I felt compelled to create “Britannia On The Waves” and to compose this post on the EU Referendum for this reason. Even though the campaigns over whether we vote to leave or remain in the EU have just begun, we’ve become awash with hysterical hyperbole and downright scaremongering. I’m afraid to say the remain campaign heavily financed by the EU themselves have been doing their utmost to portray the average leave voter as an inward looking, negative thinking and deluded individual.
What many may find incredulous by the time you’ve finished reading this, is that once I was pro EU. I was fed the mainstream media reports and for many years I believed in the EU. But I was fooled. Like many members of the public, even older ones like myself only saw the positives and not the whole picture.
My only wish is, rather than focusing upon all the negatives, the Brexit campaign instead focus upon all the positives of the UK leaving the EU so as to counteract the scaremongering of those who campaign to remain.
The greatest barrier to the leave campaign is the vote of the younger generations. Those too young at the time and those born after the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 have only grown up in a world shaped by the EU, knowing nothing else but the EU and being a member and citizen of the EU. It is these generations who need to be educated and informed. Not belittled, preached or shouted at but actually informed. I am sure there are many things of which they are unaware, of which their parents, grandparents and teachers have not passed on to them. This has ramifications over how the EU is perceived and how national and self identity is put in to context.
Firstly, we have to understand the conceptual beginnings of the EU. This is where hyperbole enters the fray. People will inform you that the seed of the EU was planted after World War II with the notion of a great European alliance to prevent countries from going to war with each other, ever again. This is the `sound-bite’; this is the hyperbole and not the entire truth. The reality is the only concerns of war in Europe at that time lay with fears of yet another war between France and (West) Germany. Wars tend to be fought to either win land or to win fuel/energy resources or natural materials and ores in order to expand national growth. Conversely if there is a shortage of these resources this can lead nations into a war of necessity if they continue to be deprived. In 1951 at the Treaty of Paris, France, West Germany, Italy and the three Benelux countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands joined the European Coal and Steel Community. This ECSC was the foundation of the EU. Merely an organization established to ensure these nations shared their natural resources to prevent conflict between them. Note the absence of the UK. This was of little or no consequence for the UK as she had a plentiful supply in her own nation of energy and material resources. If she were found wanting she had the safety-net of access to the bounties held within her British Commonwealth, the once British Empire. At the inception of what would become the EU, the UK was absent.
The other myth often pedalled of the EU was its inception was designed to protect Western Europe from the threat of communist USSR. Again, this is another myth as the protection of Europe during the Cold War fell to NATO and that protection is still carried out by NATO.
In 1973 the UK entered the European Economic Community (EEC). Note well, not the EU but the EEC. Prime Minister Ted Heath and his Conservative government took this nation into the EEC without consultation of the electorate. The UK became a member of the EEC before the public could be consulted in a referendum. In June 1975 after being a member of the EEC for over two years the British electorate were at last allowed to have a say on the matter. The electorate were asked if they wished the UK to remain a part of the EEC, known as the Common Market. This was a referendum about trade within Europe, not about stronger ties with Europe or a loss of sovereignty. The electorate had voted to remain but I suspect if many had foreseen the future that lay ahead they would have changed their mind and the way they voted. At the time it was not seen as an important issue and I know many people who did not even vote in that referendum. Perhaps that is a good reminder to encourage people to go out and vote in this referendum. Coincidentally, in the 1975 referendum both the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru were a part of the NO campaign and wished to leave the Common Market.
Our circumstances really changed in 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty. This is the treaty that was perceived by many to show the Conservatives as a divided party rife with Euroscepticism. John Major the Prime Minister of the day is remembered for leaving the treaty having signed an unsatisfactory outcome for Europhiles and Eurosceptics alike. All the time the public media portrayed the doubters as eccentric imbeciles. In retrospect I think this does a great disservice to these individuals. What the Maastricht Treaty should be remembered for is the recognition of the aims and goals of the Europhiles finally being laid open for all to see. The EEC Common Market, an economic trade agreement became the EC, the European Community and the forerunner of the EU. With the Maastricht Treaty we learned that their ultimate goal was to have an enlarged European community, with one shared currency, the Euro within a single market trade bloc. Future goals included closer integration for members leading to a common legal and social system. On reflection, this bore all the hallmarks of the moment of inception for the idealized dream of one day achieving a European federal state.
What may be forgotten about the Maastricht Treaty was the introduction of the codecision procedure, now formally known as the ordinary legislative procedure to the newly named EC. What we have with this procedure is a system whereby the European Commission sits over the European Council and European Parliament. The Commission proposes new European legislation which goes before the Parliament and Council who have equal joint powers and both of them must be in agreement for new legislation to be made law. This all sounds very civil and the electorate may feel their voice is being heard in Parliament via their elected MEP’s. On closer inspection the reality is not quite what it seems. The influential and powerful Commission which sits over the Council and Parliament is unelected. Since 1992 these unelected members sitting on the Commission have the sole power to propose, repeal or amend EU legislation. This means not a single politician who has been publicly elected has the power to influence, or propose new legislation to reform the EU.
For those who wish us to remain in the EU we get reminded of all the benefits open to us, like some kind of Holy Grail. The main benefit which concerns us all is the freedom of movement within the EU. The Schengen Agreement, of which the UK is not a member, is held aloft like a beacon. The perception that is falsely made is that before Schengen British citizens didn’t travel or live as domiciles within Europe. This is a fallacy. Since the late 1950’s those Britons with sufficient funds have vacationed, worked and lived within Europe without hassle or hardship.
The other supposed benefit of our membership is being within a single market trade bloc. We are supposed to feel reassured and emboldened by this. They would have us believe that we are weak and we require the single market bloc to trade as one on equal terms with countries like China and India. This is preposterous and foolish talk. The EU bloc may indeed hold trade talks with countries like China but when trade agreements are thrashed out, the eventual outcomes may in no shape or form bring any succour to British businesses. Trading within this bloc the EU acts as the middleman and patriarch setting out the criteria and the distribution of trade within the EU between these other nations. This handicaps British businesses (and government trade) forcing them to act within set legislation and to be reliant upon what is handed down to them by the EU. This is all about preventing any one nation growing too powerful economically bringing in checks and balances to harm those economies. To show how bizarre these trade deals are and how ineffectual we are perceived by the EU is our trade with India. For much good and ill, India a vast country before partition was a part of the British Empire. India has gone from partial rule and trade through the East India Company to becoming a full member of the Empire under the rule of Queen Victoria, Empress of India. Thanks to this bond India remained a member of the British Commonwealth and is now a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Aid is given to India by the UK and their unifying language is English. And yet Belgium has more trade deals with India than the UK.
If the UK were to begin the process of leaving the EU on a Monday, on the Tuesday a British trade delegation could be sitting down with the Chinese, freed of the shackles of EU red tape and legislation being able to speak with one voice. Any trade lost within Europe could soon be replaced by new trade deals with many other countries like China. This is why some within the G20 and the EU are scared of the UK leaving. If this were to happen and the UK was able to trade successfully on its own gaining more lucrative deals on better terms with countries like China, how envious would those in the single market be? All of a sudden the trade bloc nations might find their membership a great hindrance rather than an advantage. This may get other EU countries reconsidering their own future within the EU.
Of course, it is at this time I am expecting to hear the rhetoric of those who will claim if the UK leaves the EU, the UK will be forced into paying more for European goods and services through tariffs and higher taxes. But in the long run will this really be the case? Let us take one example from one EU nation. When the UK entered the EEC in 1973 we were followed in by Denmark and Ireland. Both countries felt they had no choice but to enter the EEC as they had such close economic ties with the UK. Let us take Denmark and Danish bacon as one example. The UK is the largest consumer of Danish bacon. If the UK were to leave what would potentially happen? Theoretically the EU could force Denmark to place tariffs on our purchases of their bacon. But in reality, could or would this ever happen? I very much doubt so, as the UK would be able to cope with the outcome, more so than the Danish economy. To begin with if the tariffs were implemented in the short term all that would happen is that the British consumer would buy more British bacon. This would boost the wealth of British farmers and the UK economy. In the long term of course demand would outstrip supply. British farmers would not be able to supply enough bacon to the nation. No one person and no one nation are indispensable. Freed of the hindrances and shackles of the single market the UK could source its own supply of bacon elsewhere. In future the British consumer could be purchasing reasonably priced rashers of bacon from somewhere like Canada. The only country to be hurt in this process would be Denmark if it were forced to implement tariffs against the UK. Of course Denmark could decide on its own to trade with the UK and continue to supply Danish bacon to the UK on equally agreed terms and arrangements. I cannot imagine the EU being very happy about that. I am certain this is one of the major worries of the EU if the UK chose to leave.
The UK leaving the EU could deal a heavy blow to the EU perhaps even bringing about the demise of the EU in its present form. How long would the single market trade bloc hold if those members observe UK trade delegates gaining better deals and terms on the world’s stage than them? If the EU enforces their members to pass on high tariffs to the UK thereby harming their own economies, how long will these nations tolerate the loss of UK trade? If the UK leaves how long before other EU countries decide to take the exit route? The UK leaving the EU would almost certainly embolden those within the EU who are dissatisfied with the direction it has taken to likewise seek an exit from the current EU. This is their great fear.
For those of you still undecided and who remain unconvinced that the UK can go it alone, believing that we shall be cast out into the wilderness, convinced that there is no Brexit plan and that we have nobody to turn to, well there is another option. The UK and other disgruntled EU countries already have a potential trade safety net. In 1960 the UK became a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The UK only left once it became a full member of the EEC. The current remaining members of EFTA are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. If the UK were to leave the EU I am sure that those countries would willingly welcome the UK back in to the EFTA fold with open arms. Past EFTA members now within the EU include Austria, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden and Finland. If the UK returned to the EFTA fold how long would it be before those other past members wished to do likewise? I can easily envisage a disillusioned Denmark and Sweden soon longing to return to EFTA. If EFTA, free of EU bureaucracy were able to gain more lucrative trade deals on the global market compared to their EU counterparts I’m sure other EU countries would be looking to make the switch to EFTA. This can only be achieved if the UK votes to leave the EU and joins EFTA. This gives the potential of an empowered EFTA weakening the tenure of the EU’s grip on its member nations. Brexit would be a way of helping those other nations gain independence from the EU. French President Charles de Gaulle always accused Britain of being a Trojan horse and at every opportunity vetoed the UK’s entry into the Common Market. Charles de Gaulle envisaged a day when Britain would bring about the demise of this European organisation. A vote for Brexit could prove de Gaulle was right all along.
Why is it right this time for the UK to leave the EU? Luckily our integration into the UK has been nowhere near as extensive as other countries. From bad comes good. On 16th September 1992 the UK suffered Black Wednesday. At this time the UK had placed Sterling within the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) with the option of then adopting the Euro and joining the Eurozone. On that fateful day when Sterling devalued, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont was forced to take Sterling out of the ERM. Over the coming years this has since proved to be a blessing, with those nations within the ERM not only tied to the parameters and constraints of the ERM but also tied in to the German economy which has been problematic to all other nations within the Eurozone. Firstly the Euro countries suffered due to Germany’s high interest rates and expenditure caused by the reunification of West and East Germany. Subsequently the Deutsche Bundesbank of the Federal Republic of Germany has been transformed in to the European Central Bank while cleverly extricating itself from being a lender of last resort. All this time German economic growth has been very high bordering on becoming an over heating economy. This has meant all those other Eurozone nations have struggled greatly in controlling their own economies. In effect the German economy controls the EU. This has been to Germany’s advantage (something which the original ECSC was founded upon to prevent the economic dominance of one nation) and Germany has had to lend funds to the majority of other nations within the Eurozone. The UK is one of the very few nations which are not indebted at this time to Germany.
This may be a pertinent point but the same people who wrongly urged the UK’s entry into the Euro and then wrongly claimed that the UK would suffer if the nation retained Sterling and kept out of the Euro are now the very same people who are urging that we remain within the EU and are preaching doom laden tales of retribution and punishment which the UK shall receive if we vote to leave. The very people who are scaremongering and spreading fear are the same people who had foretold and predicted disaster at every turn that the UK has made away from the EU. Yet nothing has come to pass.
The UK is not in the ERM, nor the Eurozone, nor is she indebted to Germany. Nor is the UK signed up to the Schengen Agreement. At this moment in time we shall never be farther from EU integration or more closer to extraction from the EU than we are now. To withdraw from the EU at this time would involve a lot less disentanglement than farther down the road if the UK is a member of the Eurozone.
As the situation stands now there is unofficially a three tier system to the EU. Those within the Eurozone cover two tiers. Germany, France and the Benelux countries which have coped with the constrictions of the Euro fall in to the top tier. The middle tier is occupied by the countries in the Eurozone who have struggled with the Euro, Italy, Spain, Greece, etc. The third and bottom tier, which holds the most ineffectual countries within the EU who have less of a say are those nations not yet in the Eurozone which of course includes the UK. No matter what any nation has signed to enter into or, to abstain from, the harsh reality is that this ad hoc compromise cannot continue in perpetuity. Nor will the EU permit this. There have always been those since the 1951 Treaty of Paris who have wished to one day see one united and federal European country. This desire will never subside and whether it takes fifty years, eighty years or a century from now there is a real likelihood that a federal Europe will come to pass. One united country made up of States. One currency. One parliament. One Council. One President. One nation. Each country within the EU will cease to be a nation, similar to each State within the United States of America. How often does someone from Arkansas say they are an Arkansan? Or that someone from Florida is a Floridian? Or any State for that matter with the possible exception of Texans from Texas. The remainder without hesitation shall cry that they are “American”. At least the USA was a nation founded upon personal freedom and a collective dream of a new nation.
For Europe this is very different, we are all old nations with our own identities fully formed and well cemented. Imagine the loss of nationhood? Words like sovereignty and national identity get bandied about with little understanding. Imagine future generations not referring to themselves as British, nor English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish for that matter, but referring to themselves solely as Europeans. If you choose to vote to remain within the EU this shall be a shameful inheritance to bestow upon future generations. It would not only be a betrayal to future Britons born within the UK but it would also be as deep a betrayal to the members of the Commonwealth of Nations. With the UK reduced to a member State of a federal Europe this would leave Commonwealth nations bereft of a collective voice, of which we have a duty of care having once been members of the British Empire. For that matter, what future lays ahead for the Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, along with the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey? What rights of self governance and sovereignty shall they be guaranteed in the future?
This is what makes the EU Referendum so vitally important. This is not a once in a decade vote, nor a once in a generation vote, nor even a once in a lifetime vote, this is the once only, forever, in perpetuity vote, never to be offered to the British public ever again. This will be our one and only chance to grasp this opportunity and vote to leave the EU while we still can.