by Alan Sked, Emeritus Professor of International History, LSE and Founder of UKIP
LET ME START with the ‘European Miracle’. By this I do not refer to the EU but to what global historians mean when they explain Europe’s exponential rise in terms of economics, commerce, technology and philosophy ahead of the Asian empires (Ottoman, Moghul, Chinese) from an equal start in the eleventh century. How could Europe overtake (indeed take over) these empires?
The answer is that whereas they all became centralised, bureaucratised and united – often under a single religion – Europe never became united. It never became an empire. Disunity was the key to its success. Christianity split between Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism, while the Holy Roman Empire failed to unite the Continent politically. Instead, Europe became a state system, not a state, which meant that people in one state could copy ideas, technological and commercial advances, even military ones, from neighbouring states and apply them at home.
Think of Peter the Great and Russia’s ‘great embassy’ to the West or of the academies set up during the Enlightenment reporting on advances in other countries and spreading knowledge of them. Think of Voltaire and Montesquieu spreading knowledge of British parliamentary government. Think of how the Industrial Revolution spread from Britain to the Continent. England (later Britain) had another role in this European state system. Whenever the ‘balance of power’ – that godsend to Europe – broke down and Europe faced conquest, domination or unity under Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser or Hitler, Britain took the lead in organising coalitions to prevent this. And, fortunately, she always won. Europe owes its freedom to Britain’s independence, not the EU.
After 1945 the old system continued. Supply-side reformers – Erhard, Rueff, Thatcher and Schroeder – stimulated economic growth in individual states with reforms that were copied elsewhere. The EEC contributed only failed policies: the CAP, the CFP, the ERM and worst of all, the euro. The more ambitious the policy, the worse the damage done.
After the war, Attlee, Churchill and Eden all steered clear of European integration. Bevin emasculated plans for a European Parliament leaving only a toothless Council of Europe. We avoided joining the European Community for Steel and Coal and the European economic Community. The arch-Eurofederalist Macmillan, however, attempted to take us into the EEC but was thwarted by de Gaulle who rightly could not understand why, with democratic institutions, cheap food from the Commonwealth, and global power, we should want to join it. He rightly suspected we could be a US Trojan horse.
In reaction, the Tory Party under Heath and Hurd, became a secret corporate member of Monnet’s Action Committee for a United States of Europe. Then in 1973, Pompidou, afraid of rising West German power and influence, let us join the EEC after all. Our negotiating strategy was ‘swallow the lot, swallow it now’. We were so desperate we even offered up our fish as a common European resource.
Membership, however, brought us no benefits but great costs. Then political and monetary union came on the agenda. Thatcher fought this but lost. Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron all accepted defeat. Yet British opposition – UKIP, Bill Cash and Tory rebel MPs, the Bruges Group, and later the Brexit Party and the ERG – kept up the pressure against Brussels. In 2016 Cameron conceded a referendum and Leave won. It was a triumph for Boris, Gove, Cummings and many others from the many campaigns. A British Miracle this time.
There followed three years of misery under the hapless May with Parliament, the courts and the media all in favour of reversing Brexit. But May was replaced by Boris who triumphed at the polls in December 2019 and swept away the opposition. Another British Miracle. Brexit therefore has now been achieved with only the European Parliament left to give its reluctant consent.
We shall therefore again become a normal, self-governing democracy with full national sovereignty and a government accountable only to Parliament. The interregnum since 1973 is at an end.
Consequently we must seize with both hands the opportunity to create our own prosperous future. And we have a marvellous starting point. Already we have the most stable government in Europe and perhaps the world. Our Parliament contains no extremist parties like those on the Continent. Internationally, we are far from isolated with a seat on the UN Security Council and leading roles in NATO, the Commonwealth, the G7, and elsewhere. Many countries are lining up to negotiate free trade deals with us. The City remains the world’s leading financial centre. We are Europe’s leading centre for technology and research. Our universities are world leaders and across sports and entertainment we are also a world force.
True, there are challenges ahead: negotiations with the EU for a free trade treaty; SNP demands for independence; stability in Northern Ireland. Our future is bright, however, and we ourselves are now again in charge of it.
Let’s hope that miracles never cease.