Ramūnas Bogdanas. Where did British Euroscepticism come from?

Ramūnas Bogdanas
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

The English Channel exists not only on maps, but also in the British consciousness. In their daily language, they distinguish themselves from what they call the “continent” that lies to the East of them.

As to the West, there lie the world’s oceans. When the Eurosceptics invite to close off from Europe, with the slogan, the British find their hair romantically brushed by the sea breeze, which carries memories of a golden age.

Twice rejected

The Second World War showed the UK that it can resist the greatest of dangers even when no one in Europe supports it – when France and other conquered countries have fallen or even taken to stand against it, like Germany and its allies. By ensuring transatlantic links, the British not only withstood, but even went on the attack.

When the European Economic Community formed, the UK was left aside. From its still meagre post-war resources, the EEC significantly subsidised the agriculture and fishing industries and its growth was around 4% a year in the 6-7th decades. Meanwhile, the UK’s economy grew up to 6% every year.

However, at the time, it was a generation that lived through the war that was in politics. One of its representatives, Conservative MP Edward Heath, served as an artillery office, experienced the terrible bombing of Liverpool and later disembarked in Normandy, where he saw what land turns into after an artillery barrage.

E. Heath believed that only a unified Europe can protect from the terrors of war. At his great effort, the UK requested entry into the EEC twice (in 1963 and 1967), but was not granted entry due to vetoes from General Charles de Gaulle.

This is because he imagined that the UK will be an American Trojan Horse, through which it would rule the EEC. The British were rejected by a general, who they sheltered during the war and helped grow stronger.

A few years later, General de Gaulle withdrew from the stage and E. Heath became prime minister of the UK. In 1973 the UK entered the EEC. However even then there were conservative ministers in cabinet, who believed that strong economic links to Europe are not needed.

In 1974, Labour wins the elections and soon launches a referendum asking if the UK should remain in the EEC. In the UK’s first national referendum, over 67% voted “yes” against 33% voting against.

Black Wednesday

The question was returned to after more than 15 years. From 1979, the Exchange Rate Mechanism operated in the EEC, based on the strongest European economy – Germany’s mark, based on which the countries calculated the value of their money.

In 1990, debates began on applying the ERM in the UK. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated that the markets would regulate the pound, while the finance and later Foreign Secretary John Major was a supporter of applying the ERM. That same year J. Major became prime minister.

Initially, the ERM influenced the British economy positively. However, the 1989 German reunification made its mark. Expenses for the weaker Eastern part of Germany led to higher interest rates in order to halt inflation. Due to this, the demand for the German mark rose, its price rose. The pound being tied to it began harming the British economy.

After the Bundestag chairman made a statement on September 15, 1992 that several currencies may face pressure, currency traders turned to the pound. J. Major’s cabinet spent 27 billion in one day to stabilise their currency, however already on September 16, it was announced that the UK is withdrawing from the ERM.

Black Wednesday began. The pound fell 15% against the mark and an entire 25% against the US dollar immediately. George Soros, who foresaw such a scenario months ago, earned more than a billion pounds from this crisis.

While the cabinet explained that currency traders and Germany, caring only for itself, was to blame, the long dormant Euroscepticism awakened again. Finally, it led to the first parliamentary Eurosceptic party, the UKIP being founded. It arose from the Anti-Federalist League founded in 1991.

Saving the party – sacrificing the kingdom

In 2010, the elections were won by the Conservatives with David Cameron at their lead and began reducing a budget deficit of around 10%.

Higher tuition prices, raised taxes and expensive healthcare reform cut into the party’s ratings. Having admitted in public that multicultural politics met with fiasco and is nurturing extremism among minorities, D. Cameron also lost the backing of ethnic minorities.

To save the situation before the elections and in order to reduce tensions over relations with the EU in the party itself, D. Cameron promised a referendum on EU membership in 2013. He calculated well regarding the party – after the 2015 elections, the Conservatives could form a cabinet without coalition partners.

Rationality and statistics showed that being in the EU was beneficial to the UK. Even the Eurosceptics thought that the 2016 referendum would be won by the supporters of the EU.

Half the immigrants, whose numbers Eurosceptics were discontent with, are from third countries, thus the country itself can decide on quotas for them. Furthermore, immigrants pay more taxes than is paid to them in benefits.

Half of UK’s trade is with the EU and free movement of goods ensures lower prices. But rational arguments did not sway the elderly and less educated provincial residents, whose votes were deciding in the referendum.

It is worth remembering that the then Homeland Secretary Theresa May was in the EU supporters’ camp and had exclusive access to information on the benefit or harm that membership brings. Now she is leading the entire exit process, which is shaking the UK to its foundations.

British analysts are musing whether departing the EU will not spark a new Scottish independence referendum, whose end under new conditions could be different than the previous one. Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon promises to support a second referendum as soon as the chaos surrounding Brexit subsides. 44.7% of voters supported Scottish independence in 2014, with 55.3% being against. The difference is not large enough for London to be calm about the Scottish. After all, 62% of them voted remain in 2016.

Disputes over the North Irish border with the Republic of Ireland clearly show that in destroying borders between peoples and states, the EU is a project of peace. The Brits are talking about their border control, but understand well that with a border returning, Irish terrorism could be renewed, having scared London for decades with bombings. The 1998 Good Friday peace applies also because lacking a wall, there is seemingly no reason to fight for it to be torn down. Brexit risks not only economic losses. It poses problems for the integrity of the kingdom.

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