The most powerful Western European country on the first VE Day in 1945 was the United Kingdom. It possessed a bomber fleet that could destroy a city with a destructive power equivalent to a nuclear device. It had a navy that had driven the U-Boats from the Atlantic and rendered the Nazi German surface fleet impotent. It had an experienced and professional citizen army that had forced its militarised opponents to surrender unconditionally at Luneburg Heath.
Of course, British military predominance was transient. While militarily powerful, the country was bankrupt and dependent on American money. The armies were not used to plunder the liberated countries. Germany did not pay the UK for the costs of occupation. The UK received zero reparations from Germany for all the blood and treasure expended to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny. The bomber squadrons, battle fleets and armies were all quickly scaled down.
While the UK had the capability to impose its will on all of the countries forming the arc of the North Sea coastline, whose liberation were a British priority, it did not do so. War had been declared in 1939 on the basis of no annexations or indemnities. It was literally diplomacy by other means.
Britain went to war in 1939 for the same reasons as it did in 1914, which was to the restoration of a balance of power in Europe, and to secure the rights of small nations, like the Luxembourg of Jean-Claude Juncker, to self-determination.
In this Britain succeeded. Democracy and self-determination were restored to the peoples of Western Europe by freeing them from German domination.
Seventy-two years later, the situation has been reversed.
It is now the German-dominated EU nations liberated by the UK and her allies that seek to impose their will on the UK. The countries freed from both Nazi and Soviet dictatorship by the resolution of the UK as the major military power in Western Europe now threaten the UK with punishment for leaving the EU. The logic is that no country, not even that one that delivered freedom to millions, should benefit from a good deal when leaving the EU.
Self-determination by nation states is now discredited as being responsible for triggering the world wars. The EU project has been progressively removing this and placing executive power in the hands of officials insulated from the ability of voters to drive change. It is impossible for EU policy to be reversed by casting a vote in a national or the European parliament. Referendums are discouraged. If any are held and they deliver the ‘wrong’ result, there will always be a pro-EU faction in national politics that will call for a succession of votes until the ‘right’ outcome is achieved. This is now happening in the UK.
For a while last year, democracy was actually held in open contempt in the UK by liberal commentators because of the Brexit vote as well as the rise of Donald Trump. A widely predicted Conservative landslide victory will result in this anti-democracy sentiment recurring. However, anti-democracy has been prevalent for some time in this country.
In the UK, elected politicians resisted popular desire for an EU referendum for over two decades to the point that a whole new party had to be created to demand one. When Ed Miliband was asked during the 2015 general election campaign why he opposed a referendum, he said:
‘It’s about leadership,and what I want to achieve as Prime Minister […] I do respect that point of view, but I don’t agree with it. I’m putting my view forward. One of the things about leadership is that you don’t always do what the polls tell you to do. ‘
He said this with a straight face as he asked people to vote for him. The polls told Miliband to take a hike, and he was obliged to do so.
David Cameron was obliged to call for a referendum when this new party threatened to cost him the 2015 general election. Shortly after his victory, Europe’s inflexibility over immigration reform cost the democratically elected Mr Cameron his job when he lost the referendum. His mandate from the UK voter was seen as insufficient by the EU.
Nationalism is suppressed at a nation state level, while indulged at a regional level. A Europe of regions is easier for Brussels to control than a Europe of nations. It’s the old ‘divide and conquer’. Between the 1970s and the 2000s in the UK, the Union Flag all but disappeared in public. British nationalism was suppressed in popular culture, with the notable exception of war films. The last ‘good’ British war movie was made in 1969. In the 1970s the flag was seen as an emblem of the far-right. Our national flag as well as our national anthem are still denigrated by the Left in this country, including by the Leader of the Opposition. By contrast, the nationalist movements in Ireland, Scotland and Wales are seen as friendly to EU interests.
While nationalism and self-determination may have been the causes of failures of governance on the Continent, this is decidedly not the case here in Britain. The UK gave life and freedom to millions of Europeans as part of the centuries-old British tradition of sending troops to the Continent to restore order and bring peace.
VE Day was a British, not a European, victory, and was due to a politics, a people and a national culture that were strong enough to resist the challenge of dictators when others failed. It is about time that EU politicians and officials, most of whom owe this country their lives, acknowledge Britain’s traditional role in securing peace and freedom for the peoples of Europe. On this, we have earned their respect at least twice over.
(Image: Carl Milner)