Jul 09, 2016 Letters
Suddenly Great Britain is thrust into the spotlight and not in a publicly endearing manner. On June 23, 2016, the people in the United Kingdom voted on a referendum to decide whether or not to remain in the European Union, or quit the Brussels based institution. This decision eventually gained the nomenclature, Brexit.
Despite the decision, unfavorable as it currently is, very few people the world over really understand the origin of the Union, events leading up to the vote and the significance and implications of the Brexit vote. Could Brexit slip into the annals of history as being Prophetic? Pathetic? Or both? The idea of a European nation was conceived in the very country that now is out. Brexit is nothing new
After all, it was Prime Minister Winston Churchill who in June 1940 with the full backing of his Cabinet announced the Declaration of The Union, stating, “The two governments declare that France the Union and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France.
Following the first British victory of the Second World War on October 21, 1942, Churchill wrote to his foreign secretary Anthony Eden, “Hard as it is to say now. I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimized and unrestricted travel will be possible”.
In his famous Zurich speech of 1946, he further postulated, “We must build a kind of United States of Europe. The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can”.
These proposals clearly demonstrate, however, that Churchill was in favour of a political union between European countries, although he did not see Britain at its heart. According to him, France and Germany must take the lead together.
At the opening speech to the Congress of Europe in Holland in May 1948, Churchill reiterated that the drive towards a United Europe “should be a movement of the people, not parties”., and in October of the same year, he made it absolutely explicit that Britain was in a uniquely strategic position at the centre of three majestic circles: the ‘Empire and Commonwealth’, ‘the English speaking world’ and a ‘United Europe’, further describing the circles as, “co-existent” and “linked together”.
He said, “We are the only country which has a great part in every one of them. We stand, in fact, at the very point of junction, and here in this Island at the centre of the seaways and perhaps of the airways also, we have the opportunity of joining them all together.”
Looking at Sir Winston’s speeches, it is clear beyond doubt to even the profoundly myopic or blatantly Eurosceptic that he desired for the U.K. to be a vital part of the unification of Europe. Notice the “we” must build a United States of Europe: not they. We, aim at the eventual participation of the peoples of Europe, not they. Sadly his vision of British participation met with some degree of skepticism and there were some who felt he was speaking with a forked tongue. Prime Minister Edward Heath in Churchill’s defence, said, ‘I readily accept that at that time Churchill did not envisage Britain being a full member of this united Europe’, but in gleefully seizing upon this point, Eurosceptics have misunderstood or misrepresented the nature of Churchill’s attitude to full British participation in Europe. This reluctance was based on circumstance; it was not opposition based on principle.
In July 1957 Churchill made his last speech four months after six founding nations signed the Treaty of Rome thereby establishing the European Economic Community, wherein he welcomed the formation of a “common market” by the six, on the proviso that the whole of free Europe will have access. He also issued a warning—“If, on the other hand, the European trade community were to be permanently restricted to the six nations, the results might be worse than if nothing were done at all – worse for them as well as for us. It would tend not to unite Europe but to divide it – and not only in the economic field”. In the 1960’s Churchill’s health rapidly declined but his support for a united Europe did not.
Time has certainly not served Britain well over the years as the level of Euroscepticism has risen. Basically put, the Brits wanted out of their chains. The very things that integrated them into the European Union are the ones that have caused them to sever the union. Underpinning the recent Exit argument was that Eastern European migration rules along with other economic regulations let in too many foreigners and as a consequence infringed on British sovereignty. The Brits wanted their country back.
Brexit has caused a likely chain reaction, wherein other countries may be equally encouraged to call for exit referenda, an instability that would not only affect Europe but also destabilize the global economy. The incentive for conflict is reduced when major powers are united politically and global markets are kept open.
Brexit has produced a ricochet effect– one shock to the system begetting another. The global order becomes slightly frayed with each shock, making people poorer and angrier, and giving rise to more xenophobia and international tensions. As the latter rises, markets panic making everything worse.
The Brits have spoken albeit that they have brought about the biggest self-inflicted wound in the country’s history. Time has a way of changing things let’s hope it does for Britain’s sake, especially with the forthcoming elections.
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