The EU is afraid of us, but we’ve got a prime minister who is afraid of the EU. The declaration by the European Commission that member states should prepare for ‘no deal’ is a powerful reminder that EU oligarchs are petrified that we will make a success of independence and expose the flaws in their dream of domination.
They fear that we will reform our taxes and update our regulations to raise productivity and take market share from them. Their reaction is not to start improving their own competitiveness but to try to suppress our ability to compete, unfortunately with the willing compliance of the Chequers agreement and its anti-competitive ‘common rulebook’.
Competition frightens the EU because it knows only too well what kind of people we are. Foreign observers have often noticed that we can thrive without strong leaders. The prominent German writer, William Dibelius, wrote in the 1920s that it was one of the main reasons Germany lost the First World War. Our own popular culture takes for granted a strong sense of personal responsibility. Noel Coward wrote ‘This Happy Breed’ as a play in 1939 and in 1944 it was made into a film directed by David Lean. In one scene Frank Gibbon, who had been a soldier in the First World War, gives advice to his son around the time of the general strike in 1926. After the wartime sacrifices of the generation to which he belonged, he admitted that the country had ‘suddenly got tired’, as he put it. But, he continued, we’ve ‘got stamina and don’t you make any mistake about it…It’s up to us ordinary people to keep things steady. That’s your job, my son’.
The spirit of personal responsibility captured by Noel Coward’s script means that we can survive weak leaders for a long time. Nevertheless it helps if our leaders understand the qualities of the people they serve, and Theresa May doesn't. She was against leaving the EU but believes it is her duty to honour the referendum result. We can respect her for that. But we need a leader who understands our potential. There is a Brexit dividend to be seized. The EU knows that only too well, which is why it is making threats of border chaos.
It is time to stop pandering to the EU. Instead we should fearlessly offer a rival vision of a Europe based on free peoples who value both co-operation and independence. We have more friends in Europe than we think. President Macron recently remarked that the French people might vote to leave if given the chance. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are all keen to make the most of their national independence. Their governments are denounced by the EU as right wing but they are each proud peoples who want the chance to achieve their best. We also have friends in Italy, where the new government is trying to end the high unemployment, especially among young people, caused by the imposition of the euro. The new Italian government sees clearly that the EU is predominantly a utopian campaign against nation states. The prevalence of this attitude has been admitted by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk. He told a conference of the European People’s Party in 2016 that the EU was ‘obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration’ and had failed to notice that ordinary people did not share their enthusiasm for what he called ‘A utopia of Europe without nation states’.
The fact that the EU is now stepping up preparations for ‘no deal’ should instil some urgency in Downing Street, but not while the prime minister surrounds herself with timid defeatists.
David Green is Director of Civitas