I’ve been trying to think of what would make Tory MPs bring down a Conservative Government. What would make them contemplate making Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister? Well it’s August. This is supposed to be the silly season. Perhaps alternatively Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin et al have all been out in the midday sun. Are we to see them foaming at the mouth if Britain leaves the UK without a deal? But there is unlikely to be much sun in late October.
I think part of the explanation is that the long Remainer rearguard has like many battles meant that the purpose for fighting has been lost. We’re here, because we’re here. Soldiers who have fought together will go on fighting even when the cause has been lost and when the reason for fighting in the first place has been forgotten.
All the Tory arch Remainers were willing to stand for Parliament on a manifesto that said, “no deal is better than a bad deal”. I doubt any of them could have imagined then a scenario where they would prefer Corbyn to leaving the EU. But somehow what was once grudging acceptance that the UK would leave the EU has become something else.
The Tory Remainers started merely trying to obstruct Brexit and hoping to limit what they saw as the Brexit damage. Their aim was merely to make leaving the EU resemble as closely as possible remaining in the EU. But as the rearguard continued, they began to think that victory was in fact possible. They could overturn the result. We could stay in the EU.
This is what it is about now. No Tory would contemplate voting for Corbyn merely to water down Brexit, nor indeed to stop a “no deal” departure. The prize now is to stop Brexit completely. Since Theresa May’s deal was rejected the choice has always been no deal or no Brexit. Grieve et al would only be willing to ruin their careers for the prize of staying in the EU. They would do so for nothing else.
But why? What has stirred up all the passions in Britain about the EU? The only comparison I can think of is with the Scottish independence referendum. The long campaign. The moment when independence supporters thought they were going to win and the despair of losing created modern Scottish nationalism. It turned it from being a fringe movement of cranks and obsessives to something that was capable of destroying Scottish Labour and winning nearly all the seats at Westminster.
Something similar has happened in the UK. There was no such thing as a Remainer movement five years ago. Most people were fairly indifferent about the EU. You either thought it was a necessary evil or you hoped but didn’t expect ever to be able to leave. Few people were particularly enthusiastic about EU membership, but a good pragmatic argument could be made for staying. I didn’t expect Leave to win the EU referendum even while campaigning for us to do so. I would have met a Remain vote with a mixture of disappointment and relief.
I think it was the shock of losing that changed the Remainers. Calm indifference and pragmatism changed overnight into Euronationalism. They were absolutely certain that they had won. They planned to be conciliatory to the rather foolish Brits who had been so dull as to think Britain could ever go it alone. Then at some point in the early hours of a June night in 2016, the Remainers whole world view was shaken. They had lost and they reacted with a fury that was unfamiliar even to those of us who had gone through the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum.
There are three forms of nationalism, but the word itself is horribly misunderstood and used in very imprecise ways. Donald Trump is sometimes called an American nationalist. But this is just a way of saying that his America first message is excessively patriotic, selfish and right-wing. This is the sense in which “nationalist” means something like fascist. Unfortunately, this sense of the word is unhelpful. It’s the equivalent of saying “boo”. The other two senses of the word “nationalist” describe political goals that are perfectly respectable and help our understanding of history.
The secession form of nationalism is at the heart of Scottish nationalism, while the unification form of nationalism is seen in 19th century German history. There is nothing morally deplorable in either seeking to leave a nation state or seeking to form one from formerly independent states. Virtually every European state is made up of parts that used to be independent. Likewise, many European states at some point seceded from larger ones.
I have been reading about German unification lately, because it is the best way to understand what is going on in the EU. In 1866 blind King George V led the independent Kingdom of Hanover. His army fought the battle of Langensalza and defeated the Prussians in front of him, but it made no difference because his army was surrounded and soon after it surrendered. After that there was no more independent Kingdom of Hanover. The process of German unification was relentless and once you were on the path to “ever closer union” there was no getting off it.
Britain won an unexpected battle again EU nationalism when we won the vote in 2016. But the Euronationalists are relentless and the forces under their control are far more powerful than those available to Moltke and Bismarck. The issue now is whether having won a tactical victory we go down to a strategic defeat three years later.
Euronationalism was awakened in Britain by the 2016 Remain defeat. Suddenly there were EU flags on the street and a love for the EU that had never existed before. But it is rather like that 19th century German nationalism which was expressed by people in places like Hanover and Saxony. They thought that they could express support for Pan Germanism while retaining their independence. German nationalism gave them a Zollverein or customs union, but Germany was far less unified in 1866 than the EU is today. Five years later by 1871 there was only really Germany. Whether they wanted to or not the member states had been subsumed. Hanover had become Wessex, Saxony had become Burgundy. I doubt even Germans now know that in 1866 they both took on the might of Prussia.
What is perverse about British Euronationalism is that while Eurofederalism is a goal held by some Remainer fanatics, if you asked the British electorate whether they wanted the UK to join the Euro, Schengen and accept our place in a United States of Europe sometime in the next 5-10 years, it is obvious that the vast majority of the electorate would reject Euronationalism.
The problem we have is that the Remainer elite still want to portray British membership of the EU as simply a matter of trade and economic pragmatism. They tell us we must avoid at all costs an economically damaging “no deal”, but they would want to avoid it even if the price were a United States of Europe with the UK unable to escape ever. In fact, that is the price of the Remain rearguard succeeding.
The blind King of Hanover could not see until too late that he would be subsumed and his country forgotten. But he was of course, neither form of nationalist. He just wanted to maintain the territorial integrity of his kingdom. When we fight against either Euronationalism or Scottish nationalism this is exactly what we are doing. We want neither to be divided nor subsumed. Let us then be clear about what the next few months are about. If we lose the battle to leave the EU this time, we won’t get another chance.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2019/08/only-euronatioanlism-could-make-tories.html