• Who Caused the Problems in the First Place?

    The Guardian published a few days ago an article by Peter Mandelson, someone I might once have described as an “old friend and colleague” but for whom the term “former” is probably more accurate.

    In the article, Mandelson rehearses at some length and with considerable relish what he sees as the obstacles to an acceptable Brexit deal. His theme is the admonition of those who voted for Brexit and who are, as he sees it, foolish enough to think that we can extricate ourselves painlessly from our entanglement with the European Union.

    What is remarkable about the article is that there is not a hint of any apology from him or acceptance of any responsibility on his part for this dilemma. There is no recognition of the simple fact that it is those like Mandelson who urged us on in the first place and led to our being embroiled in an arrangement which, as I and others warned at the time, was contrary to our interests and from which it is proving so difficult to free ourselves.

    In the early 1970s, after I had spent some years in the Foreign Office and in our Brussels Embassy working on the UK’s relationship with what was then the Common Market, I had seen enough to convince me that the arrangement we apparently wished to join was totally inimical to our interests.

    It would require us to support as taxpayers (and at considerable cost), the Common Agricultural policy, and to pay higher food prices as consumers – turning our backs on our well-established trade links with the most efficient and cost-effective producers of food and raw materials in the world, and thereby forsaking as a result our main cost advantage as a manufacturing economy – lower food costs than those of our European rivals.

    In addition, we would lose the preferential markets for our manufactured goods offered by those same trading partners and would face instead direct competition with efficient German manufacturing in our own and European markets. It was hard to imagine any other voluntary change that would have – with absolute predictability – placed us at such a disadvantage.

    Those warnings were pooh-poohed at the time by Mandelson and his ilk but have been amply borne out by our actual experience. No one who reviews Britain’s history as a manufacturing economy since we joined the Common Market can doubt or dispute the damage we did to ourselves, or the plight we find ourselves in, with our manufacturing capability now diminished and weakened almost beyond repair.

    And none of this is to say anything of other penalties we have had to suffer, such as those imposed by the Common Fisheries Policy. The referendum result is the definitive verdict on the whole of that experience.

    We were constantly advised by Mandelson and his friends that we should not concern ourselves with minor matters like paying our way in the world but should instead focus on the great virtues of the European ideal – but when the question was asked as to whether that European ideal included the creation of a European super-state, we were solemnly assured that no such thought was in anyone’s mind.

    We now know, decades later, that the European Union has pretensions to many of the powers of a sovereign state and that it is precisely the recovery of those powers, and the difficulty we have in reclaiming them, that underlies the problems in securing Brexit. It is a safe assumption that much of the case for Brexit, as voted for by the referendum majority, was based on the sense that the re-assertion of British sovereignty and self-government was long overdue.

    But, not a word from Mandelson and his friends about these matters – and no recognition that it is precisely the cession of sovereign powers to Brussels – and their part in advising us to take that fateful step – that makes the divorce so difficult.

    To recall and register these undeniable truths is, sadly, not to ease in any way the solution to these longstanding problems; but it might, and should, at least relieve us of the burden of having to listen to (or read) lectures about how intractable are the problems thrown up by Brexit from those who bear such responsibility for them in the first place.
    Bryan Gould
    30 November 2018

1 Comment

  1. Peter J. Morgan says: December 1, 2018 at 5:06 amReply

    Bryan, you’re just 1 year and 8 months older than me, and I well remember when Britain joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1972.

    At the time, I declared that it was a terrible mistake that Britain would live to regret, and I have been proven right. Way back then, my view was that Britain should act to form a common market with the former members of the British Empire, including the USA. We would all have prospered like never before or since.