Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This is a club we should never have joined ... continued

The euro flag
Over the weekend Prime Minister David Cameron returned from day and night negotiations in Brussels with a fantastic deal for Great Britain. He wisely avoided stepping off a British Airways plane waving a piece of paper and declaring it heralded peace in our time. So good a deal in fact that a Cabinet  meeting was convened on the Saturday morning - the last time that happened was when Britain had to go to war to eject Argentine invaders from British territory. It seems we will never as a country have to join the Euro currency, neither do we have to be more deeply integrated politically and some changes in immigration would be permitted as well. The Referendum is set to take place on 23rd June. Some cabinet ministers and a large number of the PM's governing party immediately came out in favour of leaving.

So far the 'stay in' campaign has taken the line that leaving will be sure to end in tears, that we are far better off as a member of the European Union and will lose all the great things the EU membership bestows on Britain, should we vote to leave. Those advocating leaving take a more optimistic view that we will be breaking free from an old fashioned trading bloc which is in decline to return to the global trading world where we will flourish once again.

The British membership of what is now the EU has so far been just over 40 years - a small period compared to the centuries when Britain was independent and incredibly successful. In fact  by 1922 the British Empire extended globally with dominion over no less than a quarter of the earth's surface and some fifth of the world's population all, democratically ruled from London.  London was and remains a global leader in the financial markets and of course introduced English as the language of business. It was the Empire upon which the sun never set. But by the mid 1960s the Union Flag was being hauled down all over the world as country after country became independent. It left a question mark over where Britain would now go. Europe suddenly looked attractive - perhaps we could join that. Centuries of keeping Europe at arms length and interfering only to avoid any one country dominating and being a threat to Briton. So while Europe raised large armies for land based wars, Britain looked outward to the world, became a maritime nation and colonised a quarter of the world and where the flag was planted trade followed. Not surprisingly Europe was not a replacement for the Empire and was dominated by Germany and France.

Few people in Britain considered themselves European and the place if mentioned at all was generally referred to as the continent. It was once said that a newspaper headline announced, "Fog in the Channel - Continent cut off." It helps explain the relative disinterest in Europe, even the outbreak of World War 2 vied for attention with news of the Test Match. Only England and its Empire played cricket - another  cultural difference. In the post war years for most people the continent was not a holiday destination, those who could afford a holiday at all headed for the British seaside resorts. For many families the only experience of the continent was with the army, people didn't hold passports in the main and anyway considered the continent to be a rather dirty place where it was unsafe to drink the water and to cap it all they spoke a number of foreign languages. In short the English speaking world did things differently and the geographical proximity of France merely coincidental.

It is surprising that the political class were so optimistic that it would all work, but then we were only looking at trade opportunities, not political union.

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