Amidst the tragedy of the Orlando massacre earlier this week, we have yet another major event facing us: the “Brexit” vote on 23 June, where the UK’s voters express their wish to stay in the European Union or leave. The “Establishment” in the UK (and that, sad to say, includes the Church of England) have campaigned to stay in the EU. But the polls have swung the other way. Given that the Brits tend to lie about who or what they’re going to vote for (a tradition that’s moving up here,) it could go either way at this point.
It’s frustrating to be a student of history these days, because it seems that all the world has a serious case of collective amnesia about a variety of topics. Britain’s leaders (such as they are) act like the sun rises and sets on the UK staying in the EU. But it wasn’t that long ago when things were different, even among Europe’s leadership.
It used to be said that the purpose of the then-Common Market was to “keep the French in, the Germans down, and the British out.” That philosophy came mostly from Charles de Gaulle, who in turn based his idea on France’s experience in the years leading up to World War II. Keeping France in kept her engaged and not indifferent or isolated to events around her. Keeping Germany down was obvious; the failure to do so in the 1930’s lead to Germany’s rearmament, a necessary prerequisite to France’s defeat in 1940. Keeping Britain out came from France’s sour experience with British appeasement/pro-German feeling. Chamberlain’s capitulation at Munich was just the last event in a long series of British concessions, explicit and implicit, towards Germany. That destroyed much of the trust that came out of World War I.
What upset that formula more than anything else was the end of the Cold War. Germany’s reunification, expensive though it was, made it the key nation in Europe. France more or less tagged along. Britain, as always, has its own interests at heart and isn’t shy about pursuing them. Nothing says that more than Britain’s retention of the pound sterling.
That, however, was prescient. The key disaster of the EU is the euro itself. Putting economies as disparate as the Netherlands and Greece is a recipe for trouble, as NAFTA proved with Mexico. Putting them on a single currency, with the bull-headed Germans fighting devaluation tooth and nail, pulls the pin on the grenade. That, in many ways, is Europe’s biggest fear with Brexit: if the Brits can bail, why not the Italians? Or the Spanish? The most viable option to keep this rickety chandelier together is to make some concessions to the Brits while spinning places like Italy and Greece out of the eurozone. (The immigration business is something of a red herring.)
None of this, however, is likely to take place. Both Europe and the UK would be better off apart than together. To borrow a Biblical expression, the UK is in Europe but not of it, and has not been since Roman Britain or, at best, the Act of Supremacy. The Brits will always want to do it their way; for better or worse, they should be allowed to do so.
As far as trade and commerce, it strikes me that one of the main purposes of trade agreements of any kind is to help provincial boobies do international commerce. It used to be that it took a special kind of person to be successful in international trade. We should work on cultivating such people and not bending the system beyond what is economically beneficial to everyone just to make the boors happy. The British have been successful traders and financiers for centuries and it’s hard to imagine that they will fall flat on their face without being joined at the hip with those on the Continent.
The biggest immediate question in the wake of a Brexit would be Scotland. The CW is that Scotland would bolt the Union to join the EU, but the road from Edinburgh to Brussels isn’t as clear as many in the SNP would like for you to think it is. There’s a positive possibility here: as things stand, power oozes from London in one direction towards Brussels in the EU and towards Edinburgh in devolution. If the eastward oozing could be stopped, London would be in a better place to devolve more not only to Scotland but also to Wales and Northern Ireland (although it’s hard to imagine a better deal than Ulster has right at the moment.) To put it another way, leaving the EU might lead to a BU…
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s hard to accept the apocalyptic view being spread by the current Government in London about a successful Brexit. The European Union is an undemocratic, Procrustean experiment imposed on a group of nations that at least give lip service to democratic process while at the same time are highly diverse. There’s no evidence that the UK is better off in such an arrangement.
Something tells me it’s time to go…