This continues the post on the history of this unhappy union from yesterday –
by Mustang (Our man on the beat in the UK)
Germany was happy to partner with France, either owing to its guilt about World War II, or its ability to game Charles De Gaulle for their own purposes. Whatever the reasons, the EEC finally did extend the hand of friendship to the UK, and in 1973 British Prime Minister Edward Heath was happy to lead his people down the road of romantic idealism.
But, if there were differences of opinion among EEC members, it was nothing compared to differences among British people themselves. On the one hand, pro-European Brits championed this notion of hands across the channel —though giving no thought to the long-term costs of such an arrangement, and on the other hand, anti-union Brits feared the loss of their national sovereignty. Their (reasonable) fear of high taxation without adequate representation (in what would become the EU Parliament) was, as history shows us, well-founded. Thoughtful Americans might recall a similar refrain from the days of the British colonies in 1774.
Nevertheless, conservative leaders led the UK into the EEC in 1975 when membership was put to the British people in a national referendum. At that time, EEC membership enjoyed the support of all three political parties, all of the national newspapers, and 67% of the British people. The debate was far from over, however, because membership offered no immediate economic benefit to Great Britain.
The UK was plagued with labor strikes, which required the government to cut power from its coal-dependent energy grid, and faced rising oil prices that resulted in double-digit inflation. Membership in the EEC (soon called simply the European Community (EC) (headquartered in Brussels), not only became a toxic issue in British politics, it also created deep divisions within the political parties themselves.
One college professor observed, “Some might argue that the fundamental conflict in post-war Britain is not so much between the left and right, as between those who believe that Britain’s future lies with Europe, and those who believe it does not.”
By 1984, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recognized that Great Britain received much less in agricultural subsidies than did France. She successfully negotiated a rebate on its EC contributions.
The 1980s was a period of power struggle between London and Brussels, when French socialist Jacques Delors became president of the EC. His goal was to achieve a more federalized Europe and a single currency. Thatcher, in rejecting the European super-state, was uncompromising —even though these positions fueled conservative inter-party warfare.
Eventually, Thatcher’s unwillingness to compromise national principles led to her political downfall.
In September 1992, Great Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont, withdrew the UK from the Exchange Rate Mechanism. To some, “Black Wednesday” became one of the lowest points in Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Although Thatcher was unable to stop Europe’s march toward political union, her successor, John Major did sign the Maastricht Treaty. This treaty allowed for a massive transfer of power from Britain to the European Union.
The British did achieve “opt-outs” from the single currency mandate and European Social Charter, but the treaty undermined the British tradition of an sacrosanct sovereign parliament. The British people were not happy, and this led to a landslide victory for Tony Blair in 1997. Among the Brits, the greatest enemy of the UK resided within both political parties. Blair signed his country up to the social chapter, which made the communist left happy, and conservative minded citizens wary of being eventually forced to accept the Euro as their nation’s currency.
In 1998, however, the British economy was doing well; there was no reason for any thinking Brit to support adoption of the Euro. The plan to accept the Euro was placed on hold and, in time, the British people were proved right to distrust it. The Euro Crisis put to rest any prospect of the British adopting the single currency rule, and, what’s more, fueled a sense of Euroscepticism that permeated both the conservative party and most British citizens.
Late in 2011, EU leaders attempted to establish new budget rules. Prime Minister David Cameron demanded exemptions, and when he did not get them, he vetoed the pact. His critics claimed that Cameron cut his country adrift from the EU, but the Eurosceptics were delighted —and wanted more of the same.
Accordingly, Cameron promised a referendum on continued British membership in the European Union. Personally, Cameron wanted the UK to remain in the EU and when the British people (by a small margin) demanded withdrawal … Cameron resigned. It then fell upon the shoulders of Prime Minister Theresa May to figure out how to do it.
Pro-British factions today blame the EU for everything that is found wrong with domestic policies. This is probably unfair. Most of what is wrong within the Home Office results from self-serving politicians who —much like our own— are only capable of operating on two cylinders. Also —like ourselves— the British people are quite easily led by their politicians.
In the 1970s, they followed their political pied-piper down the road to Shangri-La —the land of tariff-free, cross border, social justice happiness. All that the British people really needed to do to achieve utopia is pay ever-increasing taxes for services enjoyed by the citizens of other countries. In Spain, for example, extra-wide sidewalks have been divided into three lanes: one for pedestrians, one for bicyclists, and the other reserved for humans pushing baby carriages.
Did the British people understand that their tax dollars were funding such nonsense, or that under EU regulations, Europeans rather than the British would decide who is allowed to migrate to the United Kingdom?
I doubt it.
Nor did British politicians ever admit to their constituents that a federalized Europe would make culturally incompatible demands upon the insular nature of the British people. In this, De Gaulle was right —and it does make perfect sense that the European Union should offer legislation that suits the majority of its members, and/or that hardly any of these directly benefit the British people, even though they’re paying for them.
Brexit won’t be done with for many more years. The British people were right to demand disentanglement from European politics, and I think that the United Kingdom will, in time, benefit from separation. It won’t be an easy road, however —most divorces never are— but at least the British will have learned an important lesson: one cannot trust politicians further than you can toss them, and it doesn’t even matte what political party they belong to. One day we Americans might learn this lesson, as well.
Mustang has other great reads over at his two blogs – Thoughts from Afar
with Old West Tales and Fix Bayonets