Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Hostility to the EU is so strong in Britain precisely because of Britain's central place in Europe

Why is it the United Kingdom that is the most uncomfortable member of the European Union? Why is it the United Kingdom that is having a referendum on the 23rd of this month and not other European countries? When I first asked this question to family members a year or two ago (before the referendum date was announced), the answer seemed obvious, 'Britain is an island, not part of Continental Europe, and therefore feels less European.'   As I have had a good long thought about this question, particularly more recently, it has become more and more obvious that us being separated physically from the continent is perhaps not the most important answer.  After all, Ireland is even further away from the Continent than Britain, and yet Ireland is a proud member of the European Union.  The areas of the United Kingdom which are the most Eurospectic are not Scotland and Wales which are the furthest away from the continent geographically, but England.  In fact, Ceredigion, on the west coast of Wales, where I am now a student, was found to be the most pro-European of all places within the United Kingdom.  Clearly, something other than geographical distance is what makes the UK more Eurosceptic.

The United Kingdom, after all, is not on the periphery of Europe in any sense of the word.  If you consider the real centre of Europe to not be the entire Continent in general, but the Franco-Germanic sphere of countries comprised of Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, and in particular the very prosperous central economic region where those countries all meet, which includes Strasbourg, Brussells, Lille, Paris and the Ruhr, then we British are in a very privileged position indeed; indeed we are within two hours of Brussells and Paris by train, and you wouldn't be very farfetched to suggest that such an economic region stretches across the Channel to include London.  Most European capitals, even those on the continent, are not within 2 hours of such cities.  Since 1066, England has been an integral part of Western Europe politically and culturally, with England and Britain being closely linked to France ever since.  France has since 1066, arguably had a connection and relationship with England that it didn't or doesn't have with other Germanic countries.  The English Language is of course, Germanic in origin but with heavy French influence, a mix of the two language families which are native to the Franco-Germanic lands Western Europe; the region which comprised the Franco-German Holy Roman Empire and the countries which first joined what would later become the European Union. 

But that is not to mention, that in many ways, Britain is actually the epitome of what is to be European and is itself arguably, the centre of Europe.  Europe's greatest financial centre is not on the Continent itself but on the island of Great Britain, in London.  Europe is known for being an industrialised continent, more specifically for being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and it was the British who started it all.  Europe is also known for having carved out colonial empires on other continents, and it was the British who built the biggest one (not something I am proud of at all).  Linguistically, England is the centre of Europe, for English, having outrageously largely bumped off its neighbouring languages in the British Isles, has established itself as the De Facto Lingua Franca of the Continent; Continental Europeans on the whole have to learn our language; not the other way round.  Europe, and the Western World in General, is closely associated with Democracy.  And of course, we in Britain are associated with our democratic traditions; we are referred to as the mother of all Parliaments, despite the fact that two other Islands, Iceland and the Isle of Mann, have parliaments that pre-date ours, and that Poland-Lithuania and Sweden also had proto-Democratic institutions of government which pre-dated the French Revolution.  Either way, we have an uninterrupted history of parliamentary rule going back to 1688, are noted for both the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta and thus it is easy to feel that Parliamentary Democracy was an English invention.  And of course, Britain preserved its system of Parliamentary Democracy during the Second World War when other European countries were either occupied by the Nazis or had, as in the case of Spain, become Dictatorships in their own right during the Twentieth Century.   Thus in many ways, Britain, due to both its historical achievements at home and influence over other Countries, is both the epitome of what makes Europe distinct as a Continent and is in many ways itself, the Centre of Europe, respectively.

It is precisely because of this, not in spite of this, that Euroscepticism is so strong in the UK.  In short, because there is this sense that Britain is superior in so many areas and that Britain is at the centre of everything, Britain doesn't need to be integrated with other countries.  In his article in the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson, former Tory Mayor of London and key Brexit campaigner wrote 'We are the European, if not World, Leaders...', not that we weren't European, and referred to what Britain had given to the world.  He also couldn't resist the urge to refer to the British Empire to argue that Britain could survive outside the EU.  Daniel Hannan, when debating alongside Nigel Farage, in a debate hosted by Intelligence2, closed his opening speech by saying 'That which we are, we are' and went on to refer to Britain's power, linguistic, military and economic, and influence.  Even the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who is campaigning for Britain to vote to stay in, stated that because of Britain's history and achievements such as Democracy, Britain's membership of the European Union should not be the same as that of other European countries.

Clearly what this shows is that the more power and influence any country gains over other countries, ironically, the less internationally minded and more inward looking that country becomes.  An example is how because English has become the International Lingua Franca, foreign language learning in the Anglosphere is so low.  Brexit campaigners are keen to emphasize that they want Britain to go global but what that means is more British influence over other countries across the Globe, not the other way around.  Brexiters like the idea of Britain integrating itself more with the Commonwealth, since Britain is so obviously at the centre of it; our Queen is the Head of the Commonwealth, and English is its only official language, and it was Britain which founded it, and  after all, it is based on the former British Empire.  On the other hand, the same is not so true of the EU and so the EU is an institution they are not going to want Britain to be part of. 

Were the United Kingdom genuinely remote from the Franco-German centre of Europe in cultural, political, historical and economic terms, and more importantly, less influential over the rest of Europe and the rest of the World, and hadn't been the cradle of so much that made Europe what it is today, then our level of pride would do less to prevent us from being more outward looking and we would most likely be a more loyal member of the EU and be less hostile to foreign influence and sharing sovereignty with other countries in Europe.  

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