In ‘Red, White and Blue’ I wrote about the Union Jack. It is unravelling with the June 2016 Referendum majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as London wanting to remain in the EU while England and Wales voted to leave. Some say that Presidents Trump and Putin support Brexit in the hope that it will lead to the unravelling of the EU itself, to their advantage in terms of trade and influence. Is the UK rushing off the cliff like the Gadarene swine to economic disunity and self-harm? Stormy times ahead.
I wrote about living post war European history in 1955 The Summer When. Churchill believed that a trading union with Europe was the way to create an enduring peace; he believed in a place at the table to influence partners to create peace and prosperity – ‘jaw not war’. In the years that General de Gaulle, resenting his treatment by Churchill when in exile during the war, vetoed Britain’s entry into the European Coal and Steel Union formed in 1952 (a world first for an organisation based on principles of democratic ‘supranationalism’), my French teenager exchange, Ariane, came to stay. Rationing had only just ended in the UK years after the end of the war. Customs officials were amazed when they opened her suitcase to see that her mother had packed ham and other food, fearing that her daughter would not be properly fed while staying with us! Though the least poor of all the countries in Europe in 1945 because we had not been invaded, by the 1970s we were ‘the poor man of Europe’. More than 40 years after joining the EU, the UK is doing relatively well in world terms while still in the EU, but only until the end of this week when a whole nation will jump over the cliff into an uncharted future.
While Britain was still outside the then European trade organisation, I lived and worked in Paris and Rome after days of scrambling through regulations because I didn’t have a European passport (how proud I was of it when it arrived, red, not blue).I became close friends with a German, Heide, who had married an Italian student of mine. They spent Christmas with us in Rome, and Heide brought her mother who was still, after so many years, hoping that her missing husband would return from the Russian front. My parents, who had suffered during the Blitz, detested Hitler and what the Germans were doing, were also there with us. The festivity passed joyfully and peacefully, the only problem being language difficulties.
Forty years later a relatively prosperous UK starts to unravel, leaving a market of 500 million and 44% of its export market to voyage into unknown waters on some illusion of past colonialism. Only 7% of EU exports come to Britain. It has the clout easily to find markets elsewhere.
‘We must respect the will of the people,’ says Prime Minister Theresa May, while Nicola Sturgeon, the first Minister of Scotland, follows the will of the Scottish people to stay in the EU, and N. Ireland followed suit in this month’s elections, almost voting to join Eire and the EU. We are back to 1706 before the Act of Union between Scotland and England. In the nasty Referendum campaign last June the ‘Remainers’ called the ‘Brexiters’ Little Englanders. This is happening while we live through history in the making. The European house that I helped and hoped for is tumbling round my ears. It brought an unprecedented 72 years of peace in Europe. Is there any peace and prosperity in disunity? Churchill doubted it, and so do I. I hope we’re both wrong.
Enough! Next week I’ll write about THE place to be!