Understanding Brexit: How Other European Nations Caused It and British Politics Made It Inevitable
Watching and reading the American mainstream media this week one could conclude that the British voted for Brexit based on one issue: immigration. Talking heads and pundits all repeat the same points, and seem surprised that 52% of the British public would be so driven against membership in the European Union by nationalist and parochial instincts.
Of course that analysis is completely wrong, and simply demonstrates profound ignorance on this side of the Atlantic of key issues central to British politics over the last 25 years.
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The Fact is that a Brexit referendum had been a real possibility ever since Margaret Thatcher was ousted from her job as Prime Minister by members of her own party in 1990, and Britain accepted the EU’s terms on the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.
Margaret Thatcher, as a staunch believer in free markets, was a strong supporter of the European Economic Community (EEC), as the precursor to today’s European Union (EU) was called. She supported the expansion of free movement of capital and peoples, as well as cooperation and coordination in defense and security matters, but she was a staunch critic of the idea of a Federal Europe, which she opposed vehemently, and of the concept of a “United States of Europe” as some called it.
Thatcher rejected any proposal to create a European Super-State that would impose laws beyond those approved by “the mother of all parliaments”, and courts that would supersede British courts. She rightly feared that the authorities in this unelected European Super-State would turn out to be a force for imposing on Britain the statist model that she had just dismantled.
During her now famous speech at the College of Europe in Bruges in 1988, Thatcher stated:
“But working more closely together does not require power to be centralized in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy. Indeed, it is ironic that just when those countries such as the Soviet Union, which have tried to run everything from the centre, are learning that success depends on dispersing power and decisions away from the centre, there are some in the Community who seem to want to move in the opposite direction
We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”
She made it clear to other European leaders at the time that Britain would veto any attempt to turn the EEC into a Federal Europe. The efforts by Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand, then leaders of Germany and France, to pressure Thatcher into accepting the concept of a European State became one of the central issues in British politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Thatcher, in her staunch opposition to this idea, and to the pressures from European socialists and their allies, became famously combative, as her famous NO,NO, NO speech in the House of Commons attests:
After Thatcher was ousted from power, her successor, John Major, signed the Maastricht Treaty, ignoring fierce opposition from Thatcher and a large group of British MPs that became known as “Eurosceptics”.
Over the next 20 years, despite their knowledge of the deep and entrenched opposition in Britain to interference from Europe into its own internal affairs, the UK was defeated or ignored by other European governments within the EU each time an objection was raised to a new rule and regulation that the British perceived as harmful to their national interest or their sovereignty.
Clashes between the UK and the European Commission dominated the headlines of the British press for years. Protests and demonstrations against regulations imposed from the EU by various groups of British workers, from fishermen and farmers to blue collar workers in several industries were common over these 20 years.
For a time, the deep dislike of a large part of the British public for the Super-State that was imposed on them at Maastricht posed no threat. The Labour party held power from 1997 to 2010, and Labour, as all other European socialist parties, are strong supporters of the EU.
When in 2010 David Cameron, a Conservative (Margaret Thatcher’s party), became Prime Minister, he knew he had to mollify the very large Eurosceptic group within his party. UKIP (UK Independence Party) had been founded, and he faced the risk of revolt within his party, or worse. It was possible that a large number of Conservative MPs could change their affiliation to UKIP, which demanded a Brexit referendum.
Before the 2015 elections Cameron gambled with a move that could have made a Brexit referendum insurmountable for the supporters of exiting the EU. He supported the candidacy of Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, to the presidency of the European Council.
Had the other European countries supported Blair’s candidacy, it is highly unlikely that support for Brexit would have reached the levels of the last few years.
With Blair at the helm of Europe the British would have felt that they had someone watching for their interests, and that Britain played a key role in the EU.
Despite being by far the most qualified candidate, Blair did not achieve the necessary support. France and Germany, each for its own parochial reasons, supported a very arrogant and unknown bureaucrat from Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. That sealed it. In the eyes of the British they had been, once again, ignored and snubbed.
Given the near state of revolt within his party, Cameron had no choice but to promise he would hold a referendum on Europe if the Conservatives achieved a majority in the 2015 elections. During those elections, UKIP achieved 12% of the vote, almost entirely at the expense of the Conservatives.
It is true that the issue of immigration played a large role in the referendum earlier this week. It is also true that immigration was a key issue for obtaining support for Brexit in the less affluent areas of the UK. However, the success of the LEAVE campaign, and even the referendum itself, would have been unthinkable had it not counted with the longstanding support of many, most in the Conservative party, who had been opposed to a Federal Europe from the get-go.
The Spectator, a respected British magazine in print since 1826, produced a video that we present here, with many of the arguments, different to immigration, that brought millions to vote for LEAVE in the referendum.
The portrayal of LEAVE supporters as parochial and racist is a slander, which many in the American media have been helping to spread for their own ideological reasons.