Our prime minister has brought history into the EU debate, with no good reason and plenty of illiteracy
David Camerons history is rubbish. Whatever the virtues of remaining in the EU, his idea in todays speech that whenever we turn our backs on Europe, sooner or later we come to unhappines it is nonsense. As for Brexit raising the risk of war, it is Project Fear gone mad.
The best thing that happened to medieval England was its defeat in the hundred years war and the end of English ambitions on the continent of Europe. The best thing to happen in the 16 th century was Henry VIIIs rejection of the pan-European papacy. The wisest policy of his daughter, Elizabeth I, was an isolationism so rigid that she repudiated one continental suitor after another. Britain opposed off all tries by France and Spain to restore European Catholicism, and accepted a Dutch and a German ruler strictly based on the results of British parliamentary sovereignty.
Camerons 18 th-century predecessor was Robert Walpole, writer of Walpoles Peace. Its meticulous isolation from Europes conflicts brought Britain a golden age of enlightenment and industrial revolution. In 1734, Walpole could proudly tell the Queen: Madam there are 50,000 men slain this year in Europe, and not one an Englishman.
Even William Pitts creation of a British empire was based on staying explicitly aloof from the seven years war on the continent of Europe. Later, while Horatio Nelsons victories were essential to British interests, the Waterloo campaign could hardly, on David Camerons words, have been avoided by earlier intervention. Nor did Napoleon Bonaparte pose a serious threat to Britain.
Victorian Britain remained out of Europe. Its sole intervention, Crimea, was a disaster. Cameron forgets perhaps his most successful Tory predecessor, Lord Salisbury, who told of intervening in other states affairs( surely the essence of the EU) that there was no practice which the experience of nations more uniformly condemns. His policy was declared to be of splendid isolation.
Camerons apparent thesis that the first world war could have been prevented by earlier British intervention is illiterate. We could as well argue that it was in part caused by an incipient EU, the Triple Alliance against Germany expansionism.
The second world war was, of course, the great exception, but any notion that Britain could have promoted peace by declaring war on Hitler earlier than in 1939 is fanciful. When Cameron cites recent wars in the Countries of the middle east, what did they have to do with Britains EU membership? As for Iraq as a guidebook to anything, if I were Cameron I would stay silent.
If British history is to be cited in this debate, it is a sustained, overwhelming, irrefutable debate for Brexit. But that, of course, should not guide the future. History should be studied , not repeated and best left to historians.
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