Posted by: westlancashirerecord | June 23, 2018

A Day To Celebrate Brexit

Today I read an article about the “Confessions Of A Political Maverick” by Austin Mitchell “whose long-held and passionate attitude to the European Union is summed up in four words, three of which are ‘the European Union’, preceded by a commonly used four- letter verb of exhortation that the Oxford English Dictionary describes as ‘vulgar’. I concur with every word Mitchell writes.

Mitchell writes about always being a Eurosceptic, ever since he first stumbled across the Common Market, as the EU then called itself. While teaching in New Zealand he heard a colleague gave a lecture on the Common Market and, to his horror, he endorsed it as ‘a good thing’. “Incredible. Almost blasphemy. Britain led the Commonwealth. New Zealand, rich in dairy products, was its antipodean farm. Europe was there for us to defeat in war. How could an Englishman be so daft?”. He wrote 

How indeed, and as Mitchell relates “Fortunately General De Gaulle, the French president, agreed with me and dismissed British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s efforts to join a club he should never have applied for in the first place. I was further comforted when a succession of British politicians came out to New Zealand to assure us that if Britain did join this alien institution then, scout’s honour, New Zealand’s access to the British market would be protected. The old relationship would carry on.

They lied. Albion can be perfidious and was particularly so when it betrayed New Zealand by joining in 1973 egged on by Tory prime minister Ted Heath, who was so eager to get us into Europe that he did so on less than favourable terms, and he lied. We were asking to be clobbered and duly were.

Two years later Harold Wilson, the new Labour PM, called for a referendum to endorse or reject that decision. Mitchell voted ‘No’. But two-thirds of the country said ‘Yes’. We were staying in. “I was far from convinced this was the right decision, and my hostility increased when in 1977 I was elected Labour MP for Grimsby. The town’s fishing industry had been ruined when the Europeans cunningly declared the seas around Britain common waters and gave other members, even landlocked Luxembourg, equal access. As a result, we got only a small proportion of our own fish. I formed a Save Britain’s Fish campaign, which attracted support from all over the country” .

“It’s not a democracy but a plutocracy with a rootless bureaucracy, always pursuing an ever-closer union the people don’t want, yet never able to reach it. As a concept it is a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense, a mirage. The trouble was that the EU couldn’t break away from its original purpose of protecting French agriculture and boosting German industry. With these two states dominating, Europe embarked on a journey where few wanted to go, to an ever-closer union only the Brussels bureaucrats sought, imposing policies without democratic consent and ever prepared to overrule the people for their own good”.

Mitchell tells us the European Union drained Britain of jobs, money, demand and growth, became a brake on our economy, not an accelerator, and favoured the interests of Germany, which needed a bigger market for its manufacturing, and France, which wanted agricultural protection for its food, the EU didn’t suit Britain, a net agricultural importer with a less modern and less well-invested industry. The Common Agricultural Policy required us to buy France’s more expensive food. Costs went up and every family of four lost £20 a week.

Meanwhile, Labour’s policy to boost jobs in the regions had to be scrapped because it was against the rules. What had been a surplus in our trade with Europe before we went in became a steadily growing deficit. Our membership contributions in effect our payments for being damaged, went up year by year, siphoning off money to Europe, particularly to the powerful German economy, which generated ever-bigger surpluses at the expense of everyone else and particularly us.

Mitchell says he’s increasingly found himself out on a limb in a political class inexorably drawn to Brussels. Europe is very attractive for those who don’t like Britain. For the liberal intellectuals and many of our elite, who saw themselves as cosmopolitan rather than nationalist, Europe was nicer than their brutal, xenophobic compatriots.

Major Labour figures from Roy Jenkins to Peter Mandelson went off to Brussels and found a bigger and better stage to strut on. There, people actually listened to them rather than dismissing them out of hand. They came back to proclaim Europe’s benefits.

Brussels came up with the Exchange Rate Mechanism, to set in stone rates of exchange between the various European currencies, Tory Prime Minister John Major took us in briefly. It was a disaster. The whole system collapsed and Britain was humiliatingly forced out and we sceptics heaved a sigh of relief, forgetting the propensity of dogs to return to their own vomit.

Britain stayed out of the Euro, thank heaven, leaving us peripheral to the Eurozone, the EU’s great adventure into the clouds. Brussels showered money on the weaker European economies, then crippled them with unsustainable and unrepayable debt, as the Germans refused to underwrite it. Any grudging help went to save the banks, not the individual nation.

Increasingly the EU was losing its shine. Unemployment was high, with a quarter of its young people out of work. Germany built up huge economic surpluses, which it didn’t spend or recycle to the less successful economies.

To manage the euro, the EU needed the economic institutions of the nation state, but the Germans couldn’t accept that. The EU could only move forward by greater federalism to create ‘ever-closer union’ but the members didn’t want this straitjacket. It was hit by the refugee crisis and couldn’t agree on what to do about it. It could possibly have conciliated British public opinion by delivering benefits to Britain, whose EU membership costs were spiralling all the time.

The battle of Brexit was a thrill for me. I had stood down from Parliament by the time of the referendum. I was into my 70s and had been an MP for nigh on 40 years. Suddenly I was in demand again. As one of the few survivors of that rare breed, the Labour Eurosceptic, I was hauled into debates to provide a balance to overconfident Euro-enthusiasts who couldn’t believe anyone would be insane enough to want to leave the Franco-German condominium. It was the best fun I’d had for years. It was marvellous to harangue large audiences who were with me, for a change, rather than sitting there in stony-faced silence as Labour audiences had.

Even more wonderfully, the campaign ended in triumph. To the amazement of Cameron and the rest of Britain’s elite, he lost. The British electorate, two-thirds of whom had voted to stay in 1975, had changed its mind. Victory was a strange new phenomenon. It had never happened to me before. I was as euphoric as any politician is ever allowed to be.

Britain’s elite were shocked by the nation’s rejection of their wisdom and advice. George Orwell once remarked that ‘England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality’. For me, the referendum result was the turning point I’d hoped for since 1979. The people had achieved what the politicians had failed to do. It’s a shame it took so long and that so much damage was done before it came. Winning is rare in the political game. But it’s nice.

Remainers denounce the vote as the result of fear, ignorance, even Russian deceit, and have unleashed another, even bigger tide of fear about the consequences. They do everything they can to discredit the British case for withdrawal, to shackle, soften and weaken the Government’s negotiating position and to collude with the EU to resist it, in the hope that eventually the people will give up their foolishness and stay, unhappily or not, in the promised land.
The EU Commission, struggling to keep its rickety show on the road and facing unmanageable difficulties in Eastern Europe and Italy, wants to punish Britain pour décourager les autres. These are the symptoms of an impossible negotiation. “I fear that the account by the former Greek minister of finance, Yanis Varoufakis, of the way the EU crushed his country’s aspirations may well be an omen of what’s to come”. Intransigence, delay and simple bloody-mindedness were their weapons and clearly still are. Those who believe they have a divine right to rule don’t give up easily. Nor must we.

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