Commentary by Louis VIS
In 36 days, British citizens will vote in a referendum that will decide whether the United Kingdom will remain or leave the European Union. This article will look back at the UK’s historical relationship with the EU and explain that voting to remain is the best way for Britain to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Although Sir Winston Churchill was one of the first politicians to revive the idea of a united Europe after the end of the Second World War, it quickly became apparent that Britain would not take part in the project. Many foreign diplomats saw this as a huge blow to the ideal of European unity, but Britain’s reluctance to join could simply be explained by the notion that ‘Britain will never act on a hypothesis, it will only always act on facts.’
What were the consequences?
Unfortunately, failing to join the European project in its infancy meant that the rules of what would then become the European Union were drawn up to suit ‘them’ not ‘us’. Although the UK had already refused to take part in the project, the six original members did offer British politicians a chance to sit at the table during the initial negotiations. But, to quote Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s answer was: ‘No, no, no…’. However, in the light of European unity’s huge success, it soon became clear that for Britain to prosper, it had to join the European Economic Community (EEC). If it did not do so, it would risk getting left behind. In order to join, Britain now had to conform to a set of written rules created by others. Britain’s biggest problem with the EU is thus that it did not invent it. Many in the UK therefore see the EU as something done to them rather than made by them. Yet those same people often forget the fact that Britain was given a chance to take part in the original negotiations but it did not take it. Had Britain taken part in the initial negotiations, the story could have been very different.
What can we learn from this?
Being part of the EU means that the UK now has a say the decision-making and can play a part in the setting of the rules. However, if Britain were to leave the EU, it would once again be forced to conform to rules without having any say in the decision making process… Why would anyone want to make the same mistake again? Not to mention that Brexit would be a step in the unknown. Furthermore, leaving the EU would not make it disappear. France will always be 21 miles away, and Northern Ireland will always share a physical boundary with Ireland. Geography alone means that it is much better for Britain to work with the rest of Europe than to reject it.