I have really enjoyed reading “A Short History of Brexit, from Brentry to Brexit” by Kevin O Rourke.
O Rourke is a UK based, but Irish born and resident, academic, who also has a house in France.
His father, Andy, is a distinguished former Irish diplomat, and his mother is Danish.
He brings this varied hinterland to his aid, in probing the forces that shaped the British decisions
first to join, and then to leave, the European Union.
Behind this inconsistency he identifies the existence of two conflicting strands of thought, in the UK Conservative Party, and more widely.
The first is idea of “Imperial Preference”, that of giving better trade access to the UK market to the Empire than to other countries. This has deep roots in the Party.
It was championed by leaders like the Chamberlains and Baldwin. This policy was implemented, in 1931 by Neville Chamberlain, when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In contrast, Churchill, although a strong Imperialist, opposed protectionism all through his career. He advocated a “United States of Europe” in a speech in July 1945.
Macmillan, who shed the Empire and had been wounded seven times in the First World War,, understood the need for the UK to build its future, and a structure of peace, in Europe.
In contrast, a later Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron is quoted as saying it was “a myth” that European integration was the result of the lessons learned from two world wars.
There is much that can be divined from this well written book.
The 2016 Referendum can be traced back to a decision, in 2010, by 81 Tory MPs to defy their Whip and vote for a Referendum on leaving the EU.
Then , when Cameron set out to renegotiate UK membership. he recklessly announced that he would not “take no for an answer” on restricting free movement of people within the EU Single Market. He was never going to win that concession.
The book also analyses the history of the Irish and European economies in the 20th century.
Ireland was a late developer, mainly because it waited until the 1970’s, to open its market to foreign competition. Even Portugal and Greece moved faster.
O Rourke highlights the importance of the common EU VAT regime, and the sharing of information between EU states on VAT, as the means of avoiding hard borders within the EU.
As the author says,
time is money and border controls cost money