Civitas Meeting – The trouble with Europe 19 May 2014 (Robert Henderson)

by Robert Henderson

The sole speaker was Roger Bootle of the Daily Telegraph and Capital Economics

Bootle was promoting his book The trouble with Europe. The main thrusts of his argument were

– Europe is a declining political and economic power.

– The growth rate within first the EEC and then the EU has been poor overall compared with economies outside the EU.

– The EU has undermined European economic performance through promoting too generous welfare states.

– That much of the regulation comes not from the EU but national governments within the EU.

– That the EU has smothered competition between nation states and this has hindered innovation and enterprise.

– That Europe’s period of greatest world dominance was a time of intense competition between European powers.

– That EU countries have suffered a loss of identity through mass immigration and those with empires had a further blow to their national self-confidence through their loss.

– That European elites have had their energies eaten up with trying to create uniformity within the EU to the detriment of such things as investment and productivity.

– That the Euro is the biggest economic disaster the EU has suffered, dwarfing the Common Agricultural Policy.

– The EU as it is presently constituted is obsolete.

Bootle laid down his terms for Britain remaining within the EU: an end to ever closer union, a guarantee of no second class status for the UK if she remains a member, a reduced EU budget, repatriation of powers to EU member states. National governments to be empowered to reject EU legislation and restrictions on the free movement of labour.

These conditions are so improbable that it is reasonable to conclude that Bootle in reality wants Britain out of the EU. If Britain does leave the EU, Bootle is in favour of what he called the WTONLY option if a good free trade agreement with the EU cannot be arranged. The WTONLY option is to simply leave the EU and then rely on World Trade Organisation rules to give Britain access to EU markets.

During questions it was heartening to see how many of the questioners were utterly hostile to the EU, despite the fact that many of those there came under the heading of the great and the good, the sort of people who would normally be considered unvarnished Europhiles. Most promisingly, voices were raised against the wholesale takeover by foreigners of British business and the ill effects of multinationals.

I raised the question of how Britain should deal with the mechanics of leaving bearing in mind that the entire British political elite were Europhiles who would do everything to subvert the wishes of the British electorate by stitching Britain back into the EU through an agreement which included the four so-called EU freedoms, the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour within the EU. I suggested to Bootle that Article 50 was a poisoned chalice which would enable British politicians to do just that. Rather surprisingly Bootle said that he did not think that the mechanics of leaving were important. I was not able to question him further because of the number of people wanting to ask questions. However, I have addressed the subject and others in the email I sent to Bootle after the meeting. If I receive a reply I will add it to this blog post.


E mail sent to Roger Bootle 31 5 2014

Dear Mr Bootle,

A few points I was unable to put to you at the Civitas meeting of 19 May.

1. How much do you think the status of the Euro as the second largest reserve currency has contributed to the survival of the Euro? I enclose a note on this at the bottom of the email.

2. You advocate giving both sides of the story, of admitting that leaving the EU will not be without costs both material and moral. The problem with that is twofold.

a) political knowledge and understanding amongst the electorate as a whole is minute. Most will respond to the fear factor points not the reassuring points simply because they do not know enough to assess the situation rationally.

b) all the STAY IN camp will be peddling is the fear factor. Hence, the electorate will be hearing the fear factor language from both YES and NO camps but only the reassuring points from those who wish Britain to leave.

3. How the UK leaves the EU is not a trivial matter as you suggested. The danger is that regardless of the wishes of the electorate , the British political elite will stitch us back firmly into the EU if they are given a free hand over the negotiation. This is so because we have a political class – especially the leading members of the class – which is overwhelmingly prepared to act as Quislings (Quislings in the service of the EU in particular and internationalism in general) to ensure that Britain does not escape the tentacles of the EU.

Of course such a betrayal could apply regardless of whether article 50 is activated or a simple repeal made of the various Acts binding us into the EU, but Article 50 carries far more dangers for those who want us out of the EU than a simple repeal of the Acts would do. If Britain accepted the legality of Article 50 we would have to put up with any amount of prevarication and dirty tricks for two years. Worse, the time to reach any agreement between Britain and the EU under article 50 can be extended if both parties agree.

As those negotiating on behalf of Britain would inevitably be politicians who have sold their souls to the “European Project”, the odds are that they would use any obstruction and delay by the EU to justify making an agreement which would practically speaking nullify the vote to leave. As sure as eggs are eggs, the agreement would place us firmly back into the EU’s clutches by signing Britain up to the four EU “freedoms” (freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour) and all the rules regulating the single market. If the break with the EU is done simply by repealing the various Acts which bind us in, our politicians will not be able to use the restrictions and difficulties raised by Article 50 as an excuse for selling the voters down the river with an agreement such as I have described. Instead, they would have to take full responsibility for whatever they agree to. Article 50 is a particularly toxic poisoned chalice. Don’t drink from it.

It is essential that before any referendum takes place that all mainstream UK parties make it clear that whatever agreement is reached by those negotiating on behalf of Britain this should only be ratified if the British people vote for it in a second referendum. Unless this happens the political class will give us something which binds us back into the EU.

5. It is a dangerous argument to claim that competition between governments is a good thing if you are relying on the historical example. In your Telegraph article Europe’s politicians must embrace competition or face slide into obscurity (19 May) you write:

It is very striking that Europe’s golden age, when European countries bestrode the world and European influence was at its height, was an era of competition between nation states. Admittedly at times this competition went too far and spilled over into war …

The reality of European history is that it has been primarily a history of war as far as you care to go back. War not peace has been the norm. The period of European ascendency was no exception to this and because of technological developments became more and more efficiently brutal. Use the European historical example and you are simply inviting the Europhiles to say “Told you so. Nation states can’t be trusted to behave”.

6. At present I also have a problem with all political discussions and especially those referring to the economy. We are within striking distance of the production of general purpose robots which will be able to do not only most of the jobs humans now do but most of any new ones which arise. The implications of this are so profound that they bid fair to render any political solutions or policies currently in play obsolete. Politicians should be planning for such developments but they are simply ignoring them. If you read these two pieces you will see where I am coming from:



Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


  1. I do not agree with everything here, but I agree with most of it – and it seems stupid to argue just for the sake of arguing.

    On the point of war one thing does need to be said.

    Peace in Western Europe had nothing to do with the EEC-EU (nothing at all) – it was enforced by NATO (read the British and American armed forces sitting on the Continent to act as a deterrent to the Soviets – or other problems….). After the First World War the British (and American) army went home – after the Second World War this did not happen (this is the difference).

    Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was as stupid as it was to give the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama (before he even became President).

  2. “Peace” in Europe–that is to say the absence of govt generated conflict and mass-murder, has come about because, in the age of the mushroom cloud., Europes political and bureaucratic elite could see that their old games had become dangerous–to them.

    Prev they could play games of loot, power, status etc –with relatively little danger to themselves. After 1945–it was obvious that war as an extension of policy was no longer desirable in the domestic sphere. Overseas?–ok but not at home. Post nuclear exchange, you might still be a member of the elite, sitting in a bunker eating a tin of peaches, esp if everyone outside is dead or heading that way fast, but that does not compare with taking your mistress to the Connaught Rooms and the theatre. Much better to cut a deal so that the elite scum co-operate to rob everybody instead of fighting over spoils.

  3. I agree that Article 50 is a poisoned chalice – in fact I fear it is worse than you describe. Surprisingly, Dr Richard North, of all people, seems to believe that the EU will negotiate in good faith as per Art 50. I fear he is being hopelessly naive. My distrust of Art 50 also puts me at odds with UKIP’s policy, but we don’t have to worry about that just yet.
    The bigger question regards referenda. I have been opposed to any referendum since before 1997, when the Referendum Party proposed a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. Look at the history of referenda in the EU; the Danes rejected Maastricht; the Irish rejected Nice; the French and Dutch rejected the Constitution; the Irish rejected the Constitution a.k.a. Lisbon Treaty. In each case, the respective treaty was killed off, yet, like vampires (or is it zombies?) they just refuse to stay dead.
    Let us take a leap of faith and assume Mr Cameron does hold his promised referendum in 2017, that the vote is not rigged, and that the people vote to leave the EU. What happens next? Cameron will commence negotiations to invoke Article 50 perhaps? We wait two years as per Art 50. Agreement still hasn’t been reached, so they extend the negotiating period (from which Britain has been excluded from the outset). We wait, and we wait…..
    Can anybody see an end in sight?
    Of one thing I am certain; that this country will NEVER extricate itself from the EU, against the wishes of the entire Political Class, by means of a referendum. We need much heavier equipment.

  4. Mr Ecks – after 1918 both Britain and the United States decided that they would indeed stick to home (and there were no nuclear weapons).

    After 1945 both Britain the United States decided they would NOT stick to home – hence (for example) the British Army of the Rhine and the United States forces stationed in Western Europe.

    By the way both Britain and the United States also confronted international Marxism outside of Europe – and not just by deterrence.

    The Korean War is an obvious example. If the line was crossed (the bluff called) then one had to fight (or deterrence became meaningless).

    I repeat – you seem to be describing the attitude of the post First World War period (in both Britain and the United Stares) basically “we have done our bit and paid a terrible prize – bugger the world we are going home!” (nothing to do with nuclear weapons – because there were none in the period of 1918-1919).

    You are certainly not describing the attitude of post Second World War – where (in spite of nuclear weapons) both Britain and the United States remained actively involved in the world (risking nuclear war on several occasions).

    The attitude of the post First World War period led to nothing being done about Nazi Germany or the Empire of Japan – until it was too late to prevent them becoming very powerful (and leading the world into a Second World War).

    Of course the failure of the pre First World War period (really the failure of 19th century British policy) was the failure to prevent Prussia taking over Germany – and turning it into a vast Prussia (Italian “unification” was a bad thing – 19th century German “unification” was a disaster for the world).

    Germany as a cultural area – yes.

    Germany (with its pre 1914 borders) as a vast Prussian dominated STATE – no.

    Rather like Europe.

    Europe as a cultural area – yes.

    Europe as a state – NO.

  5. It is just so unhistorical.

    Who were the leaders of Britain and the United States after World War II?

    People like Clement Atlee and Ernest Bevin in Britain – and people such as Harry Truman and Ike in the United States.

    People who had many and grievous faults (for example the deluded Christian Socialist economics of Atlee) – but who were actually largely uninterested in luxury. And very interested indeed in doing what they believed to be their duty.

    One can disagree with them – one can even argue that (for example) the creation of NATO was a bad idea (although the historical evidence seems to be very much against that view).

    But this picture of cowardly rulers who did not engage in war (even though they wanted to…… as part of their “usual games”) because of threats to their personal luxuries…..

    It is just unhistorical – flat wrong.

    Yet old Sean just nods and says “that seems to sum things up”.

    Still I may have got the wrong end of the stick…………

    Mr Ecks may mean the French and German elite – not the British and the Americans.

    Well the French had the borders they wanted in Europe – so no need for any war in Europe for them. They did indeed fight outside Europe (to maintain their 19th century Empire), but they were unsuccessful in doing this.

    After the crushing defeat and occupation of 1940 France was no longer a great power – although (even today) many Frenchman will not admit that (it is to ugly a truth to accept).

    As for the Germans?

    They had the Soviets sitting next door, and the Americans and British armies stationed in Germany (to deter the Soviets).

    So the German elite was not really in a position to do much.

    By the way……

    Britain (although, like France, it has nuclear weapons) is not really a great power either – we neither have the economic or the military strength to be one.

    The forces just do not exist for large scale independent action.

    Even the Falklands pushed us hard – and the British armed forces were much larger in 1982 than they are now.

    I fear that the British military will one day be sent to some place and be cut to pieces.

    I really mean that – cut to pieces.

    Things are worse in the armed forces (they are weaker) than many people (including many deluded politicians – filled with a wild view of British importance) understand.

    We must avoid any further large scale overseas offensive operations.

    Not because such a policy is always a priori wrong (sometimes it is, in theory, correct policy to strike down an enemy before they are ready to launch an attack themselves),

    But because WE WOULD LOSE.

  6. Earlier today, David Davis the UK’s Principal Secretary of State For War spoke at a meeting of Liberal activists.

    Said Davis: “The recent small cull of public sector employees in the Uk, bringing their numbers down from around nine millions to under two hundred thousand, all in a week, coupled with the abolition of VAT and any other excise duties on all fuels, all tobacco products and all alcoholic drinks, has re-invigorated the Four British Economies in ways no socialists would have wanted to predict, even if they could.”

    “Last night’s collapse of the EU into nation-states (triggered by the current Brexit) now frantically printing their own currencies as fast as the fabric can flow into the machines, signals a harbinger of an adumbration of a prediction of a result of an inevitability. It’s that the EU is dead, gone, zapped, no more.”

  7. Yes David – the E.U. is another lawyer of government on top of governments that are already vastly too big (see the article in the Spectator today about how the modern “big state model” is leading to decline).

    But the worship of the state goes back a long way – even in the earl 19th century some leading British thinkers (including liberals) were using (almost without noticing they were doing it) the term “the State” in a reverential way (in the German – Prussian way).

    The high regard for Frederick the Great (and the general tradition of the State as the “liberator” the “enlightener” that he and other Prussian rulers represented) goes back even into the 18th century (although Prussian ism had its enemies on this island also – such as Edmund Burke, see his unsigned attacks on Prussian policyin the Annual Register year-after-year).

    British people did not (generally) regard such statist rulers as Louis XIV (the Sun King) as an “enlightened” ruler (in a good way) – yet the Prussians were allies and Protestants (actually Frederick the Great was not really a Christian at all – but this was not widely known) and ……..

    This has an effect even in the long term (or so I believe) – for example the extraordinary decision to do nothing in 1866 – even in the face of such things the annexation of the Kingdom of Hanover (a Protestant Kingdom), the “unification” of Germany (the Prussian conquest of most of the German speaking cultural area) totally upset the Balance of Power in Europe – setting the scene for the First and Second World Wars.

    Although (yes) the failure of France to decisively act in 1866 (thus dooming France to defeat in 1870) was even worse.

    The worship of a state run by “independent experts” was growing in France also – as well as Britain.

    In the British case one can trace it back via Jeremy Bentham (and many of his followers) to Sir William Petty, Francis Bacon – and even (perhaps) to Thomas Cromwell.

    The land owning families were co opted into the State in Prussia (actually before the time of Frederick the Great – he was building on the work of previous rulers) – but not so in Britain (especially England).

    On this island the landowning families still remained a check upon the State (not just part of the State – as in Prussia) – till the 19th century when the real power of the landowning families was broken (this became obvious in the early 1900s – but their power had actually been broken long before).

    The European Union is the latest manifestation of the idea of rule by “educated experts” – the dream of collectivists since the time of Plato (certainly the dream of such people as Francis Bacon and Jeremy Bentham).

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