I spent most of my career working in Continental Europe. This is not a "some of my best friends are Jewish" thing (which they are by the way) but most of my best friends are Continental Europeans. As the farcical Brexit "negotiations" continue, my personal Facebook page is therefore full of their whingeing, sniping and moralising about Britain's supposed "rejection" of Europe. Perhaps it's as well I have retired as a lawyer because my advocacy skills and negotiating experience are not good enough to persuade them that is NOT what is happening.
Only this morning, for example, one of my German friends wrote the following
Hmmm, folks when I look back at my divorce, it was not easy and I could not terminate my contract and run away, just to get the state of freedom (I have taken over responsibility during the time of marriage and felt to take care of it). In addition, how to explain such behavior (give notice and wait until the term of notice expired to get freedom and feel not any longer responsible for the everything I did together with my partner in the past) .... maybe somebody of you can help me how to explain this to my kids?
The "divorce" analogy keeps coming up in the Brexit debate but it could not be more false. The British people were persuaded to confirm Britain's entry into the "Common Market" (as the EEC was routinely described at the time) on the basis that it would have economic benefits. It was not a marriage. It was a "trade agreement" (that much misunderstood term which socialists and other statists seem to think means "an agreement authorising trade" whereas in truth – since trade is a basic human activity that needs no permission – means "an agreement to reduce government interference with trade"). The EEC as it was at the time was routinely spoken of as "the Common Market" and it takes very little research to find the press coverage, speeches and pamphlets of that era promising that it was nothing more than that. Here for example is an extract from the official government leaflet distributed before the 1975 referendum;
Remember: All the other countries in the Market [my emphasis] today enjoy, like us, democratically elected Governments answerable to their own Parliaments and their own voters. They do not want to weaken their Parliaments any more than we would."
Fact No. 3. The British Parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market on January 1, 1973. Thus our continued membership will depend on the continuing assent of Parliament.
"Fact No. 3" remains true as a simple matter of British constitutional law. Parliament is sovereign. It can do anything it damn well pleases (alas in many ways, but hurrah in this one). This is why I have said before that our Article 50 notice, observance of the two year exit period and participation in the farcical "negotiation" (which Juncker is trying to turn into a ritual humiliation to deter others thinking of leaving) is pure politeness. I think we should go through these motions because we have an interest in promoting the myth of "International Law." It's a myth very largely of our devising and is a useful diplomatic construct to avoid conflict in future. However, if I were leading the negotiation on the British side, I would be watching like a hawk for a gaffe by Juncker and his team that would allow me to walk out without further ado. I have enough confidence in the abilities of our Civil Service (if not our politicians) to hope that is what the person actually leading the negotiation is doing.
To return to my German friend's emotional plea on Facebook, I am astonished that a citizen of the greatest industrial power on Earth; a wealthy nation with a strong economy and vibrant culture would think of his country in such an odd way as to compare it to a spurned wife. To me it seems frankly degrading but then "victimhood" is now in many ways the highest aspiration of modern Westerners. Perhaps this is Germany's Rachel Dolezal moment in which it sheds its unloved identity as a privileged white nation with a history of racist aggression and joins an "oppressed minority" in favour of which one must now positively discriminate?
If you insist on thinking of it as a marriage, then let's at least perfect the analogy. Britain was a reluctant bride. We didn't find the other member states attractive and were very reluctant to get in bed with them, but we wanted the financial benefits that the relationship promised to bring. Whereas my German friend seems to see the 27 as a spurned family to be supported by the errant, unfaithful husband, we see ourselves as a disappointed gold-digger who has been ****ed long enough by this ugly old brute and wants out.
In this week's Spectator there is a review by William Cook of a book called The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes, which seems to go some way to explaining why Germans and Brits see Brexit so differently. I have bought it and will be reading it but here's a passage quoted in the review;
…the solutions nations seek are shaped by past experience, and in this respect Germany and Britain could scarcely be less alike. Germans have been familiar with federal institutions ever since Charlemagne. Germany has only been a nation since 1871 and its experience of nationalism was a disaster. History has taught the British that we’re best off one step removed from Europe, whereas it has taught the Germans that they’re far better off as part of a supranational superstate. Really it’s a wonder that we agree about anything at all…
I have failed so far to persuade my Continental friends but I shall persist in explaining that we have not rejected Europe. We have not fallen out of love. We are not a heartless brute of a faithless husband casting one German wife and 26 children out into the cold to starve. We are their friend and want to remain so. We have done them much good in the past and will do them more. We will buy their Audis and their Camemberts just as we always have and will holiday in France and make pathetic schoolboy attempts at their language for their amusement while they relieve us of our money. Our rejection is not even of the "Common Market" as it was sold to us (though we have to leave it because they have tied it together with the rest of the plan) but of the federal dream (to them) and nightmare (to us) of a United States of Europe.