After the Second World War, when France proposed the European Coal and Steel Community – which six countries immediately joined – the then British Prime minister Clement Attlee rather contemptuously dismissed the whole idea. “Know them all very well,” he said of the founding group. “Very recently, this country spent a great deal of blood and treasure rescuing four of them from attacks by the other two.”
A similar insular reasoning infects British attitudes to this day.
The British government’s disdain at the time – expressed by a Prime Minister whose achievements I otherwise admire – would not relent until 1976 when we finally joined the group, which by then had transmogrified into the European Economic Community. Even so, there remained many British sceptics, mainly of the ‘fog in the Channel, continent cut off’ variety – and worse. They are still at work, these island jingoists, still fulminating about Britain’s fate in being tied to a ‘bunch of interfering bloody foreigners’.
Of course, the ‘bloody foreigners’ have played into their hands by building up a vast and largely meretricious bureaucracy and imposing a single currency on twenty-seven disparate economies, and the Brexit negotiations, whatever they reveal, will surely harden the anti-Europe position. But those Europeans now sit at the negotiating table holding all the good cards, and they intend to play them; they can’t be seen to giving up too many concessions to the rebellious Brits for fear of contagion.
Their counterparts sitting across from them stick to the view, more in hope than expectation, that Britain will be able to eat its cake and have it. No chance, say those in the Remain camp, including this writer, who still cling to the prospect of a reversal of the referendum verdict, probably through a new referendum following a general election called to approve the terms recommended by the government.
Meanwhile, the debate rumbles on.
There is nothing new in all this. The situation remains pretty much as it was the day after the referendum, public opinion divided neatly down the middle. But doubts are beginning to surface among the Leavers. For one thing, the Euro is flying high against the pound, making economic life a little more difficult for ex-pats living on the continent and tourists alike, and sterling remains close to its lowest-ever levels against other currencies. The bravado of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ has receded. There is also, it seems to me, a growing number of once-ardent Leavers who are now prepared to admit that they might have been a little hasty, if only for failing to realise how complex and elongated the Brexit process would be.
They should of course have thought of that when they cast their votes, not after stable doors had been slammed shut – but we are where we are.
I remain an ardent Remainer.
Brexit is in my view the worst collective idea ever to take root in this country. I believe that we will pay a heavy price for leaving the EU, both economically and politically, and even if that doesn’t add up to a disaster, the best we can hope for is that the result of this misguided urge for ‘independence’ will be to weaken our trading position to the point at which our living standards decline so far that they lead to civil unrest. Not so many years ago, Britons took to the streets, sometimes violently, to protest the introduction of a poll tax. The impact of a sharp decline in trade, new rounds of tax increases and a return to double-figure inflation would not go down well in Britain’s industrial heartlands.
I’m prepared to admit that this nightmare scenario may never happen and that I may even be wrong about the penalties I fear Britain will suffer post-Brexit. My doubts are those of someone who spent a large part of his life making business decisions. A business decision made without analysis and a plan is by definition a bad one, even if Heaven’s angels decide to smile down upon it.
My problem is that I believe neither in Heaven or angels. Nor, unlike some of my compatriots, am I convinced that God is an Englishman.
Yes, I’ve said all this before. I just thought that on this balmy August afternoon, with half the world on holiday, I would submit an update.