The UK and the EU:
further reflections on the Brexit vote
Malcolm Potter Brown

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford, 2017

Copyright Malcolm Potter-Brown, 2017

The will of the people
Academic and scientific research
Past relations between the UK and the EU

The will of the people
    Following a sustained campaign of xenophobic prejudice from the press, 36.86% of the British people voted to leave the EU, 34.71% voted to remain, and 27.85% of registered voters did not vote.  The allegedly decisively commanding majority was just 2.15%.  Of the non-voters we know that some who favoured the EU did not bother to vote because they thought victory was a foregone conclusion.  It would be reasonable to suppose that some who supported leaving did not bother because they thought that their vote would make no difference, and that there were probably others who either could not decide, did not care or thought that those in power would ignore the vote and do what they wanted.
    We know too that the Remain side put up a totally incompetent case, concentrating entirely on the alleged probable immediate collapse of the British economy, an unconvincing scenario, and failing to mention any of the advantages of European integration, while the Leave side, assisted by the gutter press, presented an unreal picture of a Britain enjoying all the advantages of the single market without having to follow any of the rules on freedom of movement, in full and absolute control of immigration, and saving an alleged but illusory £350,000,000 per week which could be spent over and over again.
    It soon became apparent that the Leave side had lied.  The vast sums of money to be spent on the NHS and other projects has not materialised because it was never there.  Various sectors of the British economy have protested that their futures depend on immigrants, and the EU has made it clear that it will not permit access to the single market except on its own terms.
    It is clear that many of those who voted leave hadn’t the faintest idea of what the conditions for leaving would be, and that, when these are negotiated, Parliament and, if necessary, the people, should have the opportunity of scrutinising them and deciding whether or not they are acceptable and, if they are not acceptable, of considering whether we would be better off remaining within the European Community.  To say that making this request is an attempt to overthrow the “will of the people” is absurd.  The majority in favour of leaving was only 2.15% despite the incompetence of the Remain case, the lies of Brexit politicians and the xenophobic campaign of the press.  To deny a request for parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiated settlement is a denial of free speech, and to say that it would weaken the Prime Minister’s negotiating position a total falsehood.  It would, if anything, strengthen it.

    During the campaign the Leavers presented an illusory picture of the UK in full control of immigration, with an advantageous agreement with the European Single Market and engaging in untrammelled trade with America and the rest of the world.  Remain warned that Britain was simply not big enough to act independently and forecast immediate and irrecoverable doom.
    Neither side’s predictions came true.
    We cannot have full access to the single market without accepting freedom of movement.  Even if we stay outside the single market, there is no way we can reduce immigration to the promised levels.  Any trade agreements with America are likely to be very much in the stronger partner’s favour, and President Trump has made it clear that his policy will always be “America first”
    On the other hand, the economy has not collapsed, shares are high, but the pound has gone down in value against the dollar and the euro, British companies are now in effect available at a bargain price to predatory American companies as we saw in the attempted takeover of Unilever by Kraft, several major international companies are waiting to see what the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will be before deciding whether to move out of Britain, and even a British bank like Barclays has made it clear that it will move its headquarters to Frankfurt if Britain does not have freedom of access to the single market.  One long-term result of Brexit will therefore be the dethroning of London from its dominant position as the financial capital of Europe and its replacement by Frankfurt.
    World share of nominal GDP
    World trade is now increasingly dominated by major economies: the United States (324 million), China (1,382 million), India (1,327 million), and the European Union (510 million, or 445 million without Britain).  The following diagram illustrates the positions of the seven largest economies which account for 75% of world trade, and it will be seen that, while the United States is the world’s leading economy, the EU comes second.  China, shown as third in the diagram, is rapidly expanding.  Using other measurements China and the EU are sometimes listed in top position
    Admittedly the economic integration of Europe has not been successful, with economies ranging from the highly successful, Germany (population 80.6 million) and the UK (65.5 million), down to near basket-cases like Greece (10.9 million).  The over-rapid introduction of the single currency has probably exacerbated these differences, but prosperity for all members lies within the union rather than in attempting to go it alone.  Even within the United Kingdom itself there are wide variations in the prosperity of different areas, but this is not seen as a reason to break up the country.
    An economy the size of Britain’s may not be strong enough to act independently in a world dominated by predatory larger units.  India, for example is so wealthy, despite wide variations across its population, that a single Indian billionaire owns the whole of the British steel industry and can threaten to close it down when he is discontented with conditions here.  China has long been a ruthlessly predatory economic imperialist power, giving palaces to African dictators in return for the right to exploit their country’s natural resources, and, thanks to George Osborne’s policy, we may find China gaining a measure of control over our electricity supply.
    As for the United States, the source of the 2008 crash, it now has the audacity to fine British and European banks for their part in selling on the toxic loans American banks created, and to charge them higher fines than its own banks.  RBS has made further colossal losses because of these fines, and, given that the Government was obliged to nationalise RBS in order to save it, the USA is charging the British people fines for its own wrong-doing.  The USA has, of course, form for this sort of thing: following the 1929 Wall Street crash it called in all the loans it had made to Germany, precipitating hyperinflation, the fall of the Weimar Republic, the election of Adolf Hitler, and the Second World War.
    A more sensible reaction to the Wall Street Crash was the Glass-Steagall Act, which established a separation between the activities of commercial banks and investment banks.  It was Bill Clinton’s government that repealed this measure in 1999, leading directly to the financial crisis of 2007-08.  America created the crisis, and now America wants to profit by punishing others for its own sins.  It is time for Europe to take a united stand and to say firmly that this is unacceptable.  Unfortunately such a stand is impossible while the nations of Europe are bickering over Brexit.

    The first half of the 20th century saw two world wars, both of which started in Europe.  The European Union began as a means to ensure the gradual coalescence of Europe and to prevent any further European conflicts.  In this it has been very successful.
    The British vote to leave the community, narrow though it was, is a symptom of the wave of nationalist and particularist populism spreading across the west.  The anti-European and xenophobic mood among many of the brexiteers, whipped up irresponsibly by newspapers that see profit in pandering to the worst excesses of popular prejudice, has led to attacks on innocent people and even murders.  The exultation in the tone adopted by the brexiteers is very like the triumphalist tone adopted by many of the British when war was declared in 1914, before they realised what a catastrophic disaster this was.
    In America a similar discontented populism has elected the highly unstable Donald Trump to the presidency, a man whose campaign-style rallies, continuing even after he took office, are reminiscent of the self-aggrandising rallies held by Hitler.
    In France the same sort of nationalistic prejudice has brought Marine Le Pen within striking distance of the presidency, while far-right parties and anti-European movements are gaining ground in Germany and elsewhere. It should not be forgotten that Trump’s victory is alleged to have been aided by Russian interference and that Marine Le Pen receives funding from Vladimir Putin.
    Mainstream politicians have cause to fear that the British withdrawal may lead to the disintegration of the European Community and a return to individual nation-states competing with each other and with little chance of economic success or political influence in a world now dominated by much larger entities, a disintegration that would be very welcome to Putin’s resurgent Russian imperialism.
    It is not just the EU that is in danger of disintegration.  Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted Remain.  Mrs May’s apparent policy of going for a hard Brexit, leaving the single market entirely has already provoked the SNP into demanding a second independence referendum, and Northern Ireland, faced with the reestablishment of a customs barrier along the hitherto open border with Eire is also likely to demand a referendum to decide whether to leave the UK and join the Republic of Ireland.
    We are now in a situation in which the European Parliament and the parliaments of the 27 member states will be able to vote on the deal made between the EU and the UK but, if Mrs May has her way, the British Parliament will not.  In addition both Scotland and Northern Ireland will demand referenda to approve or reject the agreement, but the English and Welsh will be denied a voice.  In other words, Theresa May has decided that as leader she and she alone will decide what is to be agreed, which puts her in the same class as leaders like Presidents Trump, Putin and Erdogan.  It is to be hoped that the snap election she has called will recall her to a more democratic frame of mind.

Academic and scientific research
    Until the Second World War Britain and Germany were the leading scientific nations in the world.   During the war Churchill gave the USA all our scientific know-how as an inducement to help us.  In 1945 America grabbed the leading German scientists, thereby becoming one of the only two powers to profit from the carnage and establishing itself as the leading scientific and industrial power of the late 20th century.
    Britain’s record since then has been unsatisfactory to say the least.  Our research has been of the highest order, but time and time again there has been no political or economic support.  We once led in nuclear power, now we have to ask the French and Chinese to build our reactors.  With Blue Streak and Black Knight we were leaders in the creation of rockets and in the forefront of the race for space, but the expense was too great and the project cancelled.  Once we had the most advanced vertical take-off and landing plane, but again it was cancelled and inferior American aircraft bought.
    More recently our government ordered two new aircraft carriers, then backed out, then discovered it would cost a considerable sum to  cancel them, and is now paying to store these much needed but currently useless craft, while relying on co-operation with the French for permitted use of their carriers, an arrangement that is hardly likely to continue after Brexit.
    Even our possession of one of the world’s greatest libraries is afflicted by government indecision.  A site was acquired in St Pancras in the 1970s, and plans devised, but in 1988 the Government indicated that it would provide funding for a building only two thirds the size of the original plan.  Much of the site appears to have been sold off, and by 2016 the British Library, the second largest in the world, was reduced to appealing for a commercial sponsor to help it develop the last two remaining acres.
    As a member of the EU Britain is a full member of CERN, with access to the Large Hadron Collider, and thereby a leading power in nuclear research.  Our own research facility at Harwell depends on recruiting leading experts from all over Europe.  The University of Oxford, currently rated number one in the world also relies on recruiting the best brains, and the heads of its colleges have recently pointed out that a hard Brexit will threaten this position and has already made the status of Europeans on its staff uncertain.  The message is: co-operation across national boundaries leads to faster advances in research, nationalistic obstruction of the free movement of academics hinders it.

    Just as academic and scientific research cross the national boundaries of Europe, so too does European culture.  Unlike the culture of the Middle East, the Far East or Africa, European culture, whether in England, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, or Poland, is based on the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition and on classical Graeco-Roman traditions, modified by our medieval, Renaissance, neo-classical and romantic periods, all of which are pan-European.
    Literature, depending as it does on the use of language, is the most likely to be restricted to particular nations, yet even here literary tradition crosses boundaries.  The classical authors of Greece and Rome, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Virgil, Cicero et al. are and remain the foundation of European literature along with the Bible.  Dante is not just an Italian author but read across Europe and both he and Boccaccio influenced writers in other European lands.  Could we have had the Canterbury Tales without the Decameron?  Shakespeare is not just England’s greatest poet and dramatist but revered across all of Europe, especially perhaps in Germany, where the translation by the Romantic poets Schlegel and Tieck has integrated his work so successfully into German literature that Germans regard him as one of their own.  The plays of Molière and Racine are produced in London, the novels of Dumas and Hugo read throughout Britain.  In the late 18th century Goethe’s Werther was a sensation across all of Europe, while his Faust remains one of the peaks of European literature.
    European Music remains distinct from the Asiatic traditions, and, just as in literature we find the succession of pan-European periods, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Symbolist, etc., so these movements occur too in music.  Opera and its modern popular successor the musical both draw on European literature.  The Italian Rossini and the Austrian Mozart both drew on the Frenchman Beaumarchais’ plays: The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro.  Brecht and Weill adapted John Gay’s Beggars’ Opera as Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).  Hugo’s Les Misérables became a best-selling musical in French then English.  The German baroque composer Handel spent most of his career in London, and no-one would ban the music of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven because they are not British.  They are part of our culture.
    Painting and sculpture are also pan-European traditions, separate from the Chinese or African cultures, and following much the same periods as the other European art forms.  Titian, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Dürer, Rembrandt Velazquez, Van Dyke, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Monet, Picasso all belong to the European tradition of art, not to any one nation.
    Of course, none of this would mean anything to the barely-conscious denizens of Peterborough that I mentioned in my essay on Brexit, but even the popular sub-cultures draw on and are influenced by the background of high European culture whether their practitioners are aware of it or not.

    One of the principal reasons for leaving the EU alleged by the Brexiteers is that we will have full control over immigration if free movement of workers within the EU no longer applies.  However more than half the foreign immigrants who come here come from outside the EU, and it is these non-Europeans who challenge our native culture and traditions, for many of them have completely different views on what constitutes acceptable behaviour.
    It is not Europeans who use the on-demand postal voting system, introduced by the Blair government, to dominate elections by handing votes over to be used in a block-voting system.  It is not Europeans who take on jobs and then refuse to carry out instructions because they offend their extreme religious view, who refuse to stack alcohol in supermarkets, or to turn up their sleeves and wash their forearms while carrying out surgical procedures. It is not Europeans who beat children to death to exorcise demons that they believe have possessed them, it is not Europeans who mutilate the genitalia of young girls or who would kill their daughters rather than see them marry someone from outside their closed community, and it is not Europeans who take over whole areas of cities and make them feel alien to the native population, or who demand the right to replace British law with an early medieval code of their own.
    It is not Europeans who insist on keeping their women ignorant even of the English language, thereby preventing their ever achieving integration, and covering even their faces, contrary to our cultural tradition in which only malefactors hide their identities.  Various European countries have objected to this practice, and UKIP has now made it part of its policy believing that British people who prize their national culture will approve.
    UKIP may be right, for the niqab and the burka are not only alien to the British and European way of life but deeply insulting to both men and women.  They imply that British men would be inflamed by lust at the sight of a woman’s face and commit some form of sexual assault, and they also seem to permit some Muslim men to regard British women who do not envelop themselves in black concealment as fair game.  Not only is the burka insulting to the native European population, it is not even Islamic. In most Muslim countries women do not muffle themselves up and conceal their identities.  Moreover, the teaching of the Prophet is that both men and women should be modest in both dress and conduct, while the burka screams “Look at me, I’m different, I’m holier than you!”
     Why then should people who object to the influx of immigrants with alien traditions think that it will come to an end if we leave the EU?  We are told by the Brexiteers that outside the EU we shall be able to trade more easily with wealthy nations like India, but the Indian government has already made it clear that trade deals will only be available if Indian citizens have free access to the UK, in other words that instead of free access to the UK being available to 445 million Europeans it will be thrown open to 1,340 million Indians, 196 million Pakistanis, and 164 million Bangladeshis, almost four times as many potential immigrants just from the Indian subcontinent.

Past relations between the UK and the EU
    Relations between the EU and the UK have never been easy, and, while the UK has proved to be an awkward member, the EU must take its fair share of the blame.
    The initial negotiations for British membership of what was then the Common Market were bedevilled by French intransigence.  Negotiations which had apparently proceeded in a friendly manner and reached a successful conclusion were scuppered by a veto from the appalling General De Gaulle, a man so arrogant that he insisted on marching into Paris ahead of everyone else in 1945 as if he and his tiny Free French force, who had spent the war in London, had been responsible for the liberation of the city rather than the Anglo-American armies, and so lacking in diplomatic courtesy that on a state visit to Canada, as President of France, he encouraged the Province of Quebec to seek independence.  His motive for the veto was obviously that he feared the UK would be a more influential member than France.
    The same fears appear to have dominated the next round of negotiations for British entry because some of the conditions appeared to be designed to ensure the continued prosperity and influence of France at the expense of the UK.  Britain was obliged to be a net-importer of some agricultural produce, Commonwealth preference, on which our food supply had hitherto depended was ended at a stroke, even though it might well have been to the advantage of Europe as a whole to retain such links and even though France kept a special status for those few of its former colonies with which it had managed to retain contact by calling them “overseas departments”.
    The final stroke was to demand EU control of fishing in British territorial waters, described at the time as a final demand intended to discourage the British application.  Whether or not this was true, Prime Minister Heath had staked his whole reputation on gaining entry to the Common Market, so that even this extortionate demand was accepted.  The result was that French and Spanish trawlers, which had been banned from Canadian waters for overfishing, now set about the ruthless exploitation of Britain’s coastal waters, and much of the UK’s own fishing industry was ruined.
    Despite these built-in disadvantages the UK rapidly became one of the most influential members of the European project, with the second largest economy and, incidentally, with the most dominant language.
    There are however still many other reasons for British dislike of the EU administration.  Its regulations have been immensely useful in banning practices harmful to nature and human beings, but often they just go too far.  Banning energy-inefficient light-bulbs is useful, but to specify that they should be replaced by mercury-vapour bulbs shows an obsession with detail but no understanding of environmental issues.
    The obligation on the European Parliament to hold monthly sessions in Strasbourg is inefficient and wasteful.  Strasbourg was the first seat of the Parliament, but it became obvious that if it were to exercise any control over the Commission and the civil service it would have to be in Brussels with the rest of the EU government machine.  The continuance of the migration to Strasbourg is a sop to the French Government, which, if it had the best interests of Europe at heart, would immediately agree to end this unnecessary travelling circus.
    There is, of course, a massive democratic deficit at the heart of the EU with its indirectly elected Commission appointed by the individual states, giving the impression almost of a soviet system.  The only way to form a truly democratic system would be to replace the Commission with a cabinet elected from the majority parties in the European Parliament and to introduce a second, revising, chamber or senate, with members appointed by the state governments, i.e. more progress towards a unified confederation.  It is obvious that the state government that would most strenuously object to any such move would be the British.  Nonetheless there are many less drastic ways of reforming the EU, some of them requested by Prime Minister Cameron.  It is time for the EU to stop making vague promises and really get down to necessary reform, even if it may harm the vested interests of those who resist it.

    Britain’s exit from the EU will harm both the UK and Europe.  The original majority in favour of Brexit was just 2.15% despite the determinedly anti-European campaign waged by the popular press.  Theresa May’s version of a hard Brexit, reflecting the wishes of the extreme right wing of the Tory party and the rabid xenophobia of the press, needs to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny at the close of negotiations, and very probably to a second referendum, with the possibilities of accepting the deal, sending her back to try again, or choosing to remain within the Union, for the promises made by the Brexit campaign were that we should retain all the advantages of the single market without accepting any of its rules, and these promises have now been shown to be false.  This means that the Government is now imposing a form of Brexit for which no-one had voted.  If democracy means anything another vote is not just desirable but absolutely necessary.

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