Britain's complicated relationship with Europe

Against the whole run of our past policy and experiences over centuries, since the 60s the UK establishment, with some notable exceptions, has decided to allow and actively promote a new European hegemon to emerge called the European Union. It's a very dangerous experiment

Napoleon and Francis I after Austerlitz. That era is long gone
Sir John Redwood MP
On 2 January 2015 10:37

The UK has a long and difficult history in its relationship with the rest of Europe. For much of the last millennium UK policy was based on the proposition that we had to prevent a single power dominating the continent, as they were likely to be hostile to us and opposed to free trade.

Our need to preserve our right to choose our own political and religious views led us into war against Spain, the European hegemon of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Our wish to preserve our independence and trade led us to fight many wars against France, culminating in the epic struggle for our own survival and the future of our continent in the long Napoleonic wars.

In the twentieth century, it was a necessity to stand up to German aggression and dominance. Spain, France and Germany all attempted invasions, and all failed. The Dutch pulled off an invasion by agreement with a substantial part of the British establishment.

If our neighbours had been less keen on fighting for control, or if at times we had been better at diplomacy, we would saved ourselves a lot of blood and treasure. The long and damaging European wars held us back as well as the continent, destroying wealth and diverting effort.

Since the 1960s, the UK has decided on a different European diplomatic strategy. The UK establishment, with some notable exceptions, has decided to allow and actively promote a new European hegemon to emerge called the European Union. This is against the whole run of our past policy and experience, and is a very dangerous experiment.

I have no wish to go back to a policy of continuous wars between nation states, but fortunately the main European countries are now peace loving and respectful of each other’s borders.

I do  worry that this so called cure for these wars is not the right way to extend and preserve the peace. It is not in the UK’s national interest, and is bizarre as France and Germany would have no intention of invading us if we were outside the EU. There is danger in the EU developing an aggressive state personality of its own, and an obvious threat to our hard won liberties from placing ourselves under EU control.

Indeed, I think there is clear opportunity for the UK to be independent, and free of wars against major continental countries. The fact that all the major countries of western Europe have at last decided they do not want to fight more wars, and no longer assert rights over each other’s territory, means we have an opportunity for peace which does not depend on accepting ever greater political union with the continent.

We should seize the moment, and welcome the conversion of our neighbours to the paths of peace. It is far better they beat ploughshares than swords. That peace will be more prosperous and extend for longer if it respects the independent minded nature of the UK.

We do not wish the UK to become some forgotten fields controlled on the edge of  a new European empire.

Mr. Redwood's writing is re-posted here by his kind permission. This and other articles are available at

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