Brexit: Leadership Failures Over Four Generations

Brexit: Leadership Failures Over Four Generations

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

Brexit Bedlam

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, “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.”

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