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The UK and Europe. Size is relative January 18, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Rafael Behr, in the Guardian, gets it just about right here I think when writing about how:

Maybe the European Union is God’s way of teaching the British about Belgium. Specifically, it is a mechanism that forces UK politicians to confront the idea that Belgium matters. And not just Belgium but countries like it – the small countries.

This concept doesn’t come naturally to a nation that is neurotically worried about its greatness. Naming famous Belgians is a parlour game for British foreign secretaries. Cultivating small-state alliances feels like something less ambitious countries do. The UK struggles to see itself in perspective because it is richer and more powerful than most countries, yet so much less influential than it used to be.

Of course the EU isn’t a benign entity as such. As we know from the approach to Greece there have been massive problematic aspects – aspects which are part and parcel of pushing for more progressive outcomes. But there’s a smidgin of truth in this assessment (for example he points to how the Wallonian regional parliament almost scuppered the Canada-EU free trade agreement recently). And more pertinently in regard to how the UK is about to learn that…

It’s a question of perspective. For decades Britain has struggled to get a comfortable sense of its scale relative to the rest of the world. We are about to find out how big – or small – we really are.

Check out the comments BTL for a sense of how that particular lesson is taken by some.

But Ed points to an even more egregious example of this dynamic described by Behr here in comments

Here it is in all its awfulness (paywall extant).

And what of Boris Johnson’s absurd outburst?

In an extraordinary outburst at a foreign policy conference in Delhi, the UK’s chief diplomat said: “If [François] Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who seeks to escape [the EU], in the manner of some world war two movie, I don’t think that is the way forward. It’s not in the interests of our friends and partners,” he said.

But the analogy, such as it is, doesn’t hold up. The EU isn’t a prison camp. States can leave the EU. That’s written into the EU itself (or has been since, was it Lisbon?). But states can’t leave the EU and then cherry pick for themselves what relationship they have with the aspects of the EU they like or dislike, that’s the EU’s right to determine. The crass stupidity of Johnson – or rather guile because I’m presuming he’s not so stupid as to believe his own rhetoric, is telling. He believes he can say this without fear of contradiction from those in the UK. Or rather that such contradiction will not be sufficiently strong to rebut his argument.

That he himself and his attitudes to the EU are so utterly hypocritical – as we know from his machinations prior to deciding he would support Brexit – that they reach Trump like levels is almost neither here nor there.

Quite a seven days for absurd Brexit rhetoric – a Chancellor threatening the UK will adopt a Singapore like model (and by the way, how would that work for Northern Ireland or Scotland) and now a Foreign Minister talking utter rubbish. But it’s not all rhetoric. If only it was. Now there is news that…

Hundreds of thousands of elderly Britons living in Europe may be forced to return to the UK unless the government guarantees that their healthcare will continue to be reimbursed by the NHS, campaigners for British people settled in Spain and France have warned. The House of Commons Brexit select committee was told on Wednesday that an unintended consequence of Brexit could be a surge in immigration of British migrants both working and retired.

And it goes on…


1. Ed - January 18, 2017

I’m guessing Johnson’s image of France under German occupation is shaped more by ‘Allo ‘Allo than by ‘Army of Shadows’ or ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’. Every time I see his Churchill ‘biography’ in a shop, I shudder at the thought of a person who would A) read this, and B) consider themselves something of a history buff for having read it.


WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2017

Urghhhh. He’s a grim piece of work, isn’t he?


Ivorthorne - January 19, 2017

Nice to see May defending him and claiming he said nothing wrong.

There really isn’t an understanding in England of the UK’s size or the size of the world. This is not unique to England or the UK but it is particularly pronounced there. They still talk about the EU and Britain as though the two were two members of the same class. They are one negotiating effectively against 27.

If it was just the UK versus Germany, France, Italy and Spain at the negotiating table, they’d be at a massive disadvantage. There’s going to be outrage in the UK when the likes of Slovenia, Portugal or Slovakia makes a stand on something during the negotiations. After all, isn’t Brussels tell them what to do? Who do they think they are? Soverign nations or something?

Liked by 1 person

2. CL - January 19, 2017

‘Adjusting to the loss of power is never easy….Britain once vanquished half the world, and the adjustment to being a country at the second rank of power has always rankled insofar as it has been acknowledged at all…. Leave involved giving up not only being influenced but also influencing. It was, ironically, a vote for lost dominion that relinquishes yet more power….British identity has become fragile since the loss of empire… fellowship with other disadvantaged people across Europe has been forsaken for allegiance to a nation riven with inequalities. It is an archaic, ethnic notion of collectivity that shares ground with racism….Fragile national identity gives way to nationalism; so, across history, authority gives way to authoritarianism.’


sonofstan - January 19, 2017

First line of that is a doozy:

“In 1989, while working for the British glossy magazine Harper’s and Queen, I was called to a meeting at which the staff was told that the year’s autumn issues would tell stories of the world’s three great superpowers. September was to spotlight women of the United Kingdom; October, women of the United States; and November, women of the Soviet Union. I looked around the room to see how others were responding to this proposal, which I presumed to be tongue-in-cheek, but no one was laughing. The memo about the loss of empire had apparently not yet been circulated in London. The three issues went forward as planned.”


WorldbyStorm - January 19, 2017

And the point re amused (for which read condescending) eye on American literature and continental philosophy. I like the tone of the piece not least the points about lack of class consciousness internationally, very very evident in rhetoric and actions of brexit. The think is that do many in England (and the UK more broadly) aren’t prey to such atavistic perceptions but they’re completely sidelined by processes which pretend the referendum was both politically and geographically overwhelming


sonofstan - January 19, 2017

Yeah, the ‘continental philosophy’ point resonated with me obviously. The French and Germans can be chauvanistic about their philsophy too, but not to extent of corraling eveything that doesn’t come from their tradition into a box marked ‘do not open’.


FergusD - January 19, 2017

OK, I agree with that quote, but it could be said about almost any nation state. Nation states are political creations and hence are often unstable. All nation sates are archaic I would argue, that is one of the problems that capitalism faces, and has failed to solve. The EU was an attempt to solve it, at least regionally, but I think tat may well fail in the end.

I think the UK has been in a slow motion disintegration with the loss of empire. It started with Ireland. The UK was on the winning side in WW1 but that war was the begininng of the end of empire, further accelerated by WW2. The deal with Scotland to create the UK (without Ireland) was all about a share in the the spoils of empire being offered to the Scottish elite. It can be argued that the workers of the UK also gained from the spoils of empire (while still being exploited themselves) – the industrialisation of NE Ireland?. But there isn’t much left of those spoils now (there is some, through financial services” – see Tony Norfield), so what is the point of the UK?


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