“…the EU is on its way to becoming something akin to a state, with a flag, a parliament, a currency and, now, common debt. While one wishes our friends and neighbours the very best with this questionable continent-wide enterprise, it is terrific not to be involved.” Iain Martin in The Times today.
Well it’s taken a while for Winston Churchill’s “United States of Europe” to come close to reality and despite Mr Martin’s optimism and sarcastic good wishes I’m not sure that they are there yet. Nor that it’s “terrific” for Britain not to be involved. WSC didn’t see us being involved either, but the times have rather changed since 1948 haven’t they? The main change is that unlike immediately after WW2 Britain cannot remotely be considered to be a great power.
Not that all this would matter a fig of course if we had followed Dean Aitchison’s later advice that in our post imperial world we should turn to Europe. Actually of course we did and for forty years we played a not insignificant part in Europe’s economic and political union. The blindingly obvious fact that in the modern world Britain is a European nation or it is nothing became ever clearer. Then in 2016 we chose “nothing”. Odd thing to do!
Until Boris Johnson’s 2019 Election victory there was still a chance that we would see sense – perhaps by the mechanism of a second Referendum. (We would not have been the first Nation to back away from constitutional disaster given a second chance to do so.). But the 2019 election scuppered that.
It was a curious alliance that gave us the Johnson Government. Hard Right Neo-Conservative Eurosceptics had taken over the Tory Party but there were still a few good men and women of the “One Nation” persuasion to frustrate the Headbangers. They had to be got rid of, and were. Johnson’s forces In Parliament were reinforced by political novices from some very odd places. The red wall was breached.
Boris Johnson was not elected by Conservatives but by the same motley crew that gave us “Leave” in 2016. Suffice to say this alliance was not driven by reason – to this day no reasoned argument for Brexit has been put forward. It was and is a combination of motivations of which xenophobia, islamophobia and in some cases outright racism were significant drivers. Not for the likes of Iain Martin of course. They invented the utterly spurious issue of “Sovereignty” to rationalise their anti-Europe choice.
The quote at the head of this response shows that Sovereignty it is still the Brexiteers only (and weak and wrong) argument. That membership of the EU marginally affects a member nation’s sovereignty is true. That the positive benefits of being in the Union are immense is true as well. To argue that as an EU member a country significantly and damagingly surrenders independence is frankly nonsense. I don’t like what the current governments of Poland and Hungary are doing one bit. But despite being EU members they are sufficiently independent and sovereign to do it.
Mr Martin is a flag-waver of the “intellectual” wing of the Brexiteer Movement. I read him every day and he is thoughtful and articulate on most things even if I disagree with him his logic is usually impressive. Except on Brexit, where logic doesn’t feature. Quite why he wandered into the dark and dim World of Euroscepticism I’ve often wondered. Most of his equally bright fellow Times columnists keep well away from those unpleasant and intellectually impoverished shores.
Back to the 2019 General Election. Here is a genuine Twitter exchange from yesterday between Mr Martin and me that suggests he might then have been celebrating a bit:
Iain Martin: Everyone needs a holiday. #PMQs
Paddy Briggs: Everyone needs a Government.
Iain Martin: Got one, 80 seat majority. What a night that was…
Well it certainly was a “night” and if you believe that the ends justified the means (the ends were to destroy the anti-Brexit forces as much as they were to defeat Jeremy Corbyn) then you shrug about the means – the banality and dishonesty of Johnson’s vulgar campaign.
Whether you shrug about the aftermath is another matter. The “80 Seat majority” Government has been, and is, the least competent and most venal of modern times. Their main virtue is consistency – they mismanage everything with the same reliable predictability.
I look forward to Iain Martin chronicling the upcoming political events of the rest of 2020 and I’m sure that he’ll bring appropriate intellectual rigour to the task. This includes the final phase of Brexit and what happens in the new year as well as the surely certain second and third phases of COVID-19. If they don’t already seem a long time ago those celebratory “what a night” moments soon will. I’m sure it was a “marvellous party”. For some.