One thing was obvious about the referendum result of June 23, 2016 – namely, that neither side had expected it. Arrogance on the part of the Remainers and irresponsibility on the part of the Leavers had meant that neither side had provided for the contingency of a Leave result, despite the fact that all polls had predicted a close outcome. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, two leading Conservatives who had campaigned for Leave, could not agree on who should put himself up as the candidate to lead the Conservative Party after David Cameron’s resignation, thus enabling Theresa May, someone who had campaigned for Remain, to snatch the leadership of the Conservative Party from under their noses. This was the first of many anomalies: someone who believed Britain should remain was elected head of government to negotiate Britain’s departure.
The wholly false assumption that the entire departure would have to be painfully managed with European Union leaders was the myth by means of which Remainers have been undermining the vote to leave from day one. They are aware that it would have been perfectly possible for Britain to announce that all individual trade agreements were the subject of negotiation, would remain in effect until brought up for renegotiation, and then begin at once to undertake negotiating them not as a package, but individually. The failure to do so – the insistence on a complete deal as one packet and the failure of Leavers to make it clear that a rejection of a one-package deal was the course to take, thereby falling in with the notion that Brexit must be considered only as one complete negotiated deal – may give the Remain side their final chance to prevent Brexit from taking place.
On July 13, 2017, then Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, introduced the European Union (Withdrawal) Act to the British Parliament to make provision for repealing the 1972 Act of Adhesion on the day of Britain’s departure from the European Union – “exit day” – given as March 29, 2019 (at 11 PM GMT). It was not the end, but rather the end of the beginning, to misquote Churchill, of the Brexit saga. On one thing – and perhaps only one thing – nearly everyone involved, or passively following events, can agree: the aftermath of the referendum in favor of Britain’s exiting the European Union, “Brexit,” has been muddled, theatrical, farcical, and unpredictable. It has caused something like a panic attack on the good and mighty of Europe, has weakened Britain’s cherished party political system, has led to swathes of the British population with little previous interest in politics to take an interest (many voted for the first time in their lives when they voted in the referendum), and it has created division and bitterness in the country so deep that they are unlikely to heal for decades. At the time of writing, by a huge majority of 230 votes the British Parliament has rejected the compromise deal which Theresa May brought back from Brussels. A day later, the same Parliament – its left hand apparently not knowing what its right was doing – rejected by 19 votes a motion of no confidence in her government. What is going on?
A cursory view of the history of the “European project” is essential to understand the Brexit furore; indeed, it is arguably a lack of historical background knowledge which explains much of the mayhem which the referendum caused. Probably a majority of people on both sides of the debate have a very vague notion of the organization which they so passionately attack or defend. What is this European Union, which in 1975 the British people voted by a majority of millions to join, and then, just over forty years later, voted to leave?
The European Union grew out of the wish to bring Germany and France together in a Steel and Coal so-called “Community” in the wake of the Second World War. This first community, extended and ratified by the Treaty of Paris in 1952, was based on a project known as the “Schumann Plan.” Some kind of federal state project for Europe was welcomed by many post-war leaders in Europe as a way to make another European war impossible, and was seen as a dampener to the kind of national resentment which many argued had catapulted Hitler to power. A major aim of the Schumann Plan was to set up an economic community (later to be called a “project”) which, by bringing ex-belligerents ever closer together both economically and politically, would ensure that there would never again be war between European nation-states, most especially between Germany and France, “creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace,” as Schumann himself described the plan in a speech delivered in Strasbourg in 1949. Robert Schumann was both Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of France when NATO was established, and was the French signatory to the Treaty of Washington in 1949, which forms the legal basis for NATO. The EU and NATO were close buddies from the start.
A second aim of the European project – potentially in conflict with its very pro-Western stance – was to create an independent bloc between the United States and the Soviet Union. Thirdly, a trading area was to be established offering an economic zone with free trading among Member States, protected by community-wide tariffs from dumping and price undercutting from without. But while the European project represented free enterprise and opposed Communism, it nevertheless put into effect a vast protectionist project for agriculture, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which was established in 1962. Initially, prices for foodstuffs were fixed and guaranteed at significantly higher prices than they would reach on a free market. The form of subsidization has subsequently shifted from a premium on the price of the product to taxpayer subsidies. Guaranteeing cheap food for Europe’s urban population has effected an economics of scale to the detriment of the small farmers which the original CAP had been intended to protect. European Union rules, like those of other major states, favor the economies of scale in agriculture to the detriment of the small farmer.
Despite counter-tendencies, the dominant tone of the EU from the beginning was firmly pro-Western and implicitly internationalist. The subtext of open borders within the European community was always that, one day, there should be open borders everywhere. In 1947, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, the mulatto who had written before the war of his utopian vision of a multi-racial Europe, was the first person to be awarded the European Community’s annual Charlemagne Prize. This prize is awarded to persons, or even objects, for “work done in the service of European unification.” Angela Merkel was awarded the same prize in 2008. But the Charlemagne Prize cannot only be won by an individual – the euro currency won the award in 2002, and the entire population of the Duchy of Luxembourg won it in 1986.
There have always been people not unsympathetic to the EU in principle, but radically opposed to the belief that it should internationalist in orientation. They have asserted instead that Europe should merge into what the German legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt called the Grossraum, the continental bloc, a Europe with something akin to its own Monroe Doctrine. This kind of Europe would be the post-colonial European power, or Imperium, in which an inter-state customs union would replace the trade preferences given to the European colonies, which after 1945 were moving rapidly towards independence. This would be a free-trade area in which agriculture and industry would thrive and a separate European identity would be encouraged, one hostile to the consumer-based values of the West and pursuing policies of autarchy and protectionism. Thinkers such as Jean Thiriart, Francis Parker Yockey, Guillaume Faye, and many more argued in this direction, insisting that the day of the small nation was past and that European nation-states must come together as a new superpower to face the challenge of the American and Asian blocs.
Superficially, it appears to be in broad accordance with the general aims of the EU to form a European free-trading area and customs union; but it is also characteristic of the European project that it strives to be, if not all, certainly many things to many men: an economic arrangement for some; a historically-driven fulfillment of destiny for others; and an act of political realism, a guarantor of peace, and a stepping stone to internationalism for yet others. However, since the collapse of the Communist bloc, European federalists have been laying increasing stress on internationalism and liberal internationalist so-called “European values,” values which are incompatible with the aim of creating an independent European power.
For the British people in the 1970s, the Common Market, as it was then known, was presented not – as it was so often regarded on the Continent, especially in France – as a new empire in the making, nor an ideal or utopia either, but as a pragmatic alliance for the mutual benefit of its members; a marketplace where all benefited and nobody could lose, an economic arrangement which would have a minimal impact on British national sovereignty. In time, Britons came to realize that the EU is as much a political project as it is an economic one. Much of British resentment towards the EU can be explained by the fact that people feel that they have been deceived. A prevailing sentiment among those who voted Yes in the first referendum and Leave in the second is “this is not what we thought we had signed up for.”
Among British nationalists, in contrast to many Right-wingers on the European continent, enthusiasm for a Fortress Europa – “Europe a Nation” – never garnered much enthusiasm. In the great majority, British nationalists proclaimed a policy to revive a “white global commonwealth” consisting of former British colonies with a common market of its own based on a system of worldwide imperial preferences, and opposed this to a proposed European union.
Even in this brief depiction, it can be seen that the political inspiration underlying the emergence of a European ideal has included hugely different and ultimately mutually exclusive ambitions.
The position of Britain in relation to a united Europe has always been particular. Britain has not been invaded or conquered by a European power since 1066. There was therefore no trauma of defeat or shame to overcome, no desperate need to “marry” an old foe by taking down barriers and rendering war between former foes militarily and economically impracticable. Secondly, there was the British Commonwealth. The Commonwealth drew upon the Ottawa Agreement of 1932 to set up preferences in trade. It is mainly for this reason that Britain applied, at a late date, to join the Common Market, in overtures that were at first vetoed by President Charles de Gaulle of France for reasons that are disputed to this day.
In recent years, it has been evident that the internationalist European Union project has established itself as the dominant meaning of the European project, and the ideal of an independent “European nation” has been marginalized, although rhetoric about a “strong Europe” is still directed at those who even unconsciously tolerate or support European integration for reasons of a perceived “European patriotism.” Those who thought that Europe might become a fortress of peace and security in a world whose demographic development shows that Europeans are shrinking in proportion to non-Europeans (with a possibility of their populations shrinking in real terms in the near future) have been stripped of their illusions. Widespread skepticism existed in Britain from the day of the project’s inception, especially among Conservatives, and increased as concern mounted as to “where Europe is going,” a concern that has finally begun to grow in other European countries over the last ten years.
In Britain, the belief that the EU might morph into a superpower was seen as a threat rather than as a dream, and ironically, it is widespread belief – not so much in the very real one-world project as in the feebler superpower project – which has fired much of the Euroskepticism in Britain. Britain’s two major political parties, Tory and Labour, had both been divided over European unity from the earliest days of the Union. It was the Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath (another Charlemagne Prize-winner) who won the vote in Parliament for the European Communities Bill by 336 to 224, which paved the way for Britain’s joining the Common Market at the beginning of 1973, with only 39 Conservatives voting against the Bill. Questioned by reporters about his defiance of the party line, one of them stated,“I have three loyalties as a politician: to my God, my country, and my party, in that order: my God does not come into this, my country does.” This notion of “country before party” in regard to European unity has often been muted, but never died, and has never left the Conservative Party.
Three years after Britain joined the Common Market, the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, under pressure from anti-Marketers in his own party and in his government, agreed to hold the referendum which Heath’s Conservative government had refused to hold, despite Heath’s promising that Britain would not enter the Market without, as he put it, “the full-hearted consent of the British people.” The referendum of 1975 was the first nation-wide referendum in Britain. The charismatic Left-wing Labour member Tony Benn – whose name was frequently evoked by Leftist Brexiters in the second referendum – explained that he had insisted on a referendum above all because he believed that the Common Market was undemocratic and would diminish the British democratic tradition. To this writer’s knowledge, Tony Benn was the first public figure to query the democratic legitimacy of the Union rather than simply opposing the Common Market for economic reasons or reasons of national sovereignty. It is a fact that the functions and remit of EU institutions are unclear and alien to the overwhelming majority of the citizens of EU Member States to this day.
Britain voted to remain in the Common Market in the first referendum by a wide margin of 67.2 percent to 32.8 percent. At that time, the material and cultural arguments for membership seemed overwhelming. Europe was “cool,” and the British Empire and Commonwealth were musty and mothballed. Britain seemed tawdry, run down, economically behind the times, and hide-bound, while the Commonwealth was a reminder of a half-forgotten and not very welcome Imperial past. Those arguing against membership seemed like “yesterday’s men”: fossils of the Empire or socialist dinosaurs, the old and the broken. Young people were learning foreign languages and enjoyed French coffee. The middle-class young traveled round Europe on “Easy Rail,” and working-class youths enjoyed permissive romps on the beaches of France and Spain. Europe was young, fun, and free, and seemed to be beckoning towards the future. Nationalism was for fascists, Communists, and one’s grandfather. The Common Market opened new horizons, especially for study and work. The majority voting for membership was overwhelming. What could possibly go wrong? Remainers might be asking themselves in the words of the Supremes hit from 1964, “Baby, where did our love go?”
Even after a huge majority voted to remain in the Union in the first referendum, however, skepticism about the European project did not go to sleep and die, as many had hoped and more expected. Euroskepticism continued to haunt Prime Ministers down the years, and remained a running sore of division in the Conservative Party. The Common Market had been presented to Britons as an economic deal bringing mutual benefits, but never as a far-reaching political project. Of all the countries in the Union, it seems to have been the British – politicians as well as citizens – who believed most willingly and naïvely in the assurances that there was no intention of nudging the Common Market towards a European Nation. The turning point for many was probably the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht. This treaty consolidated and extended European jurisdiction over national state sovereignty and finalized the complete freedom of persons and goods among Member States, with no possibility for one nation to impose limitations. When the implications of the treaty became known, they caused uproar in the British Parliament, nearly bringing the government down and leading to many resignations from the Tory Party, including that of Nigel Farage, who claims that Maastricht was his road to Damascus awakening. Farage became a founding member of a new party, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose declared aim was quitting the European Union.
Hostility to the further European integration which the Maastricht Treaty and other measures demanded led to an upsurge of dissent in the Conservative Party among many who had not resigned their membership, but who sought to change party policy on Europe. After the collapse of the Eastern bloc, followed swiftly by the admission of former Eastern bloc members to the Union, Britain experienced a flood of Eastern European workers exercising their rights under Maastricht to live and work in Britain. Efforts by Tony Blair’s governments to conceal the extent of such immigration added fuel to the flames.
The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had presided over two referenda which went the way he had wished, sought to imitate Harold Wilson into using another referendum – and the widely-predicted popular confirmation of EU membership – to stymie skeptics in his own party and, he hoped, to consolidate his prestige and position in his party and the country as a whole, banishing divisions over Europe forever. Against the urging of his closest colleague George Osborne, who viewed such a referendum with deep foreboding, Cameron decided to commit his party to holding it. He was as good as his word, and duly announced in 2016 that a referendum would be held, apparently confident that he would carry off a hat trick and at the same time heal his divided party. He could not have been more wrong. A superb account of the Brexit referendum and how Cameron was derailed is given in Timothy Shipman’s All Out War, which I have reviewed for Counter-Currents .
It is an open secret that neither side in the referendum expected Leave to win. The Prime Minister clearly had no contingency plan for defeat, while the victors looked even more stunned by the result than the people they had defeated. There had been no agreement among Conservative Leavers as to who should take over the leadership of the party should Cameron resign, as quite predictably he did, and as a result of spectacular bungling among Leave politicians, the Remainer Theresa May was appointed to head the government that would take Britain out of the European Union. The result of the referendum had been close: some seventeen against sixteen million. But the switch from the huge majority of the first referendum was dramatic, as was the fact that the highest percentage of eligible voters had turned out to vote since the 1945 general election.
Many studies have been published and many reasons given explaining the result. Briefly, key elements at play were the following: first, the sense that the country had been deceived and that the European Union was much more than an economic project, which the people had not been informed about; and second, runaway immigration from other new EU countries – Britain had 95,000 Polish immigrants in 2004 when Poland joined the Union, but by 2010 more than half a million were coming each year. A related but separate issue was border control. Angela Merkel’s illegal decision to admit over a million so-called refugees from North Africa and the Middle East to Germany in 2016 probably tipped the scales against the EU. Under the Treaty of Maastricht, those Muslims who settled in Germany would have a right to residency in Britain, too. Another factor played a huge role in determining the result: the increasing success of populist leaders throughout Europe. The political parties of the old economic order which predated globalism are everywhere in the decline in Europe. If there is one exception, it must be Britain’s Labour Party, and that is precisely because its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, appeals directly to the people in the manner of Donald Trump and was, like Trump, chosen to become party leader against the express wishes of his party’s machine. Many Remainers hold Corbyn responsible for the failure of the Remain cause owing to his lukewarm support of the Remain campaign.
The unexpected result left parliament in a novel position. Both major political parties had insisted that the referendum vote was a “once in a lifetime” decision, as Cameron had articulated, and that they would honor the result, apparently in the rash conviction that Remain would win a majority. The overwhelming majority of members of the British Parliament are in favor of remaining. The ensuing conflicts and dissent have underlined the crisis of democracy which now confronts the entire Western world. It is this: Are elected representatives primarily in office to carry out the will of the people who elect them, or are they mainly delegates whom the people have chosen to make decisions for them? From the beginning the European project has been thoroughly undemocratic, if democracy is understood in the first sense; it is a model of democracy, if understood in the second sense. Both the Brexit result and Donald Trump’s election were the expression of a popular red line about national sovereignty. It had become clear to most people on both sides of the divide that delegates who were interpreting what is best for the people were moving towards the opening of national borders. Perhaps the strongest rallying cry on both sides of the Atlantic by the winning populists was the cry for borders: “winning back control,” the Leavers called it in the referendum campaign.
In the months which followed the vote to leave the European Union, it became clear that Remainers and the internationalists who backed them would not accept the result. The first attempt to stop the result was to overthrow the Labour Party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and replace him with a leader who would rally the opposition to reject the invocation of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, a supplementary treaty to the treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon which required an official submission to leave the Union. The attempt to overthrow Corbyn failed miserably. The next Remainer ploy was to challenge the legitimacy of Parliament’s right to invoke Article 50. This, too, failed; however, Remainers did obtain a European Court ruling that a British Prime Minister can withdraw the submission to invoke Article 50 at any time.
Remarkably, in the general election that was held a year after the referendum result, UKIP, the party which had campaigned for the referendum and made it possible, all but collapsed. The widespread view even among Leavers was that the message was “mission accomplished” for UKIP, and that the party no longer had a raison d’être. This was extremely naïve. For the forces of internationalism, the British referendum defeat was only one round in a match which they had every intention of winning.
Instead of negotiating individual agreements, the British government has been pursuing a policy of “all or nothing,” that is to say that an agreement on the way Britain should leave had to include everything in one package. How did anyone expect to have everything agreed on, accepted, signed, and sold within a single deal? Britain has been heavily entangled in the EU for over forty years, and disentangling will take time. It is clear why Remainers are opposed to a breakdown of treaties into manageable parts, for their aim is to make an orderly departure unmanageable, and the chaos they have done so much to engineer has come to pass. While still insisting that Brexit will take place, the Prime Minister returned from Brussels with terms that Brexiters found too harsh and which Remainers would have voted against regardless, since they do not accept the result of the vote in any case.
With the Labour Party’s priority not being for deciding Brexit, but rather with winning power, it was predictable that Parliament would reject any compromise package offered by the Prime Minister. The Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer said in a BBC interview in November that his party will back a new referendum if they cannot force a general election. There are, however, four major drawbacks for political party leaders about a second referendum which promoters call “the people’s vote” and opponents dub “the losers’ vote”: one, both Conservative and Labour are deeply divided on the issue, and forcing a second referendum risks making party splits irreparable; two, nobody is clear what the wording would be (it could be: “The government has proposed terms for exiting the European Union. Do you agree with those terms? Rejecting them would mean leaving the European Union with no terms agreed. Yes/No”), or it could be another proposal such as, “Should the UK leave the European Union as agreed in the revised resolution passed on April 1 by the House of Commons or remain in the European Union? Leave/Remain,” or it could be, “Should the UK leave the European Union under WTO terms or remain in the European Union? Leave/Remain”); three, it is not possible to hold one before the April deadline, so it would have to be preceded by a request for an extension of the deadline, meaning more debate and more procrastination; and four – and in my opinion most importantly – it would create massive bitterness and deepen division still further, bitterness so deep that Britain might conceivably be nudged towards armed conflict and an effective state of civil war.
The issue is at the top of the internationalists’ agenda because it is more than just a question of Britain’s membership in an economic and political club. If Britain leaves and prospers, other countries will follow, and therefore the internationalists will stop at nothing to ensure that Britain does not leave other than with no deal, in such a way as to trigger mayhem which will serve as a warning to others not to follow it down a very dangerous path.
At the time of writing, the strategy of the Remainers is to ratchet up the supposedly distasteful consequences of a so-called “no deal” Brexit, that is to say one in which there is no transfer period for any of the hundreds of treaties to which Britain has been party as a member of the EU. The result of this would be that Britain would be regarded as just any other country in terms of trade deals, and subject to the same tariffs as those imposed by the EU on any foreign country under the umbrella conditions of the World Trade Organization, with no special favors for the ex-member. By invoking this bogey, Remainers are bringing as much influence as they can to bear to obtain an extension of the deadline by which they must negotiate a deal, a period which in reality they would use to promote the cause of the people’s/losers’ vote – a vote which, in the current atmosphere of fear and confusion, Remainers would have a very good chance of winning. If they did so, there would never be a third referendum in Britain and, having learned their lesson, EU spokesmen and their backers could be expected to take steps to ensure that the right to decide on membership in the European Community would never be put to a vote again in any Member State.
After they had recovered from their shock at the result, Remainers were subsequently disconcerted, if not stunned, by the failure of the Labour and Conservative leaders, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May – both of whom had campaigned for Remain during the referendum debates – to make the way free for a second referendum. Both leaders have easily defeated attempts within their respective parties to remove them from office. Remainers have been hoping for months that one of them will change his or her position on the “people’s vote,” and the pressure in both parties to do so has been relentless. Theresa May seems immovable and has declared that she will not countenance a second vote, so the Remainers’ hope is focused on Jeremy Corbyn, whose rejection of a second referendum has been hesitant, and who may be wavering in the direction of a people’s vote in lieu of a general election. The pressure on Corbyn from a large section of his party members, the media, and the trades unions must be enormous. However, to say that he has not warmed to the idea of a second referendum would be an understatement. If Theresa May continues to insist that there will be no second referendum under her government, and now that the motion of no confidence in her leadership has been defeated, a general election in the near future is highly unlikely. If there is no delay for the ostensible purpose of having a longer transfer period (but in reality intended to find time for a second referendum), then Britain may indeed leave the European Union on March 29, 2019 after all, and with no terms having been agreed upon for any of the over a thousand commercial treaties which have been signed in compliance with EU regulations.
While the public debate is centered on economics, with one businessman after another wheeled out on public media to warn of the dire consequences of “no deal,” with the supposed Armageddon prospect of no deal held up before the public (“Is this what you wanted, nincompoops?”), the other and more fundamental issues are underplayed – namely, the right of the people to make broad decisions on the direction their country should be taking, the democratic obligation to accept the result of a vote, and the right of a nation to close its doors to immigrants (a right explicitly denied by the Treaty of Maastricht). A “no deal” Brexit, for all the economic problems it would undoubtedly initially cause, would at least mean that the country alone could decide for itself exactly how many or how few migrants and refugees it could and would accept per year, and being an island, Britain is in the strong position of not having to build a wall. An armed coast guard could effectively prevent migrants from landing. Such a reassertion of national sovereignty by a European nation-state is a nightmare for internationalists. If Remainers have their way and overturn the referendum result by organizing a people’s/losers’ vote for a population tired of the muddle and terrified of the threats, it will constitute a massive setback for any majority white country that may seek to take back control of its borders, either explicitly or implicitly, in the name of its white racial majority. This key issue is almost totally ignored in discussions on Brexit, with Remainers confining themselves to pointing out that Brexit has taken the cork out of the bottle of racial hatred and national chauvinism, and Leavers insisting that they are championing the cause of national sovereignty against European centralists whose role models are Napoleon, Charlemagne, or even Hitler.
Overturning the vote would hugely radicalize a substantial section of the population, and has the potential of bringing about the birth of a radical Right-wing movement with mass support. If that were to happen, some Remainers might begin to wonder if the original compromise offered by Theresa May that was rejected would not have been preferable. Be that as it may, any result will prove messy and divisive. Leading spokesmen on both sides have been physically harassed and have received death threats on social media. In the coming months, bitterness will increase, and however the Brexit drama pans out, millions of people will be deeply dissatisfied with the result and more people are going to get hurt. That is the only prediction one can make with any degree of certainty about upcoming developments in the Brexit drama.