27. Feb, 2016

Brexit – An Uncle Tom Cobley Opinion

The prospect of Britons leaving the benighted European Union has everyone talking – Uncle Tom Cobley an’ all!

In my view however, one of the most idiotic offerings heard to date comes from the undistinguished Chancellor of the magniloquently styled Australian National University, Gareth Evans.

In a recent article published by The Australian yesterday’s man and erstwhile Australian Foreign Minister, remembered as much for his evil temper and foul-mouth as for his diplomacy, suggested:

 One of the most bizarre arguments made by the people who support Britain’s exit from the European Union is the notion that a self-exiled UK will find a new global relevance, and indeed leadership role, as the center of the “Anglosphere.”

The idea is that there are a group of countries – with the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing community of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand at its core – who share so much of a common heritage in language, history, law, democratic institutions and human-rights-respecting values, that they can be a new, united force for global peace and prosperity.[1] 
 

This is a bizarre indeed. Evans continues by ridiculing the idea. All right – so what?

So where did this bizarre idea come from? Who would seriously suggest such a scenario for a post-EU Britain in the twenty-first century? To me it sounds very much like a classic Straw Man fallacy, carefully constructed to enable Evans the opportunity to huff and puff yet again before the Australian public.

But I shall desist from further indulgence in argumentum ad hominem. Let me say however that the article provides ample evidence that the entire cast of Widecombe Fair are expressing their thoughts on Britain’s future with the European Union. So, why not another unsolicited commentator from the antipodes?

I remember well the pre-2002 brouhaha surrounding Britain’s consideration of the Eurozone. I remember reading the near hysterical arguments put up by major industry groups in Britain foretelling doom and disaster for that country’s employment and economy in general if Britain failed to join. In the event Britain remained outside the Eurozone to its own advantage. Those same companies continued to prosper, manufacturing continued, the British economy expanded and the spits and spats with Brussels continued.

I remember particularly well the 1st of January 2002, the day that a dozen of the fifteen countries then constituting the European Union officially adopted the Euro as their currency. It was a Tuesday - a very cold Tuesday at that. My wife and I arrived at Heathrow at some un-Godly hour before the pre-dawn. It was cold, the airport uncharacteristically and comparatively empty, the immigration and custom procedures cursory and within a short space of time from disembarking the aircraft we found ourselves in a taxi to Kensington. When dawn broke a few hours later we went for a stroll through the gardens beside the frozen Serpentine; caught the tube at Hyde Park Corner, emerging at Westminster and walked into the mid-winter sunshine and the glory of the ‘River’, Big Ben and so forth. It was a truly memorable and crisp winter’s morning. As we walked we talked about British history, conscious of the historical significance of the day to the future of Europe. Unrealistically I suppose we expected ‘something’ to happen. However, during our stay we soon discerned the question of Europe and the Euro was not on the lips of every Briton we met. Indeed, a decided insouciance seemed to be the order of the day.

Fourteen years later the same cannot be said. Britons have obviously had a surfeit of political shenanigans, domestic and European. Their political elites have let them down; the real standards of living haven’t improved; illegal immigration is almost unchecked; political correctness is enslaving Britain’s proud traditions of freedom of speech and expression; moral relativism and a blend of political opportunism and cowardice is proving to be the handmaiden to massive societal change; the future of British culture and sovereignty is under very real threat and, concomitantly, the very way of thinking of themselves as British is under challenge!

Can there be any wonder that Britons are in a confused and volatile state. Much of this disaffection is perhaps directed unfairly towards the EU. The details of Britain’s social malaise are long and complex but essentially stem from a single truth, namely, a singular failure by Britain’s political class to provide requisite leadership: – conduct your own mental roll call of British Prime Minister’s since Wilson and excluding Thatcher and try conjuring up an image of coherent, inclusive, intelligent or natural leadership. As for the current political leadership – Cameron or Corbyn – what can anyone say? The fact that both of them rose to ascendency in their respective parties speaks enough about the quality of engagement by the general public in national affairs. In simple terms - we reap as we sow.   

So, what about Europe?

A vote to leave would be a poke in both eyes of the political establishment. Aside from administering a well-deserved snub to the politically amoral Cameron and a strident wake-up call to the sleep-walking Corbyn, it would be an assertion of British identity – cultural, economic and sovereign.

It is obvious that the chameleon Cameron has not been the best steward of Britain’s interests in the European or the international community. His vapid and belated defence of the Union last year and the feebleness of his recent negotiations with Europe, speak of the hot air and emptiness that has characterised British political leadership over much of the past fifty years.

It is time perhaps for a complete paradigm shift – to dispense with the “same old same old” certainties and stifling constraints of the past – including Europe – and to demand more of national leaders than oratorical flourishes and empty promises.    

Moreover, a break with Europe could provide the impetus for Britons to reevaluate their place in the world. Far from encouraging a ‘little Britain’ mind set, it could be the opportunity for their country to prosper by engaging with a far broader world - Asia, South America, Eastern Europe and Russia. To do so would require an enormous agility in commercial policy and the exercise of the diplomatic panache and dexterity that was once the hallmark of British diplomacy.

When all is said and done, Britain’s historical association with Europe has not been a happy one and its contemporary association with the EU can hardly be called a marriage made in heaven. By contrast Britain has an almost five hundred year tradition of casting its eyes beyond Europe in quest of trade and empire. The days of empire are gone but the economic imperative remains.

Consequent to a more flexible economic posture, free of the constraints of Europe, would necessarily evolve a more independent foreign and military policy. In assuming, like Switzerland, a policy of [effective] armed neutrality, the United Kingdom could join that small cohort of nations – the honest brokers.   

The 23 June will prove to be one of those watershed moments in British history. Unlike the Scottish referendum which could have torn a people with a two thousand year shared history and cultures asunder, this is a vote on whether or not Britons wish to have their identity and culture subsumed by Europe. It is an important distinction.   

As I commented recently to a dear and old school friend:

At last the U.K. has the opportunity to re-engage with the real world. Good for your economy; good for your democracy; good for your self-esteem; good for your sovereignty and, last but by no means least, good for the world in having the gravitas of a non-aligned voice of reason, wisdom and experience in its ear.

After forty years the pros and cons about the matter should have run their course. You Britons should know by now your Destiny. It is a destiny far broader than the narrow and suffocating confines of a latter day 'Napoleonic' Europe.

Satis verborum – This is, after all, a matter for Britons. But in my concluding view, it is no time for temerity – when faced with one of those decisions of momentous epochal import – why not shoot for the stars! Go for it Lads!

 

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[1] Anglo dreamers wrong to dump EU. The Australian 23 February. See Also:  https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/uk-little-global-influence-after-brexit-by-gareth-evans-2016-02