After the war, our main European rivals, France and Germany, managed faster rates of economic growth, while Britain experienced a loss of confidence, exemplified by the Suez fiasco and Harold Wilson’s premiership. In ‘Forty Years On’ , Alan Bennett brilliantly captured the essence of our dilemma: ‘To let. A valuable site at the cross-roads of the world. At present on offer to European clients. Outlying portions of the estate already disposed of to sitting tenants. Of some historical and period interest. Some alterations and improvements necessary.’
In the early 1970s we entered the Common Market out of weakness, despite de Gaulle’s accurate observation that England was different from the other continental countries. Sharing that view, I voted to leave in the 1975 Referendum; so I am delighted that now, more than forty years on, we are about to do so. Some ‘alterations and improvements’ are still necessary!
We are lucky to have the chance, after all this time, to rediscover our energy and creativeness and optimism from earlier parts of our history. Once again the world can be our oyster, in contrast to being trapped in a protectionist undemocratic customs union with an objective (which, as David Cameron pointed out, we never shared) of ‘ever closer union’. History will credit him with allowing us a way out, albeit unintentionally.
The European Union is in serious trouble, with its falling population, sclerotic economy, disastrous single currency and anti-democratic constitution. The complacent and inflexible eurocrats were unable, in their ‘negotiations’, to offer our Prime Minister anything close to the ‘fundamental and far-reaching changes in our relationship’ that he called for in his Bloomberg speech. No wonder Jacob Rees-Mogg called it ‘pretty thin gruel’.
We are well out of it; and I’m proud of the British electorate and the way it resisted all the bullying and exaggeration from our own political elite. It’s no coincidence that in both referendums on the European Union the leader of the opposition supported the government line. To most people’s surprise, we managed to take what no doubt Sir Humphrey would regard as a ‘courageous’ decision. Now it’s up to us to make it work.
Over the next year or two we must resist the resentful mutterings of what Douglas Carswell calls ‘Continuity Remain’. Brexit must indeed really mean Brexit – it must mean a renascence of British independence and enterprise. It’s a great time to be alive!
Prof David Myddelton is the IEA’s Life Vice President and former Chair of the IEA Board of Trustees.
Read the IEA monograph ‘Breaking Up is Hard to Do. Britain and Europe’s Dysfunctional Relationship’ here.