Quotation of the Season
So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. So we go on preparing more months and years—precious, perhaps vital, to the greatness of Britain—for the locusts to eat. —Churchill, House of Commons, 12 November 1936
For me the most adroit analysis of Britain’s Brexit Bedlam we can read to date was by Andrew Roberts in the Sunday Telegraph. You can register for free to read the article.
Will this be the year May ends before April? If Prime Minister Theresa May lasts through 5/31, Roberts says she will beat Gordon Brown (two years, 319 days) and the Duke of Wellington (two years, 320 days). Big whoopee.
Dr. Roberts goes on to opine what the right course would have been from the outset:
The cautious, bishop-like approach when she became prime minister would have been to have prepared business, the civil service and the country for a managed, World Trade Organisation-based, no-deal Brexit, without giving Brussels any guarantees on security, future domicile status for EU citizens, a divorce pay-out or indeed anything else until a negotiating timetable was agreed that was fair to both sides. Any fifth columnists in the Civil Service who were actively undermining the strategy should have been demoted; it would not have taken long for the rest to have got the message. The squealing of the Remainers would have been loud and long—especially of course on the BBC—but nothing like as bad as it has been.
Many colleagues reply to this by saying, “Sure, but hindsight is cheap.” Au contraire. Mrs. May, who is an admirable PM in many respects, had those options from the get-go. She knew she had them. She rejected them. Brexit still offers them. It is not likely that she will opt for them.
Churchill and Europe: Then
It almost seemed that every speaker at the recent Hillsdale College Churchill Conference was asked about Brexit in one way or another. We convened to study Churchill and the movies, one of them “Henry V.” Another kerfuffle with the French, but 600 years ago. The best insight into Churchill’s thinking is his own words. So when asked about Brexit I offered two Churchill quotations:
We are not seeking in the European movement … to usurp the functions of Government. I have tried to make this plain again and again to the heads of the Government. We ask for a European assembly without executive power.” —House of Commons, 10 December 1948
* * *
At Zürich in 1946 I appealed to France to take the lead in Europe by making friends with the Germans, “burying the thousand-year quarrel.” … As year by year the project advanced, the Federal Movement in many European countries who participated became prominent. It has in the last two years lost much of its original force. The American mind jumps much too lightly over its many difficulties. I am not opposed to a European Federation including (eventually) the countries behind the Iron Curtain, provided that this comes about naturally and gradually.
But I never thought that Britain or the British Commonwealths should, either individually or collectively, become an integral part of a European Federation, and have never given the slightest support to the idea. We should not, however, obstruct but rather favour the movement to closer European unity and try to get the United States’ support in this work. —Memorandum to the Cabinet, 29 November 1951
Churchill and Europe: Now?
That answer was incomplete, so a second question arose. “You gave us two Churchill quotes in which he opposed Britain joining a federal Europe. Does that mean you think he would be in favor of Brexit?”
Answer: No. To so conclude would violate his daughter’s First Commandment. Lady Soames always said, “Thou shalt not declare what Papa would say about any modern issue. After all, how do YOU know?”
I offered those quotes only to refute the opposite argument we hear all the time. Because Churchill wanted Franco-German rapprochement after World War II, he would now favor the creation of a European super-state.
Theresa May has much to answer for before the bar of history. But it is unfair to blame her alone for the current shambles of irresolution. The mistakes began long ago, under governments both Labour and Tory. They led to de Gaulle‘s rejection of British membership in the European Economic Community in the 1960s. After he’d left, Britain applied to join again. Even then, Britain joined a free trade association, not a federal union regulated by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.
“If Churchill Had Not Won the 1945 Election”
In 1930, Churchill wrote a marvelous essay you can find online: “If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg.” It is presented as if written by someone in an alternate world where Lee DID win the battle of Gettysburg. This precipitated (implausibly from our viewpoint) a sequence of events leading to the abolition of slavery, a fraternal association of English-Speaking Peoples, the prevention of World War I, and with it German fascism and Russian Bolshevism. By 1930 there is the prospect of a Council of Europe led by Kaiser Wilhelm.
I have written, but not yet published, a parallel essay entitled “If Churchill Had Not Won the 1945 Election.” Using some of his phrases, it explains how Churchill DID win, resulting (also implausibly from our viewpoint), in a prosperous, reinvigorated British Commonwealth, a rollback of Soviet expansion, a free Poland, an Arab-Israeli settlement, a democratic China, the evolution of Iran to a constitutional monarchy. It ends with the prospect of a Latin American free trade association led by Che Guevara. Che, an educated, practical man, has pronounced communism a failure and deposed Castro.
Safely reelected in 1945, Churchill renounces the Dunbarton Oaks and Bretton Woods agreements, in which the United States demanded an end to Imperial Preference. Britain then organizes SAFTA, the Sterling Area Free Trade Association. The first of its kind, SAFTA spans the British Commonwealth, including India and Pakistan. They both get independence, but only after the border questions are settled and millions of lives saved by avoiding strife. SAFTA gets along fine with the U.S. and Europe. Free trade blossoms in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
Back to Reality
The mistakes leading to the present Brexit debacle began with abandoning Imperial Preference. Churchill himself had supported that from 1932. Failing to render the Commonwealth a free-trade association of independent states hammered home the error.
So on Brexit, we must NOT proclaim what Churchill would say about a situation he never contemplated.
As for the present Brexit shambles, a Norwegian friend of mine offered an answer. “The best thing to do would be to go back to 1945 and start all over again.”