Brexiting the EU - Why did Britain join in the first place?

 11 Dec 2016 - 13:02

By Luzita Ball

The European Union began as an idea after the experience of fascist Nazism of the Second World War, after the formation of the United Nations. It was thought that economic cooperation and trade would help to stop the rise of nationalism and fascism, and discourage European countries from making war on each other.

Over time about 28 countries joined the EU, and it has become a ‘single market’ area of visa free travel and free trade, as well as a place where employment and residence can be sought in member countries by all its members’ citizens. It has a currency (which 19 countries use)- the Euro, its own central bank and its own parliament which makes laws on environment, transport, consumer rights and many other issues, which over-rule the laws in each individual country.

On June 23rd 2016, a referendum was held all over Britain, which is a vote on a particular issue by as many people in the UK as possible. The issue was whether or not to leave the European Union. More than 30 million people voted, which is 71.8% of those eligible to vote, representing only about half of the population of Britain which is about 65 Million. The result was very close — only 52% voted leave as opposed to 48% voting to remain. In fact only about 18.5 percent of the UK people actually voted to leave the EU!  However the conclusion taken was that the majority of UK citizens wanted to leave.

Britain now seems to be on a firm path towards exiting the European Union (EU), despite the fact that quite a number of Brexit supporters started getting cold feet (i.e. wishing they had voted Remain), but the process will not start until March 2017, and it could take up to six years to negotiate with the EU, so meanwhile let us ask why so many in Britain wanted to leave the EU, and did not value it enough?

Perhaps to answer this it would be useful to ask why Britain joined the EU in 1973 (then called the EEC or the European Economic Community). In 1975 about 67% of voters were in favour of remaining within the EEC. So what were their expectations and hopes?

Besides generally aiming to prevent fascism and war, one reason given by some historians for Britain’s particular interest in joining the EU was that this was a way to prevent Britain from being politically isolated, and to maintain influence in the face of the shrinking of the British Empire, at a time when many countries, especially in Africa, were struggling for and gaining independence from Britain. Another reason suggested was the desire to prevent further economic decline.

Britain was actually still one of the strongest nations politically in Europe at the time, and had good economic ties with many other countries. As Prime Minister Charles De Gaulle pointed out in 1963, Britain had democratic political institutions, world trade links, cheap food from the Commonwealth and was a global power. Britain’s annual GDP growth in real terms had grown from 6% to 7.4% between 1959 and 1973 when it joined the EU, a growth rate way out of the reach of Britain today.

In truth it was more, if anything, the fear of future political isolation, and the desire to possibly be more influential in Europe, and gain wealth and progress from doing more trade with Europe, that may have contributed to the UK joining the EU.

The European Union was also seen as a step towards a One World Government based on regional groups, by influential people such as Harold Macmillan, a representative of the European federalist movement in the British government. He was supported by a small group of close advisors including a number of well positioned Americans, and Jean Monnet, a high international civil servant who also worked with France, America and the Russia, whose Action Committee was given financial backing by the CIA, through numerous bodies including the Council for Foreign Relations, well known for its one world government ambitions.

So, in fact actually the British Government brought Britain into the EU without the population having much of a sense of its own benefits from this arrangement, despite warnings from the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, that membership would mean the end of parliamentary sovereignty, and being informed by the Earl of Gosford, one of Macmillan’s foreign ministers in the House of Lords, that the aim of the government’s foreign policy was world government.

Fascism, i.e. extreme nationalism and racism, unfortunately has not been eradicated but is on the rise in many countries for various reasons. One of the drivers are the austerity measures or cuts made by governments in order to fulfil the economic requirements to join the Euro, which have led to many protests especially in Greece and now France. The desired prosperity from European trade This has been exacerbated by the refugee crisis, caused largely by bombing campaigns in Syria which the Europeans have taken part in, during which the EU has put pressure on every member country to take in a certain number of the thousands of refugees, regardless of differences in resource availability and infrastructure capability.

Another issue that has caused some fear have been a handful of terrorist incidents on European soil, and on Westerners elsewhere, done apparently in the name of Islam, by extremist ISIS or Al  Qaeda supporters- it is claimed, in reaction to the wars that Europe is taking part in.

The concurrent steady spread of mainstream Islam in Europe, indicated by the growing number of mosques and halal shops, European conversions to Islam, as well as the increase in visibility of Islamic styles of dress, and even prayers in the street, might have been seen as no problem if it had not been for these incidents. However, along with emotional hype by media, politicians, and a few activist groups seeking to generalise blame for hardship and poverty, and insecurity, onto Muslims in general, and to stir up fears about the future, this has heightened tensions and Islamophobic incidents against Muslims living in European countries.

Economic migrants to the UK from the poorer European countries, such as Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, and Hungary, have also been subjected to racist abuse and attacks, as they have been perceived by many Britons to be putting extra pressure on limited jobs, accommodation, and especially schools and health services which have actually been cut by the UK Government largely in order to pay back debts incurred through the War on Terror, including European efforts in Syria.

Numerous under publicised EU-funded grants and regeneration projects in deprived areas of the UK, and the many laws protecting the rights of European citizens, interwoven with British Law and sometimes superseding it, have not been able to stop multinational businesses from leaving behind them a wake of unemployment and deprivation when they have suddenly pulled out of Britain and headed to countries with cheaper labour.

Even war in Europe has not been completely prevented by European trade, as the war between Bosnians, Croats and Serbs of the 90s demonstrated, driven again by media- this time by the Serbian propaganda channel. The main victims of this war were European Muslims trying to live peacefully amongst their non-Muslim neighbours in Europe.
Ironically some of the decisions made by the European Union may have contributed to the very thing that the countries wanted to prevent at the beginning, and this now threatens its unity. So, it seems that the one world government ambition may be also be at stake, or be delayed, as Britain’s example may encourage other countries to leave.  Many of the expectations and hopes for the European Union have not been realised by the people at the grass roots level. Trade can only do so much.

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]