II. This empire not only supplied, in the case of India so much of the British Army, but the economic model and lifeline for mainland Britain. After World War II, the Commonwealth, a genuine free association of liberated countries, would never replicate the Imperial preference model. And, if people were not living in some nostalgia La La land, they would realise that the Empire, was forced upon other countries against their will. An economic system of subjugation was bound to have economic impacts on a country when it ended.But, La La land still is a dominate idea in Britain.
What Role Should Europe Play
Wilding reminds us that the EU’s promise is that it will provide prosperity, and allow countries to flourish and prosper under common core laws, a common economic order and (for many) common currency. I agree with him strongly.
Today, it is clear that Europe is not working. Instead, nationalism and populism, demons we had hoped had died in the fires of the horrors of 1939-1944, have returned. Instead, as Wilding notes, the EU Commission and Member States have chosen to force-feed federalism, which has led to greater political fractures and popular disassociation with the very idea of the EU. The EU has failed to apply its political will and its European duty to maintain stability at home, let alone abroad.
Wilding notes this does not have to be the case. Europe can return to its prized mission of free trade, low unemployment, a high growth high-growth economy, supported by strong values and smart power. These strong values, democracy, freedom and the rule of law, need to be at the cornerstone of Europe.
At the moment, countries like Poland and Hungary, are flagrantly debasing these core principles. It is self evident that they would fail to meet the basic criteria for admission to the EU.
It is with regret, with orange exceptions, that President Juncker and his team, are not the people to return Europe to returning Europe to their prized mission.
It is worth reminding ourselves that Britain has, not yet, overturned the cornerstone of the UK constitution, namely Parliamentary Sovereignty. Decisions in the UK are not taken by the People but by the British Parliament. Any final decision on the UK’s departure, or not, from the EU will be taken by the British Parliament.
The British Parliament will also take the decision on what future direction Britain should take. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, that direction will be set by the Conservative Party. The UK Labour Party, Her Majesty’s Opposition (of which I am a long term member) is not up to the job of providing an opposition.
The Conservative Party is divided into two camps. One, embraces the horrors of the 1950s, wants to severely limit immigration, leave the EU Single Market, and embrace protectionism. A far smaller group want Britain to be like Singapore on amphetamines, a free trade paradise. I regret that Little Britain will win.
I recommend reading this timely and needed contribution to the future of Britain and Europe.