| by Geoffrey Hicking |
The British Left and the Remainers are succumbing to an obsession. Whether it be Paul Mason’s assertion that the government must focus all its efforts on repairing and rectifying Britain’s “diplomatic and cultural ties” with Europe , to Vince Cable’s belief that we should maintain a trade regime that prioritizes Europe above all else , the Left’s worldview appears to be shrinking to one continent — Europe. Its Europhilia has expanded, subsuming all other concerns into full-blown Eurocentrism.
There is a jarring sense of the apocalyptic that resonates through this. How can Britain lose its “cultural ties” with Europe? Does Mr. Mason think that we’ll all stop drinking lattes? Will we stop reading the Bible in Church? Will we abandon the European secularism that’s been in our culture for a century? Does Mr. Cable honestly think that the rest of the world has nothing substantial to offer in terms of trade? Why is this happening?
The answer lies in the evolution in our attitude to Europe. Britain originally joined the European Economic Community (EEC) for economic reasons. In a time when economic blocs were seen as the future, the effort required to get into the Common Market meant that the British civil service wanted to make the most of membership. A perception that it was the only way to slow Britain’s decline only reinforced this . If links to the Commonwealth were frayed as a result, tough. Money mattered more to a poor, war ravaged nation.
Meanwhile, the competencies of the EEC, then the EU, began to encompass more than dry economic matters. Jean Monnet, founding member of the EEC and the “Father of Europe”, planned for a federation of Europe — a federation that would lessen the role of nation states, economically interconnect the continent, and bring peace in the wake of the Second World War . France and Germany would be tied together in Monnet’s mission to lessen Franco-German rivalry and war , with other nations following suit. Every tool had to be employed for this noble cause, be it a Common Agricultural Policy  providing subsidies to European farmers, or a diplomatic service responsible for EU foreign relations . Such a complex project was guaranteed to draw the attention of European nations inwards as they built their Union. Needless to say, in contrast to the skepticism of Britain, these nations were enthusiastic in their quest to wipe away the horrors of the past. For them, the EU was — and is — an emotional issue .
Fast forward to Tony Blair — a man prone to putting things in emotional terms. EU membership was now about more than stuffy Tory Exchange Rate Mechanisms and rebates — it was “destiny,”  an opportunity to show a new pro-EU Labour Party that could match continental Europeans in enthusiasm for the project . To show a multi-cultural Britain  willing to deepen cooperation with Europe to further its goals . Best of all, Labour could combine its pro-Europeanism with its commitment to diversity and modernity. All it had to do was support EU enlargement into Eastern Europe , and the increase of immigration from there . Thus, for New Labour, you were anti-racist if you were pro-European.
Conversely, our time outside the EU prior to joining had been marked with the decline of the Empire. Too many countries outside Europe were former British colonies, corrupt, or both. It has been easy to brand anyone that wanted better relations with the outside world as an imperialist , addicted to past glories.
Thus did Europhiles convince themselves they had the moral high ground. Europe was rich, Europeans were cooperating more on a host of issues, from defence  to consumer products . The EU was increasingly demanding our attention  as it expanded. Why throw away this easy chance to show a new, internationalist Britain? Why get stuck in the past?
Unfortunately, such pro-European attitudes began to have unpleasant consequences in the real world. Those of a Euroskeptic persuasion took note when the Foreign Office created new positions such as the post of Political Director. This official was tasked with liaisons with EU opposite numbers. Not only were such positions second only to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in influence in the Foreign Office, but many non-EU stationed officials complained that most “Europeanists” in the department had replaced the “Arabists” as its most influential group. Furthermore, they worried that European embassies were gaining more staff than U.S based offices . Subsequently, when the Foreign Office sent only low-ranking ministers and Civil Servants to Commonwealth summits , Euroskeptics noticed. Meanwhile, some of the most respectable defenders of the EU bluffed and insulted their way through state visits outside the EU. India will not quickly forget former Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s ignorant comments over Kashmir . What made him think he could lecture to them?
Economically, there was the EU’s fraught relations with West and East Africa. Principally, the trouble lay with its endless negotiations over tariff-free trade — the Economic Partnership Agreements . High tariffs for produce such as Namibian beef and fish were used by the EU as threats to gain leverage during negotiations . Whilst that occurred, the EU employed tariffs against sophisticated goods like refined Coffee or Chocolate to discourage their manufacture and protect EU industries . Just as bad were the internal regulations and subsidies that further cushion EU industries against competition — effectively stealth tariffs. Such protection allowed EU firms (many of them British) to limit imports and flood African markets unopposed, crushing African companies and farms . Did non-Europeans not matter in this case? Come the referendum campaign, those Brexiteers that knew of it clenched their teeth in frustration as these problems were airily dismissed by Europhiles . For prominent referendum campaigners like Chuka Umunna, the aid bestowed by the EU rendered any counter-argument worthless. For him, the only moral actor in this drama was Europe.
By the run up to the 23rd of June, two decades of Eurocentism had been thoroughly imbibed by the Left. Campaigners and columnists were eager to leap from their moral high-ground to the defense of the EU. For Polly Toynbee, Matthew Parris, and Michael Foley, critics were either  racist  or ignorant. Since then, Paul Mason and Vince Cable have repeated such sentiments. For them, it was a short step from Euroskepticism to racism. Once again, the accusations of imperial nostalgia have been wheeled  out . Even the Europeanized Civil Service has joined in — Brexit is “empire 2.0” . You can fault these Remainers for many things, but lacking emotion is not one of them.
Whilst pro-immigration voices have saved them from outright xenophobia, the above comments nonetheless risk turning the Masons, Toynbees, and Vinces of this world into modern day Lord Macaulays — focusing completely on Europe to the exclusion of all else or drafting economic treaties that hurt non-Europeans. Defending this on moral and emotive grounds, or not addressing it at all. Is this racist? Is it neo-colonialist? How close is it to a “Europe first” super-nationalism?
Bit by bit, Remainer criticism of Leaver racism begins to take on the stench of hypocrisy. If their neo-Victorian worship of Europe continues, they will become the very parochial bigots they fear.
Geoffrey Hicking is a librarian and freelance writer. You can connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Header Photo: Chris Lawton