We've been told that the EU is there to stop all those wars; the ones the UK was forced to join to bring them to an end - twice in the 20th century. So it seemed right and proper that Winston Churchill should state in his speech in 1946 that the only way this could stop would be to:
"... build a kind of United States of Europe."
He then expanded to say:
"The first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany. In this way only can France recover the moral and cultural leadership of Europe. There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany. The structure of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single State less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by a contribution to the common cause. The ancient States and principalities of Germany, freely joined for mutual convenience in a federal system, might take their individual places among the United States of Europe."
So France would be charged with the moral and cultural leadership of Europe, however joining would be for the mutual convenience of all parties - and they'd all be equals in this United States of Europe. However Britain would butt out, though we'd still be be friends and sponsors:
"In this urgent work France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America - and, I trust, Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well - must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live." (01)
I can understand where Winston was coming from and what he explicitly states. "Europe" would consist of countries outside Soviet Russia.
There's no doubt that Winston ran this concept by Attlee, de Gaulle and Truman before he made his thoughts public. Seems he had not won the tacit support of Stalin, though he "trusted" Soviet Russia would go along with it. At that time Germany was run by the British, Americans, French and Russians, so the Germans themselves didn't have much of a say in those early blue-sky days.
It was a grand vision and there's no doubt Churchill was far more interested in maintaining peace in Europe, and in so doing spare Britain having to sort things out a third time in one century. But grand visions from an honourable man is one thing, invariably something as big as the United States of Europe was bound to take on a life all of its own.
However Churchill clearly never expected that we'd lose the British Commonwealth of Nations, nor that Soviet Russia would morph into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was left to those who came after him to muddle through with the world as it became.
And Britain, without the Commonwealth and with the strikes that left us as the "Sick Man of Europe" chose to join in 1973. We joined because it was convenient for us and because de Gaulle (who fervently opposed our involvement) was dead.
That turned out to be a mistake and as the citizens of Britain began to realize, we had no real clout within the EU. It could be said that Churchill should have insisted Britain be more hands on from the outset, rather than leave it all to France and Germany. We joined because it suited us - and those already in the EEC knew they held the upper hand. It was not by mutual agreement; we were - and continue to be - a junior partner.
The EU is now so large and powerful that the threat of conflict is very unlikely from outside the EU. Nato is another deterrent to any nation that tries a land-grab by force. In that sense Churchill would be quietly satisfied that the main protagonists in past wars have had far better things to do with their resources than try to beat up on each other.
Where myself and quite a few others feel distinctly uncomfortable is with their plans for future enlargement. Those working their way to acceptance as new members are: Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. Bosnia and Herzegovina have applied to join , while Kosovo is expected to apply. They all receive Pre-accession Assistance that amounted to Euro 11.5 billion in the six years to 2013, with a further Euro 11.7 billion allocated for the six years from 2014 to 2020 (02).
Personally I have my doubts about Turkey being a part of Europe. They've always been seen as the crossroads between Europe and Asia, so not quite one and not quite the other - and my misgivings are shared by many individuals and governments. Denmark, Germany and Austria oppose Turkey's accession, with 75% of Greeks stating it has no place in Europe (03), Erdogan personally and the government in power have proven to be very dictatorial, use religion as a weapon, have manipulated the refugee crisis to their advantage, wrung desperate concessions and huge amounts of cash out of the EU - and they're not really on board as a Nato ally.
Mopping up what was Yugoslavia seems to make sense, though it'll take years and billions more in aid to get Albania anywhere close to the standards demanded of new entrants. It's worth noting that Albania does not quite fit either with endemic corruption, territorial claims on adjoining states and a majority Muslim population: 70% according to some polls (04).
In the long term the EU fully intends to include Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine (05). This is very contentious territory. When Churchill spoke in 1946, Europe was the left hand map. The map comes from a Russian site and shows the full extent of EU's stated ambitions.
Maps showing Europe in 1946 vs 2015.
It seems to me that the EU has exceeded its original mandate and fully intends to ring fence Russia - and that's not something Britain signed up for when we joined. Nor the Dutch, who voted in an April 2016 referendum to stop further accession talks with Ukraine (06). Yet it's a measure of the arrogance and sheer determination of Brussels to expand the EU that - in December 2016 - it gave two fingers to the Dutch and started the process that will allow visa free travel for Ukrainian citizens, and - to rub it in - they intend to extend visa free travel for the citizens of Georgia as well (07)!
Israel has been an "Associated State" with the EU since 1995 and they, as well as several EU leaders, have stated it is their intention to see Israel as a full blown member of the EU (08). I'd argue long and hard that if they see fit to admit Israel, then there's a far stronger case to admit Lebanon, which used to be a French colony.
What I'm seeing is mission creep on a grand scale with each subsequent generation within Brussels adding to the already shaky foundations laid by the original members. It's got to farcical given their original brief, and very dangerous when viewed geopolitically. The EU is now the predator.
And this is reflected in the call by Jean Claude Juncker that the EU should have it's own military force. This is intended, in his view, to compliment Nato and existing member states military, so it's not just a vanity thing designed to boost the prestige of the President of the EU (09); his intention is to send a "message" to Russia. That's another thing the British did not sign up to. Nor, I suspect, many other EU states.
Armies are astronomically expensive and will drain much out of the productive sector in the EU. Having a standing army to send a message to Russia implies he - and the EU Commission - see Russia as the only real threat to Europe.
That's not the way I see Russia. The way history was taught in Britain many years back is that without their help and huge sacrifice, WW2 would have taken far longer to finish with far greater loss of life on our side. So no Mr. Juncker, you're quite wrong - as was Baroness Ashton, whose department was instrumental in the monumental cock-up that's currently Ukraine.
The EU for some businesses and some citizens, is an easier place to travel and to sell. Yes visa free travel and the single market is a pretty bauble and those within the Eurozone can avoid exchange commission. Yes it's nice that we don't have crippling roaming charges on our mobile phones, but for the average stay at home European the costs of these (largely superfluous) tidbits are substantial. Defending the Euro diverts resources, is costing jobs, and means millions of young people within the EU will probably never know paid employment.
The markets have begun to waken to the fact that the loss of British contributions to the EU will be a serious problem. Not just to their budget but also to the Euro because, while we don't use the currency, we do contribute to the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism that in turn helps give the impression of the Euro as a safe currency. These are issues the very big currency traders are beginning to factor into their investments. As the German and Italian banks begin to show signs of fatigue from over regulation, non performing loans and public mistrust, as well as further demands for more bailouts by Greece, there's little wonder the Euro is in decline.
Yet there's one thing that some smokers may not be aware of. Each and every EU State makes a contribution to FCTC. You'd think that might be enough, yet the EU itself also contributes to FCTC - it's here on line 55 (10)! It's this sort of surreptitious waste of EU taxpayers money that rankles. Fact is it's more than just a few smokers that don't know about this; virtually no politician in the UK or elsewhere picks up on this sort of thing.
Britain has tried to alter the course of the EU many times since we joined. At best we've helped tweak a couple of things, but not the real problem. The European Commission is not accountable to its citizens and we - as a net contributor - are frequently outvoted by the overwhelming number of states that are net recipients of EU largesses.
Much of the resistance to Brexit is fear of access to the single market and certainly the finance sector will experience problems if they can't market across all states. So it's no surprise that the legal battle to give MPs a vote on the terms of our departure came from an Investment Fund manager, who happens to be married to a Hedge Fund manager (11). Lots of money in both professions and they've been part funded by others with a similar take on our departure.
Yet there's a curious supporter of our leaving the EU single market and customs union. ASH has already called on the Chancellor to impose a limit of 200 cigarettes or 250 gr of rolling tobacco as our maximum personal allowance. That can only happen if we have a hard Brexit. So while not openly opposing the single market and couching their demand as a means to stop the inflow of cheap tobacco, what they are doing is trying to influence our political future!
That's fine, there are vested interests everywhere and there's nothing wrong in taking advantage of the present period of defining what will be a complex procedure. Then there's the stance that may be adopted by the EU side. Some States are quite amenable to a friendly parting, others not. The EU hierarchy is hell bent on teaching us a lesson that will serve as an example to others.
I hope the EU does exactly that, play hardball. They haven't grasped that we have no problem with our fellow Europeans; we visit their countries, we retire in them, we buy their cars, motorcycles and scooters - and we love their wine. And mostly we don't much care if they want to live and work in Britain, providing they hold a genuine EU passport. We do that as well, so it's no big deal. Where we draw the line is being forced to accept people with only EU travel papers - and people who have no intention of working legally.
No we don't have any problem with real Europeans - and there can only be very few households in Britain that doesn't have a relative buried in a war grave on the continent. I have an uncle in a village cemetery in the Netherlands and the local school children are proud to tend those graves, as they have done since the aircraft was downed in 1942. And this is the point our politicians don't quite grasp: the average European didn't want the UK to leave - some stated openly that they appreciate our efforts to hold Brussels to account. Der Spiegel published a bilingual edition just a couple of days before Brexit at a special reduced price with the headline "Don't Leave Us! Why Germany Needs the British" (12).
Some were disappointed, however the average European does not want a messy, acrimonious divorce, nor do they want us to be made an example to others (13). They may not want us to get unduly favourable terms, but they don't want unnecessary obstacles placed in our path. Let's get this very clear, our efforts in both European conflicts have not been forgotten and there is enormous goodwill toward us for the sacrifices we made on their behalf. So none of the bluster from either side, just a straightforward deal that's a workable compromise that can serve as a template for others.
So the EU has a choice, risk alienating their voters - only 1 in 3 trust their politicians as is (14) or get mature about it and get it sorted real quick. And that applies to both the EU and the UK equally.
Anyone who thinks we can somehow undo Brexit and live happily ever after within the EU is naive to the point of infantile. The people of England and Wales voted overwhelmingly to leave and, like it or not, they call the shots in the UK. In many respects I almost hope Ms. Sturgeon does call for a second referendum on Scottish independence - and wins. That way the English can save themselves from what is planned to become an all encompassing Superstate that has nothing to do with Churchill's original vision, that was an emasculated Germany acting as paymaster in the reconstruction of Western Europe.
Scotland, a net recipient from the EU, will - should it gain independence and be accepted by the EU - become a gateway to the single market. Banks and investment houses can set up departments there to market their products and trade in the Euro. Few will, they have good reason to fear the Scots and their choice of government.
I feel that our leaving the EU may be the best thing that's happened to the European Union and Britain. It sets a precedent that will in time reshape the EU, hopefully to a more responsive, leaner, less intrusive and far less dictatorial organisation that does at least allow for the President of the European Commission to be voted in by all citizens in the EU. Not just that, I believe the Europeans should be allowed to vote whether to even start entry negotiations with any of the countries listed above, or future candidates. Oh and an end to positions within the EU being reserved for certain countries. Personnel choice must be based on merit, not on place of birth.
And if the Brexit does turn out to be little more than a rehash of what Cameron negotiated before he resigned then we can rest assured UKIP will continue working to force another referendum.