IN THE final part of this podcast interview with Professor Gwythian Prins, he explains how the philosophy of ‘declinism’, pushed for decades by the Foreign Office, has not just determined Mrs May’s defeatist approach to her withdrawal negotiations, but is a lie. The reality, by contrast, is that the UK is the second-most dominant geopolitical power. MPs playing to Dominic Grieve’s tune and his determination to scupper a No-Deal (return to WTO rules) Brexit should read this carefully. It starts with the interviewer’s derogatory assumption about Britain outside the EU’s defence embrace:
INTERVIEWER: An island with nukes?
GWYTHIAN PRINS: Yes. This is simply a grotesque example of the declinism which has bedevilled the civil service and many parts of the ruling class for two generations. The reason that we are talking today about this surrender document, which I think is, as we speak, going to collapse in the next 24 hours or so, along probably with Mrs May and be replaced with a proper prime minister who can deliver what the people instructed, is that we have had since the 1950s within the establishment, call it loosely its name, of which people like us, you know, Cambridge professors are supposed to be members – there has been a view that Britain is either incapable of, or morally has lost the right to run its own affairs, because there’s a sort of anti-imperialism that runs through this, but an essential declinism that says we can’t do things on our own. And, of course, since Suez, a strong streak of anti-Americanism. So therefore you’ve had in the civil service people who first supported Edward Heath in getting us into the relationship with the European project on the basis of untruths – because Heath knew perfectly well that it was a political project, not a trading project. And then, having got there, they hammered in all the tent pegs to try and make sure we could never get out. Hugo Young, you may remember, the late Hugo Young, wrote a very interesting book called This Blessed Plot. He was a strong Europhile and so he approved of what the civil service did in those years, in the 60s and 70s. He explains there precisely how they tried to lock us in to the European project in exactly the same way that the successor civil service is trying to do so now. So let’s please get away from the notion that we are somehow small and incompetent. And let me give you some facts on this. In November of last year the Henry Jackson Society, which is one of the London think tanks, did a geopolitical audit of the top eight powers in the world – geopolitical audit means not just looking at guns, not just looking at so-called soft power, not just looking at any one metric, but a whole basket of metrics. And when you look at all of those metrics together and they’re all calculated out and you can look it up on their website, you find of course that the United States is by a long margin the world’s dominant geopolitical power. But when you look in the rank ordering of the eight main powers in the world, who comes number two? It’s not China, it’s not Russia, it’s not Germany, it’s not France, it’s not India, it’s not Japan. It is the United Kingdom. We are the second most geopolitically competent power in the world. Now let’s be a little bit grown-up about recognising that we have these strengths. Let us banish the declinism of this frame of mind which has infected the creation of the document which was presented so contentiously to Cabinet yesterday. It is based on the premise that Brexit is a damage limitation exercise, that nothing could be better than to be in the EU nothing, therefore . . . given that, reluctantly, we have to leave the EU, that what we have to do is to try and mitigate damage. This is completely back to front. Staying in the EU would have chained us to a collapsing structure. We, through the good sense of what Edmund Burke so beautifully called The Wisdom of Unlettered Men, people like the people who put up my wife’s greenhouse, coming down from Manchester, they know in their guts what the interests, the patriotic interests of this country are. They don’t need to have degrees from the University of Cambridge to be able to know that, and they certainly don’t need to be members of the civil service. In fact that’s a disqualification – that seems to be something which blinds you, because it creates this declinist miasma that descends upon your eyes. No. We have every capability to be able to reconstruct ourselves as a powerful and competent power across the spectrum, including in the defence area. But – and here let’s come to something very dark: during the course of last year, into my hands came from, actually, the Political Editor of The Sun Harry Cole, a very disturbing document. It was the transcript of a secret tape recording that was made at my former university, the London School of Economics, of a young man called Alastair Brockbank, who is the defence adviser to Oliver Robbins, who is the current Prime Minister’s principal adviser on Brexit, and the author of the Chequers deal that was written behind the backs of her ministers, who then resigned, as we all know. Now, in this tape – which was made under the Chatham House Rule, but which is quite correctly broken by The Sun because it’s so important, you hear this young man who is two heartbeats away from the Prime Minister saying several things which are constitutionally astonishing. The first is that he explains openly an intention to hoodwink the British public who voted to Leave with pretence, with what he calls ‘fluffy language’ which will seemingly conform to the mandate to Leave. But in the defence area, the language and the technical agreements – which I have just indicated to you in the earlier answer – will all lock us into a subordinate role in defence and security under the emerging military EU. He actually states it. The tapes are called ‘the Kit Kat tapes’. And the reason they’re called the Kit Kat tapes is that on it you also hear another official, another civil servant, a woman called Victoria Billing, and she says it’s like a Kit Kat bar, you have a shiny label on the outside which seemingly conforms to the will of the people to leave the EU, but inside you’ve got a chocolate bar which is constructed to keep us engaged with . . . it is in fact Hotel California, as I argued in one of my pieces on Briefings for Brexit – and you’ll remember the Eagles’ song, ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’ – or BRINO as people now call it – Brexit In Name Only. This is no accident. This is an explicit intent by civil servants. And in the letter of 17th October, Sir Richard Dearlove, the former chief of the Secret Intelligence Service and I and my military colleagues, stated in terms that this is improper behaviour by civil servants. It produced, I will tell you, a firestorm. We were attacked then immediately. Not one, not two, but three former cabinet secretaries felt obliged or were obliged to write letters to say how wrong we were. But this is something deeply rotten at the heart of the modern civil service and that is something which, let us be charitable, has led Mrs May astray. She is clearly not a lady of much imagination or much courage herself. She has relied on officials . . .
Others say she has courage.
Well I don’t think she has courage. I think that she is a person who has shown herself to be stubborn. That’s not the same as courage. But the reason that I have lost any confidence in her occurred at the time of the Chequers deal. She authorised her official, Mr Robbins, to write a secret document behind the backs of David Davis and Steve Baker, who were her ministers in the department . . . they didn’t know about the document. It was shown to Mrs Merkel it was shown to Mr Rutte and to European leaders before it was shown to [fragment of word] . . . this is intolerable. You cannot do that. So this is a prime minister who has betrayed her ministers and she does not deserve power. So I’m sorry, I won’t have that language. Mrs May has lost any right to be able to hold the high office that she holds. The only issue now is how quickly she can find it within herself, in a dignified way, to step aside.
I have to put up defence of the British Prime Minister and of the British civil service, because people don’t like the civil service being attacked for carrying out what has been a very complex negotiation over the past two years, even though some people are wondering why it was the civil service in negotiations with Barnier, not politicians such as Raab himself. But just finally, your Hotel California metaphor, Professor Prins – so it looks as if, if this dream scenario comes to pass – and who knows what’s going to happen over the next few days, it’s a very precarious political situation the Prime Minister finds herself in – but we will, if all events that you describe come to pass, be able to leave Hotel California?
That was what I wanted to explain to the readers of Briefings for Brexit. In my ‘Leaving Hotel California’ article – that’s the title of the article, it’s one of a pair which describe how we could do it, in the defence and security area. But since we’re coming to the end of this most interesting conversation, let’s go back to the central point in the defence and security area. We are faced, if we do not pursue the course of action that I and Sir Richard Dearlove have advocated in the work that we have published on Briefings for Brexit, if we do not do that we put at risk our Five Eyes Alliance. Please understand what that means. I was in Washington just a few weeks ago explaining all of this to senior people on Capitol Hill. They were completely dumbstruck. They had no idea that the British government had done this sort of thing, because it’s so far beyond their expectation of what their closest ally in the world might do. And they had two reactions. First, ‘This is a material threat to American national security’, because GCHQ – which by the way the Americans put a lot of money into, our signals and secret intelligence analysing centre near Cheltenham – that is integral to American national security. So there would be a real hit to American national security. Secondly, since they do not trust countries like the French, for example – and with good reason, because when I worked in NATO I saw the unreliability of French presidents and the French officers, I know why the Americans would not trust them, and we do not trust them by the way with systematic access to our secret intelligence, we give it to them on a case-by-case basis which is fine, but if we were to follow what Lord Robertson has recently argued, which is to set up a structural intelligence relationship with the French as Sir Richard Dearlove . . . please look. I’m a mere professor. He used to run the Secret Intelligence Service. He’s a man who’s run and used this material. He explains that that would be a fatal stab at the heart of Five Eyes and it would make everybody listening to this podcast much less safe. Now, this has only come into the discussion because Mrs May in her desperation to try and obtain the impossible, which is some concessions from an EU which, as I explained, throughout this this interview, is incapable in its nature, in its DNA, is incapable of negotiating anything, it was never going to offer her anything – in order to try and get something she has offered the crown jewels of our national security. That is intolerable and it must not stand.
And it looks as if it’s not going to stand.
And I think it’s not, so in this sense, although we are going a very, very agonising pathway towards the restoration of British independence, we are going to take back control, which is what 17.4million decent ordinary English people, Edmund Burke’s people, those people who showed the wisdom of unlettered men. That’s what they told the government to do. That’s the government’s job: not to debate it, to do it. I hope they now will.
On WTO terms.
Absolutely. Of course.
Professor Prins, thank you very much indeed for talking to the Briefings for Brexit podcast series today. As we said, you’ve been a regular contributor to the B4B journalism. You’re a member of the B4B editorial committee, as well as being an academic board member of Veterans for Britain. Thank you very much.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.