By David Price
Even the most ardent fan of the European Union must surely admit that Britain has had a troubled relationship with it. In Germany and France, where people are more signed up to 'the project', they constantly complain of always having to make exceptions for the British. For passionate EU advocates, we have always been the nail sitting proud that had to be hammered down.
Therein lies the problem. David Cameron recently confessed that British people simply didn't “get” the EU. “They saw the EU flag,” he said, “and they didn't like it”. “They saw the European Parliament and thought, what’s the point as we have our own?” As the man who secretly confided to Angela Merkel a year or so ago that his aim was to “permanently dock Britain to the European Union”, that's quite some admission.
There's no denying however, that our political class thought differently. Most MPs, either by accident or design, have regarded Britain’s EU membership as an unalloyed Good Thing. Many have been opportunists, aware that to ascend the greasy pole they’ve had to be pro EU. At the same time, they have been fully cognisant of the fact that to actually get elected, they must feign Euroscepticism to their voters. Anything that goes wrong in the UK has been blamed on Mr Juncker, while they have secretly been dreaming of becoming a British European Commissioner in fifteen years’ time. This is the lie that we’ve been living for the past forty years.
So many things that we Brits don't like about Europe - the red tape, the lack of democratic accountability, the profligacy - are simply indefensible. Yet politicians have made a career of defending precisely this. For over four decades, we glossed over the fact that our proud island nation had effectively given away its native fishing industry. We forgot that our agriculture sector was now run for the convenience of French farmers – who dump burning tyres on the Champs-Élysées at the drop of a hat, lest the EU fail to keep them in the style to which they’re accustomed. More recently, the spectre of mass uncontrolled immigration – which has suited large companies seeking to cut labour costs – has angered working people on a mass scale. The sight of David Cameron having nothing to say on this subject for two general elections was telling, but come the EU referendum he had nowhere to hide…
The triggering of Article 50 has unblocked the artery, and stopped this terrible sclerosis. Finally, we have reached the "knowing me, knowing you" moment – we just had to face it this time, we're through. Few on the Leave side were anything like the caricature that the Remainers had of us. We’re not jackbooted, goose-stepping Nazis desperate to expel foreigners; rather we want most European Union law to be taken onto our statute books. Although a great many workers rights were given to us by our own Parliament before 1973, we still want the extra rights the EU bequeathed us. The point is, we want to be able to hire and fire the people who make the laws we have to live by, going forward.
This phoney war is nearly over. With the exception of the political equivalent of a few Japanese soldiers in the Burma jungle still thinking there's a war on – Messrs, Blair, Major, Heseltine, Faron and Clegg – we’re finally moving into that brave new world. Beyond Brussels, global Britain beckons. Travel beyond the crisis-stricken EU and you'll see the Asia-Pacific region growing rapidly, with many of its countries having an extremely high regard for British brands – just look at the ascent of Jaguar Land Rover and Burberry in China. China's economic growth accounted for one third of the whole world’s last year, and it’s into this real reality that the United Kingdom – per capita one of the greatest trading nations on earth – must move.
A generation from now, all this bickering over our place in the Single Market will seem like bald men arguing over a comb. For the past decade or so, Britain has become a low wage, low productivity, low skill economy selling into a stagnant EU. Now we have the chance to sell our premium, value-added luxury goods to new markets hungry for them, and happy to pay. In the right place at the right time, we must seize this opportunity. Whether you're glad it's all over, or missing the EU already, it is now time to move on. Brexiteers should not look back in anger, and Remainers should realise that there's more to being European than being governed by Brussels. Now that all is said and done, a great new future beckons.
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