Calling Free Nations
Stuart Millson deconstructs “Remainiac” rhetoric
On 1stMay, the Daily Mail, the newspaper which the chattering classes love to hate, published some extraordinary despatches from the House of Lords debate on EU exit – their ‘lordships’ having inflicted the latest series of defeats on the Government’s Brexit legislation. Alongside messrs Mandelson, Heseltine and Kinnock, plus another noble peer whose only claim to fame is the manufacture and mass-sale of lager, the anti-Leave cause was spurred on by one, Lord Roberts of… Llandudno. A five-times-defeated LibDem parliamentary candidate, the noble Roberts (no relation, as far as we know, of the great Victorian/Edwardian General) compared the actions of the Prime Minister to those of Hitler. Quite apart from the fact that Mrs. May has demonstrated her liberal credentials on many occasions – her earnest belief in inclusion, in helping the “just managing” and the marginalised – the contention of Llandudno’s finest really cannot go unchallenged.
As can be seen from perusal of the pro-Remain press, or by listening to Radio 4’s Today programme or news “analysis”, the EU side – predominantly metropolitan – is fond of portraying the Brexit cause as populist, or worse – far-Right, even Fascistic. And yet the grand project to “unite” Europe, to bring every country and individual into a single state with its own anthem, flag and currency, harks back to the Berlin of 1942. In that year, leading economists and industrialists of the Reich met to discuss the formation of ‘Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft’ – the European economic community. It is true that just before the fall of France in 1940, the French diplomat and League of Nations enthusiast Jean Monnet devised a plan for his country and the United Kingdom to merge into one new country, in order to face down the threat of German invasion and hegemony across the entire continent – a proposal rejected by the French Government.
In the post-war period, Monnet revived a new version of that plan, although adapted to the new reality of a France and Germany which had to be reconciled and stabilised, lest a European war ever break out again. However, Monnet’s plan of a Coal and Steel Community – although undoubtedly the first step toward a federation – never included a blueprint for what has come to pass in the early-21stcentury, a European Union consisting of former Warsaw Pact capitals – and a Union, at that, with its own (unelected) President.
If the architects of the embryonic European Community in 1942 could have foreseen the extent to which the modern EU has permeated most aspects of economic and political life, they would consider their work to have been well and truly achieved. That their system would also be the object of wholehearted veneration by the British Upper Chamber some 80 years later, might have led to the clinking of schnapps glasses long into the night.
But the 2016 Brexit vote has potentially changed Europe’s course: presaging the prospect of a new Europe of nations – of sovereign states and peoples; a Europe of a hundred flags; a continent in which the governments and parliaments – rather than a group of central controllers – conduct their home policies, customs and trade arrangements. So powerful a repudiation of the EU and its founding fathers and ideologies was the Brexit vote, that the powers-that-be in Brussels are now pouring every ounce of energy into defending the great structures of their system: the Single Market, the Customs Union, government from the European Commission, the firm and firmly-administered “unity” of the continental club. The prospect that a nation could lead a normal life again – governing itself through its own truly representative institutions – now reverberates throughout the weakening EU; with Hungary and Poland refusing the Brussels directive to accommodate large quotas of migrants; with Holland and Germany electing anti-EU members to their parliaments.
Brexit – although tangled and its details much disputed, and although our final withdrawal deal is far from clear – is a chance for us to establish a new chapter in the history books of Europe, whatever illusions our noble friend from Llandudno and his ill-informed associates cling on to.
Stuart Millson is QR’s Classical Music Editor