A Second Chance for Britain


December 12, 2018

A Second Chance for Britain

by

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/second-brexit-referendum-for-britain-by-ian-buruma-2018-12

anti-brexit second chance

In 1950, the British reacted with a mixture of horror and disdain to the proposed European Coal and Steel Community, suspecting a French plot to lure a pragmatic people into some utopian foreign project. The basic arguments against “Europe” have not changed at all since then, unlike the consequences of acting on them.

Image result for theresa may

May Mrs.Theresa May remain Prime Minister Of The United Kingdom

In 1950, the British reacted with a mixture of horror and disdain to the proposed European Coal and Steel Community, suspecting a French plot to lure a pragmatic people into some utopian foreign project. The basic arguments against “Europe” have not changed at all since then, unlike the consequences of acting on them.

NEW YORK – On May 9, 1950, when European countries were just beginning to emerge from the ruins of war, the French statesman Robert Schuman announced his plan to create the European Coal and Steel Community. By pooling these vital war materials under a common European authority, violent conflict between France and Germany would become unthinkable. The Germans were delighted. The Benelux countries and Italy would take part as well. A first step toward a European union had been taken. Shortly after Schuman’s announcement, the British were invited to join in the discussions.

They reacted with a mixture of horror and disdain, suspecting a French plot to lure a pragmatic people into some utopian foreign project. The Labour Party, then in power in Britain, couldn’t imagine sharing sovereignty over the United Kingdom’s vital industries. And Conservatives failed to see how a global power could possibly be part of such a narrow European club. It was all very well for the Continentals to band together. But Britannia would continue to rule the waves, together with the other English-speaking peoples in the Commonwealth and the United States.

It is easy, in hindsight, to mock the British for missing the European boat with such blithe arrogance. But it is at least understandable. After all, the British with their proud democracy had stood alone against Hitler’s Germany and helped to free the European countries that had surrendered to the Nazis. One cannot really blame them for feeling a trifle superior.

What is depressing, however, about the Brexit disaster that is making such a mess of British politics now is that the basic arguments against “Europe” have not changed at all since 1950. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party ideologues view the European Union as a capitalist plot to undermine the purity of their socialist ideals. And Brexiteers on the right still dream of Britain as a great power, whose global reach should not be hampered by membership of European institutions. Another strand of nationalism, which is more English than British, is the romantic attachment to a “special relationship” with the US.

Alas for the British, the world has changed a great deal since 1950. The British Empire is over, the Commonwealth is little more than a sentimental relic of the past, and the relationship with the US may be very special to the English, but it is much less so to the Americans.

But something else, perhaps even more important, has changed as well. When the British government turned down the chance in 1950 to help shape Europe’s future, some Conservatives criticized Labour for being a bit too hasty. As the opposition, the Tories had to say that. But their hearts were not really in it, for, as the New York Times reported at the time, the government’s position “reflects a good deal of British feeling toward Europe, regardless of party lines.”

Britain – if not every part of England – is now a much more European country. London in 1950 was still a completely British city, where “aliens” were a distinct minority. In the last decades of the twentieth century, it became the unofficial capital of Europe. More than three million Londoners are foreign born, with hundreds of thousands of young Europeans working in banking, law, fashion, catering, the arts, and many other industries. London has a larger French population than many French cities.

No wonder, then, that the majority of Londoners voted to remain in the EU. And so did most young people in Britain who bothered to vote in the referendum. The Britain of 1950 would be unrecognizable to them.

So who are the 51% who voted to leave the EU? And why? Protecting socialism has limited appeal, as do ideals of pure national sovereignty or fantasies of Britain striking out alone as a global power. Fear of immigration appears to be the main reason why people voted to leave. In some cases, this stemmed from genuine worries that Eastern European builders, say, were making it harder for British citizens to do the same jobs for a decent wage. But very often, the people who are most afraid of being “swamped” by foreigners live in areas where immigrants are very few.

At the same time, most British citizens take it for granted that they are nursed and treated in hospitals by immigrants, served in supermarkets by immigrants, and aided in banks, post offices, social service centers, airports, and public transport by immigrants. Without immigrants, the British economy and services would collapse.

Some pro-Brexit politicians have stoked immigration fears more brazenly than others. The most notorious image used in the Brexit campaign was a poster showing a stream of young men, looking vaguely Middle-Eastern, with the text: “We must break free of the EU and take back control.” In fact, the young men in the picture were nowhere near the UK’s borders. The photograph was taken in Croatia.

The more respectable Brexiteers talk more about sovereignty than immigration. Their anxiety about losing control may be genuine. Figures like Boris Johnson, with his Churchillian pretensions, or Jacob Rees-Mogg, who resembles a minor character in a P.G. Wodehouse novel, are anachronisms. In earlier times, they might have run an empire. Now they are mere politicians in a middle-ranking state.

Brexit for the likes of Johnson or Rees-Mogg is more like a deluded grab for power, undertaken in the name of the common people, supposedly in revolt against the elites of which these politicians are themselves conspicuous members. Their nostalgia for grander forms of rule has already done great damage to the country they claim to love. This is all the more reason, now that the potential catastrophe of Brexit is so plain to see, why those common people should have a second chance to vote for a way to avoid it.

 

 

4 thoughts on “A Second Chance for Britain

  1. The clamour for a “second vote” has begun…all so predictable…Easy to join…impossible to leave…that’s the way it was designed…

  2. My understanding is, the EU is a supranational organisation that wields power, to a certain yet very significant extent, over all its member states with respect to determining the policies, laws, rules and regulations applicable in each of its member state’s territory. This means that member states would have to yield some, if not entirely, of its powers of self-determination in those areas i.e. policies, laws, rules and regulations to the supranational body i.e. EU.

    My question is, “If a sovereign nation state makes laws that preserve and protect the interests of its citizens – for instance, the Greek government make laws to protect the interest of Greeks, likewise the British – then in whose interest does the supranational body make the laws, determine the policies, and pass rules and regulations, that effect its member states?”

  3. Tuan Mohammed…what you state can be summarised by “loss of sovereignty”…which is at the heart of any debate on the EU…over a period of half a century the people of an entire continent have been duped into this totalitarian entity called the EU… Hitler with bullets and guns failed to achieve this…betrayal by politicians have got there without firing a single shot…
    But writers like Buruma will never mention this…but instead resort to personalities of which a good example is reference to Rees-Mogg not by what he is saying but what he looks like…
    All this, of course, is like what I mention in my earlier posting…a clamour for a second vote at any price…

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