The Brexit vote on June 23rd 2016 was a rebuke of the theory of “managed decline”, the prevailing political philosophy within Britain’s career political class and gargantuan bureaucracy since the end of the Second World War.
Since then — despite the will of Britons to opt for a bright future free of continental servitude or subservience — we’ve seen no change in the attitudes of our so-called “representative” politicians, nor from the nation’s civil service.
Following the Second World War, a series of decisions were taken to “apologise” for Britain’s role in the world. Our empire, our gifts to the world including our parliamentary system, Magna Carta, and helping to lift nations and continents from abject poverty were to be first sneered at, then forgotten, because they were not borne expressly from altruism. Because Britain benefited from her empire, indeed because some mistakes were made along the way, that legacy should be destroyed.
We’re seeing the same mentality now taking root in the United States. A nation founded on the back of Britain’s own internal strife and persecutions, and a country which rose to formidable, superpower status not least due to my nation’s abdication as a world leader after the 1940s.
In 1979, Britain’s Ambassador to France Sir Nicholas Henderson issued a despatch back to London, warning of the implications of this. It read:
You only have to move about western Europe nowadays to realise how poor and unproud the British have become in relation to their neighbours. It shows in the look of our towns, in our airports, in our hospitals and in local amenities; it is painfully apparent in much of our railway system, which until a generation ago was superior to the continental one”.
Similar observations can be made about America in 2017, reeling from Obama-era apologies, corporate (rather than Main Street) bailouts, and the persistent cultural attacks on U.S. citizens.
Sir Nicholas was correct in his assessment of the symptoms. An avid Europhile — as even most conservatives were at the time — his prescribed medicine, taken to heart too late by the British political establishment, was one that worsened rather than improved that decline.
With the expansion of manufacturing jobs abroad, he noted: “…in the United Kingdom those leaving school and university seem less prepared to make a career in industry than to join a merchant bank in the City of London or one of the public services.”
Industrialization, engineering, and manufacturing — all requiring a level of protectionism which to this day upsets neoliberals who masquerade as conservatives — were critical in maintaining British power. He wrote: “To arrive nowadays at London Airport from a French or German airport is to be made immediately aware that our standards have slipped”.
Linking such internal poverty to foreign policy and power projection, Sir Nicholas lamented Britain’s decline as a major power both in Europe, and abroad:
At the present time, although we still retain certain extra-European responsibilities, eg, in Rhodesia and Cyprus, we are unable to influence events in the way we want because we do not have the power or will to do so. It is true that we may have a special relationship with America, and, based as this is upon certain shared traditions and responsibilities, it will continue.
But anyone who has followed American policy towards Europe closely over the past few years will know how much our role as Washington’s European partner has declined in relation to that of Germany or France. France, in fact, over a period of nearly two decades pursued a blatantly anti-American policy, but its importance to America is much greater now than at the beginning of that period, because of its economic strength.
Sir Nicholas urged a greater commitment to a European Community which had already left Britain behind. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, it made sense. Even Churchill knew this and indeed advocated for it. From the Common Agricultural Policy to “integration” in the institutional sense, the six nations who originally signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 had no interest in bending over for Britain to benefit from their newfound European order. Britain’s delay in joining up to this group, indeed waiting until it surpassed its original purview of more free trade, can be fairly judged as imprudent.
But what Sir Nicholas should have argued is that the boat had already been missed, and it was now up to Britain to forge its own destiny, as it was historically accustomed, without inextricable links to European partners.
Instead of being able to forecast the next 50 years — as he chided his Foreign Office and government colleagues for — he committed the very same grave error. Attempting to jump on a bandwagon that not only was not waiting around, but already rickety, loaded up with too much power and bureaucracy.
Following the Treaty of Rome which established the European Economic Community in the late 50s, the “European institutions” as we have come to know them now include at a minimum the:
- European Parliament
- European Council
- Council of the European Union
- European Commission
- Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
- European Central Bank (ECB)
- European Court of Auditors (ECA)
- European External Action Service (EEAS)
- European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
- European Committee of the Regions (CoR)
- European Investment Bank (EIB)
- European Ombudsman
- European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS)
There are even more lower-end bodies and organisations belonging to the European Union, which the average American cannot — and should not — be able to comprehend.
By the time Sir Nicholas wrote back to London, the European nations who established the original Economic Community could be seen to have far greater integration ambitions than simply those of trade relations.
Nevertheless he urged Britain to leap in to try and offer leadership at a time when Europe didn’t want it. The Franco-German alliance was strengthening, and instead of playing a tough hand, Sir Nicholas urged Britain to go to Europe with the begging bowl. He called this acting “as though we were fully and irrevocably committed to Europe”.
It belies his invocation of realpolitik throughout his essay that he would seek a form of permanent allegiance in a world where some were already predicting a rise of Asian powers, and a Commonwealth economic surge.
His recommendations appeared to land on friendly ears. Britain was “the sick man of Europe” in the 1970s, failing to curtail the activities of run a-mock trades unions and stem the shift from manufacturing sector to the service sector. Under Prime Minister Thatcher in the 80s, Britain’s fortunes were reversed, but only due to neo-liberal economics put on speed. More services, fewer manufacturing jobs. It was an adrenaline shot for a cancer patient.
Yes, the economy boomed, but much of the spoils were reserved for the elites, the political and financial sectors — fostering corporatism and creating the double standards still angering the British public today. Today multinational companies like Starbucks, Amazon, and Google can successfully avoid UK taxes while the average Briton is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for minor accounting failures.
Thatcher did what she did because there was no other choice. It wasn’t borne out of evil or ill-intent. It was the only thing that would have delayed a more immediate downfall. It was a managed decline.
But just as neo-liberal economic policies are finding an end in their unadulterated utility, so too is the notion of an integrated Europe.
Sir Nicholas’s arguments were not made from ideology nor the quixotic notion that Britain must be one constituent part of some “no borders, no nations” manifesto as today’s pro-European Union voices more than anything else are.
His vision was one of perceived realpolitik. Of a Britain that commanded authority and led the European community of nations, rather than being a partner in the project. This never came to pass, more often than not because no other European power wanted it to be the case. Power-mad Germans will be power-mad Germans, after all.
“We overlooked one of the prime lessons of our own history,” he wrote, “that we had been able to spearhead the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, not because of our size—we only had a third of the population of France—but because, at a time when the countries of the continent were fragmented by internal tolls and tariff barriers, we were the biggest single market in Europe”.
Britain is once again the single biggest market in Europe. Creating a natural end to the arguments proliferated by European Union fetishists. But Sir Nicholas should have heeded his own words, and urged Britain to undertake another round of unilateral industrial investment, the same in core national infrastructure, and strive for what other European nations now have: stakes in other European nations’ electric, nuclear, and manufacturing industries.
Unlike ‘Remain’ campaigners during our 2016 referendum, Leavers are scarcely dogmatically allied to ideology. More than anything, we are conservative realists. That’s why Nigel Farage himself has often commented upon how he would have voted to join the European Economic Community in 1974. Back then, it was a different beast. In another 40 or 50 years, we may have to reassess the situation, which is perfectly reasonable. But for now, EU membership is beneath Britain economically, culturally, and runs against our most basic instincts of minimising government and maximising sovereignty not just as a nation, but right down to our smallest communities. That’s what June 23rd 2016 was about.
It was also about a public who know in their gut that what is coming down the road for their fortunes, for global economics, and for foreign affairs, is something diametrically opposed to what the European Union can offer.
“No doubt the sort of patriotic language and flag waving of former times is inappropriate for us today,” wrote Sir Nicholas. But just as France pulled itself out of economic malaise using a form of patriotic nationalism, so can Britain, today.
Meanwhile Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May insists upon kowtowing to EU leaders and their demands, despite the will of the British people to do no such thing. She has no mandate to pay billions out as a leaving fee, and no authority to bend over on our behalf.
It is a failure of the modern Europhile movement which pervades in government that they cannot see what is coming down the road. They don’t want to see it. Just like Britain was outflanked in the 50s and 60s, the European Union has been outgunned by the likes of China, and under President Trump, an America of eight years in the future.
The return of both unskilled and skilled labour; an investment in national infrastructure projects; expansion of manufacturing sectors with a keen eye on China’s foreign policy ambitions in and around the globe’s ‘Heartland’ — where they will seek to control the choke points of what Sir Halford Mackinder called ‘the World Island’ which both the Brits and the Americans have historically understood — is the only way to secure Britain’s economic prosperity.
But the establishment is still interested in managing our decline, because it works just as well for them economically, and they have to work half as hard along the way.
Many would argue these were all reasons for not pursuing Brexit last year. Perhaps if they had made the case that we would be better positioned in 10 years to pursue independence, they would have won the referendum. But they didn’t.
Now we must heed the final words Sir Nicholas Henderson offered us from his post in Paris, and Britain’s government needs to aggressively pursue nationalist, perhaps even protectionist policies to secure the nation’s future:
Viewed from the continent our standing at the present time is low. But this is not for the first time in our history, and we can recover if the facts are known and faced and if the British people can be fired with a sense of national will such as others have found these past years. For the benefit of ourselves and of Europe let us then show the adaptability that has been the hallmark of our history—and do so now so that the warnings of this despatch may before long sound no more ominous than the recorded alarms of a wartime siren.
This is also why I chose to publish this piece on Thanksgiving, written from Washington, D.C. in the United States.
What Britain unknowingly exported in the 17th century was its inbuilt lust for success on the world stage, its refusal to lay down arms and be controlled from a foreign capital. This is the spirit, seeded in America via the Mayflower and subsequent migration, that brought about President Trump’s victory in 2016 on the back of our very own.
It’s the spirit that if allowed to proceed unbridled, will reinvigorate Western exceptionalism.
The globalists — from social democrats to neoliberals — may not like it. But they don’t have to. It is our children for whom we fight.
Raheem Kassam is the editor in chief of Breitbart London