Is an Eton education good value for money? From the public’s point of view, it seems not, given Boris Johnson’s underwhelming analysis of European history. He lit up the weekend with his dire warning that the EU is little better than a Fourth Reich. For others, it’s the EUSSR, but we’ve learnt to recognise that political consistency is no barrier when conspiracy theories are in town. The string-pullers can also be variously identified as Saudi Arabia, the CIA, Mossad, the Vatican…
BoJo was backed by a fellow Old Etonian, Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who told the media that “Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, Napoleon and Hitler all wanted to create a single European power. What Boris has said is the EU is following the footsteps of these historic figures but using different means.” Not so fast, Jacob: an Oxford history graduate should be rather more precise. Philip wanted a more powerful Spain, headed by himself. Louis and Napoleon each wanted a more powerful France, headed by himself. Hitler wanted a more powerful Germany, headed by himself. Not one of these rulers wanted a powerful Europe, an association in which all countries are regarded as equals, a Europe designed to clip the wings of imperial ambition on the part of unfettered autocrats. In fact, the most appropriate equal of all of them could be none other than BoJo, who wants a more powerful Britain, headed by himself and up to who knows what mischief in the world. Those advocating a united Europe have done so chiefly with the aim of ending centuries of internal strife through challenging or breaking up the great powers: the Duc de Sully’s Grand Design (1630), William Penn’s European Diet (1693), Auguste Comte’s Occidental Republic (1852) and Mikhail Bakunin’s United States of Europe (1867) were all schemes with this end in mind.
The fawning media remind us that BoJo is a ‘classical scholar’, as if knowledge of the Roman Empire is really that much help. The entity most consciously modelled on it was the British Empire, the Pax Britannica, greatly admired by Hitler, largely for that reason. BoJo was quite right to say that pan-European thinking does sometimes draw on the Imperium Romanum as a model. Does he think that re-creating the Roman province of Britannia out of its post-Roman nations was something different? Perhaps drawing on the legacy of Rome is OK if we do it? BoJo is also quite right that there’s little deep loyalty to a common European identity. Nor will there be if he and other nation-state grandstanders succeed in blocking its emergence. The question is whether Europe in 2050 will be better off if Europeans stop working together, as Europeans.
The EU referendum debate ought to matter but instead it’s been reduced to a willy-waving contest among overgrown schoolboys over who gets to lead the Conservative Party. What should be a debate about an uncertain future has been reduced to which unpleasant bit of history is judged most likely to repeat itself, in altogether different circumstances. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian (the ex-Manchester London newspaper) on Friday, highlighted the alternate reality of ‘post-truth politicians’, buffoons who aren’t. These are the folk who form the Government. If we voted for them then the bigger fools are us.
As usual, what’s never injected into the debate is any criticism of the UK and how it’s governed. From a regionalist perspective, the European issue comes down to whether ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ is more likely to deliver regional parliaments in England powerful enough to end London dominance forever. None of the big players will be asked that question by the media and so we won’t get an answer. We’d just like to point out that if the EU is undemocratic, unaccountable, bureaucratic and corrupt, what’s the UK? How is a multi-national structure alleged to have been put together by banks and big business worse than a union that well suited investors in the Bank of England, the Honourable East India Company and Lloyds of London? Who will defend, with any sincerity, the further entrenching of a subsidiarity-free constitution involving huge over-centralisation of power, wealth and talent in one small corner of the country, an electoral system in which the vast majority of votes are thrown away as worthless, and a Parliament that since 1571 has been firmly under the City of London’s thumb? The frying-pan, however hot, is stilla safer place than the fire.