GLOBAL HISTORIANS USE the expression ‘European Miracle’ to describe how Europe from around the eleventh century expanded exponentially in terms of economic growth and intellectual, technical, commercial and philosophical innovation till it could overtake (indeed take over) the other parts of the world—India, China and the Middle East—which had originally been at the same stage of development. This European Miracle had nothing to do with European Unity. On the contrary, unity was what stopped progress in those other parts of the world. There they formed empires—the Chinese, the Moghul and the Ottoman—which were centralised, bureaucratised, and often subject to religious conformity.
Enterprise and individualism were discriminated against. Europe on the other hand, experienced religious division with Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, while the Holy Roman Empire failed to dominate the continent. Instead, a state system emerged based on a balance of power—a sort of free market of competitive states—with competition in commerce, technology, political systems, ideas and diplomacy.
Everyone benefited. Jews and Huguenots could escape oppression by moving elsewhere, Peter the Great could lead a great embassy around the Western European states to discover technology and ideas to benefit Russia, Catherine and Frederick the Great could invite leading French thinkers to their courts to advise them, while Voltaire and Montesquieu could sing the praises of British constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government in absolutist France.
Academies sprung up everywhere to compare and contrast best practice in economics, commerce, technology, government and philosophy throughout Europe. Later Lloyd George would send a civil servant to report on the German welfare system before introducing national insurance in Britain. Disunity not unity was the engine of Europe’s continuing progress.
A key aspect of this European system was the balance of power. And here England’s role was just as crucial as her role in spreading industrial technology or parliamentary government. For it was England, later Britain, who led the coalitions that prevented European tyrants — Philip II, Louis XIV, the French Revolutionaries, Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler — from unifying and dominating Europe. British independence saved European democracy.
All Brits knew this until very recently and took great pride in the country’s past achievements. These had been at the heart of the British conservative tradition which went back centuries and whose beginning may be dated to the career of Sir John Fortescue whose ‘In Praise of the Laws of England’, published in 1545 set out how, in contrast to European states, England was ruled, not by an absolute monarch but by a king ruling on the advice of Parliament and the courts, which protected private property and the right to trial by jury.
John Seldon republished Fortescue’s book in the seventeenth century and wrote many others along the same lines. He was responsible for pushing the 1628 Petition of Right through Parliament against Stuart absolutism. This was the precursor of the Bill of Rights of 1689. But Seldon also pointed out that legal systems had to be national. Because they were based on historical trial and error, they could not be imposed elsewhere, where other nations had their own histories and systems.
This conservative principle of national, historical evolution was challenged by John Locke, who in his Second Treatise of Government, argued that man was subject to universal reason and could simply make up laws and constitutions — for anyone anywhere-from the top of his head. Historical precedent counted for nought. Locke’s ideas were subsequently taken up by Rousseau and made into the doctrine of the General Will, which led to the Jacobin Terror, something foreseen and denounced by Burke, an admirer of Seldon, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Under the influence of Burke, Britain then successfully waged war on the Revolution and Napoleon and from 1815 till the 1960s all British subjects assured themselves that their traditional liberties, protected by Parliament and the courts, constituted the best system of government possible. Not only Conservatives, but Whigs, Liberals and later the Labour Party agreed. The Second World War, in which, at a crucial time, Britain stood alone against a united Europe and saved the Continent from Hitler, confirmed this belief.
Then something curious happened. As a result of Suez, Harold Macmillan secured the leadership of the Conservative Party and changed the whole course of British history by setting the country on course for entering the EEC. A fanatical federalist, like his close friend Jean Monnet, he was only too pleased when the Future Policies Committee he had established under Sir Eric Roll, forecast that by 2000 Britain would no longer be sovereign but merely a province of a sovereign EU with its own currency and army. Macmillan’s plans, of course, were frustrated by General de Gaulle who could not understand why a wealthy democracy with nuclear weapons, democratic institutions and access to cheap food from the Commonwealth, would want to join the EEC. Why indeed?
The torch of European fanaticism then passed to Edward Heath (pictured), who met Monnet regularly in secret and by Douglas Hurd who arranged for the Tory party to become a secret corporate member of Monnet’s Action Committee for a United States of Europe. And so in 1973 – the year in which UK economic growth hit a record 7.4per cent — Britain entered the EEC on the most humiliating terms.
Since then it has suffered its laws to be subordinated to EU law, allowed British MEPs to be sent to its mickey-mouse Parliament (even Zimbabwe’s has an official opposition), allowed EU legislation to be rubber-stamped by Parliament without debate (or protest), and allowed its ministers to be outvoted in the European Council. And for what? The Common Fisheries Policy? The Common Agricultural Policy? The over-regulated and protected Single Market?
Fortunately, after forty-five years the British people voted to leave these undemocratic arrangements. However, the government charged with leading the Brexit negotiations is made up largely of Remainers and even the prime minister cannot admit to believing in the policy she is supposedly directing. Her lack of leadership ability was glaringly displayed when she lost her majority at the 2017 election and she remains unable to articulate any vision of Brexit or even to list its benefits. The idea of returning to the proud, self-confident, successful, independent nation that boasted of our parliamentary democracy and of our regular defence of Europe’s freedom, does not seem to resonate with her. Like her deeply uncharismatic Chancellor, who is content to bribe the EU with scores of billions of pounds for nothing in return, she apparently sees the EU as some kind of comfort blanket we are losing.
Yet what did it ever do for us? Was it of any help during the 1976 IMF Crisis? The 1982 ERM Crisis? The 2007-09 Economic Crisis? Did the CFP save our fishing industry? Did the CAP provide cheap food? Has EU pacifism strengthened NATO? So what are the Remainers, including May and Hammond, so worried about? Don’t they trust the British to run themselves? Their pathetic recent deal with Brussels is simply a series of embarrassing concessions for absolutely nothing in return.
We need a new government. It must be led by a self-confident, articulate, imaginative and patriotic Brexiteer. In past crises the British have always found a decisive leader—Chatham, Pitt, Palmerston, Lloyd George, Churchill. The Tory Party must now find a successor of comparable stature, a leader with guts, fearless of the EU, a protector of the national interest, willing to walk away from negotiations and able to communicate why to the British public.
Above all, we need a leader who believes passionately in our independence, backed by a government that believes the same. What we do not need is the grey, spineless, inarticulate crew we have at present. The Tory Party must have a true Brexit Revolution. Only then can it set Britain free. That must be its destiny. If it fails, it will deservedly face oblivion.
Alan Sked is Emeritus Professor of International History at LSE. He is an expert on European and British history whose books have been translated into several European languages as well as Chinese and Japanese. For ten years he was head of the postgraduate European Studies programme at LSE. He co-founded the Bruges Group in 1989 before founding the Anti-Federalist League in 1991, which in 1993 was re-named the UK Independence Party. He led the party till 1997 although he no longer supports it.