I’ve seen a number of references lately to events and influential figures of the Second World War.
Comments along the lines of “Our armies didn’t fight and die to keep us free from Nazi domination for us to have foreigners telling us how to run things”, “We fought against Hitler and now Germany is telling us what to do”, and “Churchill must be turning in his grave”.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which side of the discussion these come from.
Let’s talk about Hitler and the Nazis first. I think it’s fair to say that any sentient human being can see that comparing modern Germany to the Third Reich is not only completely inaccurate but also deeply offensive, and indeed racist. Also, Hitler wasn’t German.
The implication that poor little UK is being bullied and exploited by the EU is of course false, but other writers have already addressed that at some length and with plenty of supporting facts.
However, let’s pretend that the UK is indeed in this position. What is the logic behind leaving the EU to sit on our own in the North Atlantic, with no-one under any obligation to help or support us against anyone else who decides we’re a prime target for bullying and exploitation?
If we kick the EU in the teeth by leaving, I doubt that many of our near neighbours will feel particularly inclined to assist us.
Now, about Sir Winston (as he became), among the (if not the) greatest of Great Britons, who led the UK through and out of the valley of the shadow of death. For much of that time, the hardest parts especially, we were extremely short of viable allies.
He saw and urged that one of the best ways for history not to repeat itself (again) was for the countries of Europe to form an ever-closer union. Two World Wars were already two too many.
Clearly the EU is far from perfect, but it’s young, only 50 or so years old, and it is capable of change. Nor is the UK the only member to think that change is necessary. It can take time to move in the right direction: think about how long the UK Parliament had been in existence before there was universal suffrage, for example.
If Sir Winston had thought the correct UK reaction to lack of perfection in Europe was to abandon it to its fate, then even if we’d been in Europe to leave Dunkirk in 1940, we certainly wouldn’t have been back in Normandy in 1944.
He had more vision and sense of responsibility, understanding that the UK was uniquely placed in a number of ways to influence Europe’s future for the better.
That unique place might have changed somewhat, but it is still unique. Without the UK, the EU will be destabilised (one of the few outcomes of a Brexit that’s certain). This will obviously be bad for the EU, but how can it be good for the UK?
In or out of the EU, we are unalterably part of a global economy. In the EU, we are a biggish fish in a biggish pond, outside it we are a small fish in an enormous pond. Future trade deals are not a given.
But equally importantly, we once again have an opportunity (even, dare I say it, a duty) to play a pivotal role in the future of Europe and to be an ever-more-influential figure on the world stage.
If we turn our backs on that, then I believe Sir Winston will turn in his grave.