The Brexit Countdown — Part I

brexit two flagsAs of June 23’s Brexit vote, 2016 could well prove to be a date of enduring and historic significance — one of those years made famous by the events they encompass. Actions of genuine significance in history, like The Great Reform Act of 1832 or The Glorious Revolution of 1688. Of course it could equally go down as an 1848, a year of possibilities unrealised; a footnote chiefly of interest to counter-factual historians who ask ‘what if?’

In the spirit of hypothesis contemplate this notion: if you were an extraterrestrial looking down dispassionately at the Earth, wondering who is your best bet for first contact, you would chose Britain. You would observe that it is the most liberal and tolerant advanced civilisation on the planet. You would notice that its language and culture have spread across the globe. That its politics, law, science, engineering and inventions had shaped the modern world. Throughout its history it had welcomed and assimilated peoples and today its capital could claim to be the most diverse, cosmopolitan metropolis anywhere. You would find that its system of government had the longest pedigree, greatest number of disciples and that its Head of State is respected wherever she goes, cordially received and gracious to all world leaders she welcomes in return. Yes, our alien would conclude, Britain might no longer be top dog, but it is our best bet at a fair hearing.

Britons are faced with a historic choice in this year, one that goes beyond membership of the European Union. They are asking a question that all mature democracies in the early 21st Century should be asking themselves. Unlike a general election there are no tactical votes to be had, no safe seats, no shades of grey. You are either In or Out or you couldn’t care less.

The Brexit referendum, in a nutshell, is a vote on Big Government. If you believe the problems the world faces can only be solved by unelected officials making decisions on your behalf, you will vote to stay in. If you believe you are better able to face the challenges of this young century by trusting a system of representative government, vote to get out.

And that’s it!

Economics, security, trade, immigration, emigration, they are all part of a long history. They were there before the EU and will be part of the future whatever the result. The debate itself, however, is another matter.

In the installments of this extended essay to come as the June 22 vote draws ever closer, I will explore the current relationship between Great Britain and the EU, plus examine some of the warnings, the ‘uncertainty’ that Brexit may cause and the remedies to this. It will also touch on other, more general threats to Western civilisation and describe how, far from retreating from the world, Brexit is Britain’s answer to them.

Part 1 of an ongoing series

angry scotsman IIAS THE Scottish referendum of 2014 foreshadowed, passions can run high on both sides. Normally mild mannered people suddenly go very red and froth at the mouth. What starts as civil debate often descends into a slanging match as both sides polarise and each set of supporters try to outdo each other in their enthusiasm. Character assassinations take place. Former friends and colleagues are vilified. Attention-seeking politicians appear on the airwaves claiming so-and-so is on such-and-such a side solely to further their own ambitions. The media become obsessed with personalities just when they matter least; there are no names on the ballot paper[1]. Many now speculate as to whether there will be a post-referendum political realignment such as we saw in Scotland.

Whatever the outcome, one fact is undeniable: Britain will still have to deal with the EU and the EU will still have to deal with the UK. The island cannot be sailed out into the Atlantic nor be beached upon the Continent.

The UK’s island station has allowed distinctive culture, laws, values and manners to evolve separately from the mainland. Unlike Japan, its mirror image off the Asian landmass, Britain has never shut itself off from its neighbours, nor has it allowed its culture to develop without significant influence from them. Britons understand and appreciate a common heritage and are instinctively open to the world, indeed see it as the key to their prosperity. However being an island nation has always protected them from external threats and has allowed the British to develop a worldview distinctly diffrent to those of their cousins across the Channel. Our common law system has evolved from before the time of the Norman Conquest, and the Kingdom has claim to even longer roots. Britain has evolved a system of government over the last millennium, from absolute monarchy to constitutional, from Magna Carta to gay marriage. As Edmund Burke remarked “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation”[2].

No country in continental Europe has ever enjoyed as sustained a period of continuous government as has Britain. The nearest Europe’s history could offer would be the Vatican, but it is doubtful whether Remain campaigners would wish to draw parallels with that system of elective autarchy. The Vatican does, of course, play an integral role in Europe’s history. Consider the fall of the Roman Empire; the division with Constantinople; the crowning of Charlemagne; the Holy Roman Empire and the split between the Frankish and German states; the Crusades; the division of Europe between Protestant and Catholic countries; the English Reformation…[3]

These fault lines led to the devastating wars of the last century and, ultimately, the EU itself — an attempt to solve once and for all the divisions in Europe by binding together the Continent’s biggest powers.


… And it worked. In Western Europe the contrast between the two halves of the 20th Century could not be more distinct. Peace, prosperity, the European model of social democratic welfare states seemed, at the turn of the millennium and the birth of the Euro, to have conquered Communism to the east and to rival the free market capitalism of the Americans to the west. EUtopia had triumphed!

Unfortunately, as with all utopian ideas, actually being put into effect is the fly in the ointment. It was all a lie. The EU worked because, after the Second World War, Germany was finally demilitarised and partitioned. Conceived by Frenchmen, the EU was created upon their preferred model. Its bureaucracies anchored in Francophone countries, its fonctionnaires masters of the French énarque tradition. It has a Napoleonic legal system and a worldview that is essentially statist at home and protectionist beyond its new expanding borders. Built on French DNA, it also has that distinctive ennui in its genes. While France is enjoying its Fifth Republic since the French Revolution, its Fourth Empire is supposedly the best system of government for the whole continent. France itself did very well out of the protections the EU provided. French farmers have ensured the Common Agriculture Policy is inviolate, no matter the cost to Europeans as a whole, or the rest of the world for that matter.

John O’Sullivan: Cameron’s Brexit Bind

Protectionism breeds inefficiency. The EU allowed the French model to survive well past its sell-by date and created huge structural defects throughout the EU in the process. Worse still, EUtopia grew up under the protection of NATO, or as others might say, the American taxpayer. Where would the money for defence come from today if the USA were to withdraw from the world? EUtopians have already spent the kids’ inheritance on their retirement. France, like Britain, has a military and independent nuclear deterrent. Its German neighbour does not. Indeed it was neither France nor the EU that protected Germany during the Cold War and no one believes they could do so now.

The protectionist club that was the original EU is now under assault from internal pressures largely of its own creation and has to deal with effects of globalisation that it was never designed to handle[4]. In addition, the accession of the former Soviet vassal states has shifted the balance of power east, away from the traditional French base, leaving those nominally in charge unsure of how to respond.

After the rejection of the EU Constitution by the voters of France and Holland[5], the énarques resolved to continue regardless, salvaging what they could via the Lisbon Treaty. This left a power-hungry EU Commission vying for supremacy with the Council of Ministers[6] and an EU Parliament increasingly fed up with its role as a mere rubber stamp. Meanwhile, the EU acquired more of the trappings of a superstate, including another president and council[7]. That lack of democratic legitimacy hobbles the project, leaving it with a Donald Tusk rather than a Donald Trump[8]. The conceit of EU governance was a top-heavy soufflé just waiting for a crisis to collapse it.

The folly of the Euro has been discussed ad nauseam. For our purpose, let us just look at the outcomes: Far from harmonising, the most efficient economies, the newly reunified Germany to the fore, reaped the benefits while the least efficient economies, led by France, were left horribly exposed when the whole house of cards collapsed after the financial crisis of 2008. Trying to run a currency union by relying on monetary policy and adherence to the rules alone was always an ill-starred project. Interest rates that suited historically stable German deutschemarks were never suitable for Italy and their inflated Lire.


[1] Half a century from now, will it matter if a Johnson led this campaign or anonymous Johnson led that?

[2] Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.

[3] Not to imply that the Vatican was uniquely responsible for these events of course.

[5] In May and June 2005.

[6] Also referred to as Council of the European Union it is made up of the Member States’ Heads of State and “Together with the European Parliament, the Council is the main decision-making body of the EU” (http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/council-eu/index_en.htm). Its working as a ‘talking shop’ for the Heads of States is fundamentally compromised by the EU Council which is the Council of Ministers and the President of the Commission and the President of the Eurogroup and also a President of the Council itself who supposedly co-ordinates everyone towards a pre-conceived destination.

[7] See note 6 above. Lisbon gave new legal character to the informal EU Council “The European Council becomes a fully-fledged institution with its own President. Previously, the European Council had been an informal body and the head of the European Council was an unofficial position.” (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/history/?taxId=600&p=1)

[8]To which we may all be truly grateful… Mr Tusk is the current President of the EU Council, the Republican Presidential candidate Mr Trump should need no introduction.

2 thoughts on “The Brexit Countdown — Part I

  • en passant says:

    I look forward to the next instalment

  • ianl says:

    I agree with the currency comments, as well as the sovereignty issues.

    Ireland, Greece and Cyprus – being small and politically dependent on “hand-outs” (expressly forbidden by the EU rules, but done all the time in hypocritical practice) were easily pushed around during the GFC. The major issue with an inflexible Euro is the inability of small countries like these to devalue their currency after a stuff-up in order to try and rekindle their exports. They remain vassal states to the Brussels bureaucracy with no foreseeable hope of changing this condition (the Greeks should have known about foreigners bearing gifts).

Leave a Reply