There will be huge benefits from leaving the EU, a typically doomed Continental project, but some illusions must dissolve first.
Brexit isn’t a normal political event, because we should have been openly discussing the pros and cons of the EEC/EC/EU years back – in fact decades ago.
However, for forty years there was a strange silence on the subject. As if British Parliamentarians, civil servants, the BBC, even most of the press – with the stalwart exception of the despised tabloids – agreed a long time ago that it was somehow wrong to even mention the topic.
It was this breach of protocol that most infuriated the pro-EU lobby once Leave’s win came in. In the days after the 2016 vote, their rage (suspiciously intense and personal) focused on how outrageous it was the referendum even got held in the first place. British voters were too thick, too primitive to entrust with such an important decision, they ranted. The real crime was that the veto of silence had been broken. The unspoken agreement – never to treat leaving the Brussels-centred bloc as even up for discussion – had been violated.
When assessing costs and benefits, something equally strange happened. Those loyal to the Franco-German project all described themselves as rational, businesslike, technocratic, beyond nationalism or atavistic flag-waving. They said those wishing to leave the EU were emotional old-fashioned folk, trapped in racist attachments to identity and (ugh!) “nation”. We heard that pro-Brexit voters were victims of outdated beliefs and poor education, unable to understand the glittering new future of committees and commissars.
Yet when you looked, it was the anti-EU side talking about technical things like tariffs, fishing rights, how laws get made – and the pro-EU side that was promoting its view with heaps of emotion ….waving starry blue flags while they did it.
Staying part of the EEC in 1975 and remaining part of the EU in 2016 were on both occasions argued for with emotional, deeply tribal imagery. Incoherent stirrings of pride to be ever-so-liberal, actually living out that John Lennon song (“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do.”), voting for cool, hip stuff – French cheeses / Bavarian castles / Italian opera / blondes on bicycles next to canals. Pan-European nationalism wasn’t nationalism – it was civilisation itself!
It’s perhaps unkind to notice that – rather against this narrative – Britons favouring the “European dream” were often not especially good at languages at school.
It was almost as if their pro-EU stance was a way of becoming citizens of the world without the chore of learning any grammar. Here in Budapest, many of the Britons most sceptical of the EU are those who mastered Hungarian to a good level. Often they’re the ones with old-fashioned educations who previously learned another language out of interest in a specific culture.
As opposed to the supermarket display of Culture Chunks (“Look! French chateau!”; “See! Greek island!”; “Yes! Italian sports car!”) that accompanies the federal dream. What moves the hearts of passionate EU followers is a multi-view-postcard vision of civilisation. Something not unlike that 1969 American comedy film ‘If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium’.
There is a second string to their bow, though.
When they get serious and pompous, they switch to the Lennonist “dream of peace” – that a bureaucratic, protectionist, supranational federation can never start a war. Even though start a war is precisely what the bureaucratic, protectionist, supranational federation of Austro-Hungary did in 1914. Anyone who thinks the EEC/EC/EU cannot cause a war really hasn’t been paying much attention. We know already from Yugoslavia (another supranational federation, by the way) in the 1990s that the EU cannot stop one.
Then we hear that countries heavily interlocked by trade and investment never go to war with each other. Wrong again. Britain and Germany in 1914 were each other’s biggest trade partners. There are many examples.
EU claims to be a peace project bring us to their new army. Warnings by pro-Brexit campaigners that the EU was creating an army not under NATO command was casually denounced as a “Leaver lie” by pro-Brussels figures in the 2016 campaign, only to be publicly admitted as true a handful of days after the vote. Almost as if lovers of the EU are narcissists trying to gaslight the rest of us.
Reasserting British sovereignty entails two realisations.
First, looking again at how several centuries of tradition and piecemeal evolution (as opposed to Continental hubris about grand new beginnings – the EU being a perfect example and France’s numerous new republics – currently on number 5 since the 1790s – being another) accidentally but thankfully gave Britain better governance. Better and less dangerous ideas about trade & law than the great Continental powers of France & Germany, however much we love their wonderful food and fine engineering.
This is not about British superiority (if only!) but about respecting, protecting what we find by chance we’re stewards of. There’s nothing arrogant about not destroying what your grandparents left you. Through no special virtue we inherit an Accidental Garden, part chance, part intervention. This garden grew from coincidences and past efforts, nurtured by generations trying not to damage whatever seemed to work or have charm, whatever seemed to have lasted.
Because it also means grasping that the latest Franco-German grand project became a secular religion for a swathe of spiritually-stunted Britons. People with just enough intellect to call themselves intellectuals but not enough to really think. For example, anyone believing the Common Purpose movement really promotes a future “borderless” world which some virtuous “technocrats” will “manage”. People who take for granted our world is made only of matter (some version of atheism) and historically made of money & force (some version of Marxism).
An unencumbered, no-strings-attached No Deal Brexit is a crucial moment to clean house and rinse them out of their nooks and crannies in the apparatus. Boris Johnson’s new mandate since the mid-December election is only a beginning, and it’s by no means clear yet that his team sees how serious the subversion and infiltration has been. With its deadly combination of large-scale naiveté and personal cynicism, its smug faith in multinational committees and corporatist-grant-driven science, this treason of the junior clerks is no joke.
Their three-year rearguard action against the real Britain shows the urgency of pruning back these overpromoted saboteurs.
Mark Griffith is a financial trader whose weblog http://www.otherlanguages.org follows news on artificial intelligence, politics, economics, and other subjects. He is researching a book about whether AI will change how people live.