Remainers ask me with ever greater frequency: “Was Brexit worth it?”
As naughty children, we are reminded that our infantile mischief is silly and ultimately futile. And it’s now wake-up time as Parliament’s “guerrilla warriors” are fighting to eliminate the no-deal option and foist a binary choice on the country: accept the Prime Minister’s worst-of-all-worlds deal or simply remain in the European Union.
As a signal, that is about the worst possible backdrop to any negotiations. And as a signal to voters, it’s the clearest message that the referendum was nothing more than “one daft opinion poll”, as Kenneth Clarke put it. To sweeten it, Remainers are working to whip up momentum for a second referendum, portrayed as the ultimate act of democracy: put the question again to the people – over half of whom apparently did not understand what they voted for in 2016.
What is really happening in Parliament? The Government could not (or refused to) recognise that the EU was not negotiating a commercial deal but defending – as it knows how to – an unstable union from falling apart. The deal on offer is bad, the EU rigidly refuses to negotiate, so let’s admit defeat and stay. But this would be a terrible option.
Supposing that the EU is a friendly neighbour that stands for all the noble virtues it is portrayed to represent, we just need to negotiate a better deal. Were this the case, we wouldn’t be in the present sorry situation in the first place, as not only would the EU be willing to negotiate in a constructive manner but it would urgently have started to reconsider its policies in the wake of the euro crisis, the migrant crisis, Brexit, the Italian elections, the alienation of the V4 countries and the Yellow Vest movement. How this has no chance at all of happening is clearly demonstrated by Michel Barnier, whose recent article recaptures the bold vision of curing the EU’s abundant economic and social ills by doing more of exactly the same: building a superstate, concentrating power in Brussels and harmonising European migrant and asylum policies. Really?
Contrarily, if the EU is not a benevolent union of the willing but an aspiring undemocratic empire, is the UK willing to give up even the notion of sovereignty to keep its short-term comfort and maintain the status quo? This option disregards completely what the EU is developing into. It prefers short-term and partial interest to the long-term national interest.
This is, of course, the easy choice if one accepts the mainstream denial of the nation, which does not really exist or, if it does, it is a lamentable, parochial thing driven by silly nostalgia: “Brexit Britain, small, boring and stupid”, as one Politico author put it.
But before we succumb to the myth that this is the natural next phase of the evolvement of a peaceful, nationless, global world based solely on “shared humanity”, it might be useful to recall that this is déjà vu.
The European empire is an old dream going back to Charlemagne that keeps coming back. There are some interesting examples in modern history. As Bernard Bruneteau, the French historian, describes in his fascinating book Les ‘Collabos’ de l’Europe nouvelle (The Collaborators of The New Europe), French and Belgian leftist intellectuals in the early 1940s greeted the advances of the Reich as the force that would unite and create “l’Europe nouvelle”, the unified Europe without nation states. They wanted a common currency and a supranational government whose unaccountability did not bother them. They pegged their fervent hopes to the Reich, in benign oblivion of the goals and nature of conquering Germany.
In colonised Central Europe under Soviet military occupation, the official line was that nation states are outmoded, a ruse of rich capitalists to set the working class against each other in the name of false national idols. That empire also believed in a superstate ruling in the name of proletarian internationalism, propagating comradeship void of national loyalties. This was the necessary ideology to keep the occupied vassal states under control and prevent other 1956 wars of independence. It was a ruthless and crude dictatorship propped up by tanks and arms. Those trying to resist were called everything – enemies of the “people”, of progress, of development, of peace. The goal justified the means.
Ironically, it is now the democratic, progressive EU building the nationless superstate, not for the proletariat, and in the name of democracy, peace and economic efficiency. “There can be no democratic choice against European treaties,” said Jean-Claude Juncker. National sovereignty is a thing of the past in this globalised world.
The idea of the potential break-up of both the Conservative and Labour parties not along economic policy issues but Brexit pops up from time to time. Society is deeply divided along the notion of sovereignty. The vicious controversy has transcended economic, geopolitical and cultural arguments. The real fault line is about fundamental philosophy: sovereignty or subordination. It is a clash between two irreconcilable world views. Compromise may generally be useful but sometimes is impossible: this is one of those instances.
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