Last week two hugely important events occurred that will not only make or break Brexit but determine the future of all of Europe. The first was the apparent acquiescence by Theresa May to Michael Gove’s demand that Britain will not be bound by European regulation as part of any trade deal.
We will, of course, believe it when we see it. For those of us old enough to remember, May’s leadership seems like a dismal re-run of the John Major years, made all the more depressing and painful because the stakes are now so much higher. Like Major before her, May is a grey, mediocre careerist who loathes risk and whose every instinct is to cave in and seek ‘compromise’ (i.e. surrender) on any given position. Flat-footed, reactive and utterly without vision, the kind of person for whom a bird in the hand is worth a thousand in the bush, everything in her track record suggests that her instincts will be to avoid ‘crashing out’ of the EU. Despite her rhetoric, for her any deal at all is better than no deal.
It therefore seems highly unlikely that May will stick to her guns, and that way utter disaster lies. A trade deal that tied us to European regulation would almost certainly mean continued membership of the Single Market in all but name, reducing Britain to the status of a European Union colony. The brief, fleeting promise Brexit afforded would disappear, and we would surely become a psychologically broken nation that Europe could threaten and bully whenever it pleased, no doubt demanding we follow future diktats on pain of the trade relationship being withdrawn. A low-growth, thoroughly demoralised country without belief in itself or its institutions would surely be highly susceptible to the siren song of the classical Marxist message of Corbyn and McDonnell’s new model Labour Party.
The EU itself is also at a critical juncture. On the one hand, its plans for an anti-democratic super-state are rapidly reaching fruition with last week’s second hugely important event – the highly ominous announcement that an EU army is being formed. On the other hand, the EU is racked by nationalist tensions that could yet break it up or at least force it on to a radically different path – maybe, at the risk of sounding very naïve, to being the collection of friendly, free-trading nation-states it always should have been. Armies in the hands of unaccountable elites facing nationalist revolt rarely end well, and it is not in Britain’s or Europe’s interest that the hands of the Brussels elites are strengthened before this nightmare is realised. For their part, the EU elites know the time is short and are plainly terrified that Brexit Britain will provide an example for others to follow.
Brexit, therefore, is in its largest sense not just about the economic future of Britain but a moral imperative on which the fate of all of Europe hinges. Indeed, it is even bigger than that: the entire Western world has fallen into a deep cultural malaise over the past few decades. The social capital it built through its Judeo-Christian heritage over centuries is all but destroyed, inevitably now severely affecting future growth prospects. Well beyond the short-term gains of economic deregulation, rebuilding that capital will require determination and a renewed sense of self-belief. Such a psychological reset can come about only with a sharp break from the recent past and opportunity to discover what we once were and can be again – a dynamic free-trading nation of its heritage and traditions.
In 1805 Pitt the Younger called on Britain to ‘save Europe by our example’. Let us strive to save not just Europe but the Western world by our example today.
Hold fast, Mrs May.