Ae fond kiss and now we sever… So long, thanks, but can we have our fish back?
This is not some grand romance coming to a tragic end. It was an experiment in history that didn’t work out. It isn’t working for us – and it wasn’t working for you. A slim majority of us here in Britain didn’t like the way the relationship was headed. The reality is nothing really changes: sitting in the boundless ocean, the history of Island Britain has been global and mercantile. The history of Europe has been competition for hegemony on a small continent. Our perspectives of the world and opportunity have been very different.
Let’s not panic that the UK departing the European Union is the end of the world. We remain a short-hop away across the Channel. We’d like to stay friends, but with less of the benefits.
It was not an easy decision. As you know nearly 50% of us thought it was a bad idea to leave. We don’t want to lose our close ties and relationship to Europe, our friendships, and frankly we’ve always been jealous of your wine, your food, your beaches, your mountains, your lifestyles and your culture. We love German cars, Danish bacon, Irish gab, reliable Polish workers, and half a billion other things about Europe. These won’t change – we will always love the otherness of Europe – it’s one of the things that defines us as Brits.
So why are we walking out?
I can’t come up with a single real example of how leaving Europe will make a single UK company more profitable, create a single real new job, or make either side of the Channel better off. We won’t put more money into the NHS as a result. But, that’s not the point. We’re leaving because Europe just isn’t heading in a direction that works out for us. We liked the idea of a peaceful united Europe comprising proud and individual nations in an equal and mutually beneficial common free trade zone. That ticked our boxes and worked rather well.
We put lots of money and effort into Europe. We played by the rules. But, we never really felt like we were welcome. We always felt outsiders, gazing in from the periphery at the Eurocrat insiders. We grew suspicious of the unelected presidents of this and that, officials we’d never heard of, voted for, or knew. Who were they to tell us how straight our Bananas should be? We remained deeply concerned at the internal politics, the horse-trading for power and patronage as France played off Germany, and paid off the little countries.
The ambition that emerged of a unified European state was not one that featured any Brits as founding visionary statesmen. We grew increasingly distrustful of the ersatz parliament, commission and council. They weren’t what we’d signed up for or could trust. The vision of a Europe states with shared history morphed into what we perceived to be a flailing bureaucratic European Superstate. We’ve spent most of the last 500 years repeatedly pushing back on that particular concept because of what one tribe dominating Europe leads to. That was not really our cup of tea. Our experience taught us to respect the differences in the cultures of each European tribe, and we simply don’t believe these are overcome under a single concocted flag.
Eventually our distrust and unease got to the stage where the apparent financial ease of remaining inside Europe was outweighed at the ballot box.
We admit we don’t share the same dreams and vision, and we aren’t minded to go down the same road as Europe. More to the point, despite how much it is going to cost us, and despite how much pain we’ve suffered internally, we have had the honesty to admit it. We have weighed Europe and made a difficult, even courageous, decision. Respect us for that, and ponder why. (European readers might not know, but a “courageous decision” in political terms is one that is morally correct, but likely to be career ending.)
We don’t buy into the illusion the European superstate is remotely democratic, we’re baffled by the implausibility and need for the Euro – a single currency trying to suit very different economies which has forced austerity across the continent, and we weren’t willing to watch our sovereignty transferred bit by bit to a faceless nomenklatura in Brussels.
And Europe is surprised?
We’ve been warned, by no less a personage than the Prime Minster of Ireland, that the UK is a “small state” and we will find ourselves swimming alone in a very big and hostile world. Really? Gosh.. we didn’t know that… We’ve been warned by the creature sent to negotiate the transition that there will be no favours – Brussels’ way or no way. If that is your attitude, screw you.
We want to fly. We want to engage with the rest of the World and Europe. We want to take risk and compete on our own. We believe in ourselves. We are not a Small Nation. We are Britain. We believe in our history and our impact on the world shows we’ve got the right attitude, mindset, culture, and a zest for invention and innovation to make a go of being single again. Our trains and infrastructure might be the worst on the planet, but we invented railways, perfected roads, established global shipping and built ports around the world to service our markets before Germany was a unified state, and France was having revolutions more regularly than a SouthWestern Train runs on time.
Look at the bounce in UK expectations following the resolution of the Brexit crisis at the Dec 2019 General Election. Effectively that was a plebiscite confirming the UK electorate want Brexit done. The economy is strengthening, confidence is rising, and there is a can-do spirit around the country – well at least till you get to Scotland.
We think Brexit will work for us, and understand it wasn’t for you. We know it’s risky and we’re going to make mistakes, but now is the time to do it. We will find it difficult. Other nations will try to take advantage of us. It’s a massive risk. But we are taking it.
Meanwhile, we wish Europe bon chance with its ambitions. To be honest, we aren’t convinced it’s going to work out for you. If you can resolve the issues of the Euro and making one currency fit so many different economies – well done. If you can stimulate and boost your economies, and innovate modern tech states under the strictures of the Euro – well done. If you can agree fiscal transfers from the richer nations to the poorer ones – well done. If you can persuade German workers to pay Frenchmens’ pensions – well done. If you can stop the 27 different nations, and multiple different tribes of Europe bickering and blaming each other – well done. If you can solve your border issues – well done.
Now we are being told we better be prepared to surrender all our rights in the coming transition negotiations and accept a junior position as a thrall to Europe. Brussels and Luxembourg seem to think they can bully us to accept subservience and that we keep paying. If you want to push – be our guests. Upset us at the negotiating table, and we will push right back.
And perhaps its maybe time we reveal the greatest weapon at our disposal if you try to sharp us at the negotiating table. Our number one weapon in a trade war with Europe? How about: Complete indifference.
The last time a Diminutive European from Corsica tried to engineer a trade embargo against Britain it didn’t work so well. The nations of Europe found it better and more profitable to break Napoleon’s Continental System, and trade with Europe actually increased. Even Napoleon’s brother, gifted the throne of Holland, found trading profitably with England preferable to dealing on French terms with his Brother!
Think about that French cheesemakers, Danish pig-farmers, German engineers, Italian designers, Spanish hoteliers, and all the rest of you who want to sell us your goods. Exclude our goods and financial services at your peril. Protectionism works both ways.
So please M. Barnier, go ahead. Why not rile us a little longer? Threaten us with trade sanctions and tariffs. We shall call your bluff and show that we really don’t care about what the mean little men of Brussels think. We want to be dealing with the real Europe. We want to trade with the Europe we’ve always loved – less so with the Eurocrats. Real Europe will always be welcome.
And as for Leo? I would imagine it won’t be long till he discovers just what a small country Ireland really is if Europe insists on borders and tariffs, while also demanding a share of Ireland’s primary industry – tax farming. It’s always a good idea to know who your friends really are, and stick with them. The door will always be open to his successor.
Let’s get our Exit from the EU done and dusted, and wake up tomorrow and in the future to discover nothing has really changed – except that the dreams of aggrandisation of a relatively small number of Eurocrats took a pasting!
Toodle Pip for now.
Yours sincerely, your great admirer
Bill Blain is a well-known City of London commentator, and has 35 years’ market experience as an investment banker. He currently is Strategist at Shard Capital, a London-based boutique.
Republished from the Morning Porridge by permission.