The UK’s foolish decision to quit follows a series of historical misjudgmentsby Paul Wallace / January 30, 2020 / Leave a comment
If nothing else, Britain’s departure from the European Union has been a voyage of discovery into our past as well as our likely future. Here are nine painful lessons we have learned.
The price of victory, again
Jean Monnet, the French architect of European integration after the second world war, subsequently said that Britain’s failure to join in the project at the outset was “the price of victory—the illusion that you could maintain what you had, without change.” Standing aloof from the new venture meant that Britain was unable to shape integration in the 1950s, when it could still exert enormous power within Europe. By the time that the British government realised it was in the national interest to board the train it had already left. When Britain did eventually join in 1973 it was on European rather than British terms.
Now Britain is leaving, again on European terms, as was laid bare in the negotiations of the past three years, culminating in Boris Johnson’s acceptance of a deal for Northern Ireland that Theresa May had rejected as unacceptable. The readiness to quit the European club is rooted in the popular national story, which harks back too often to the heroic years of the second world war, in which the retreat of Dunkirk became a triumph and any acknowledgement of the contribution of empire and allies is only half-hearted. Britain continues to pay the price of victory and the myth of plucky national self-reliance that it fostered.
De Gaulle was right for the wrong reason
When the French president vetoed Britain’s first application under Harold Macmillan to join the European Economic Community, he said Britain did not fit in to the project. At that fateful press conference in January 1963, he said that unlike the six continental founder members England was “insular” and “maritime,” linked in commerce to “the most diverse and often the most distant countries.” He feared that British entry would undermine the cohesion of the European club, in effect acting as a trojan horse to produce a bigger and looser group of states that would ultimately become “a colossal Atlantic community under American dependence and direction.”
The referendum seems to show that de Gaulle was right in believing that Britain would…