a-Fisking we shall go – Captain Corelli’s Maudlin Rambling in the FT

So Louis Smart, or as he likes to call himself, Louis de Berniers, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, has a rambling load of illconstructed reminisce as to why he voted to leave, in the FT. Its a doozy

Link here ; and a fisk below the line.

At the age of 20, in June of 1975, I became one of the young people who voted to confirm our membership of the European Union.

The EU came into being in 1993, post the Maastricht treaty.

 In 2016, my generation voted to bring us back out.

Well, in fairness a good few people not in their 70s voted also. But good to see you accept that you are a cause.

 Why did we change our minds?

Oh this will be good.

There are several reasons, but the main one is simply our loss of sovereignty.

Well, it was the dominant one – to leave an imaginary oppression for imaginary freedom, but concern over immigration (read, xenophobia) as a biggie also https://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/

 I was personally comfortable with “sharing sovereignty”. The European states were democratic, I felt there was common cause between us, we had a shared interest in an enduring peace between us, and nationalism seemed an unmitigated evil, especially when combined with an ideology.

Err…so, correct me here but…you voted, explicitly , for a nationalistic ideological cause, which things you seem to say are an unmitigated evil. Which makes you….?

My own comfort gradually disappeared as it became clearer that our lives were increasingly being shaped by officials whom we had not elected.

It may have seemed clear but it wasn’t the case. And even if it was….Louis, do you elect the head of the civil service, the Met Police Commissioner, the head of trading standards? No you elect the MP’s who appoint them. Just like you elect the government that appoints the civil servants bosses, aka the commission.

We had joined the “Common Market”

So, not the EU then

 and been told that it was all about free trade, which always sounds like a good thing.

No,  Louis, the project was always more than that, and as a literate educated person you know that

Half the Labour party was opposed to it, however. Remainers have enjoyed depicting Leavers as little Englanders and rightwingers, but there are also impeccable leftwing reasons for opposing membership. I remember the big posters enjoining us to “Say no to the Bosses’ Europe”, and the Labour manifesto of 1983 declaring that we would leave if they were elected. They were worried about food pricing, the Common Agricultural Policy and restrictions on socialist industrial policy

So? The far left and the far right were always closer than we like to think

  I also remember that the Scottish nationalists were against membership, perhaps because it was obvious to them back then that being governed by an unelected government in Brussels was even worse than being governed by an elected one in Westminster.

Again the trope. Anyhow, hows that elected government in Westminister getting on with winning hearts and minds ?

 In any arranged marriage

The UK voted to stay in in 1975. That’s not an arranged marriage.

 a couple sometimes makes the most of a bad job by working hard at pretending to be in love.

 Even after I perceived the deception,


 I was arguing that we needed to be part of something that could counterbalance the US and the Soviet Union.

You mean, NATO?

 My parents had campaigned to join but became sceptical long before I did.

So, as they got older….

 This was because they had not anticipated such things as the damage to our fishing industry.

The one that the UK fishermen sold off gleefully to the more efficient EU competitors to then , rightly, relax and not do one of the toughest jobs in the world, that one?

More importantly, they felt outraged at having endured two world wars only to end up being subject to laws not drawn up by our own parliament.

 It was easier for continental Europeans to compromise on democracy because they do not have the advantage of being protected, as we are, by the mere fact of being an island.

How very shakespearian. And what of Cyprus, Malta, Ireland?

 As time passed, I came to share my parents’ anxieties.

I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary. It’ll happen to you!

Having researched and written extensively on the two world wars, I increasingly developed a sense of the vastness of the sacrifice, and therefore of how sacrilegious it would be to erode our democracies. I once took my father to visit the battleground in Italy where nearly all his comrades were wiped out in one heroic and doomed attack; 20 tanks destroyed in five minutes.

You do know that, at first cut, the Russians, with US materiel, won the war? Stalinist Russia.

 It was a war for the right of nations to self-determination

No Louis, that was, mar dhia, WW1. This was a fight against Nazis. You know, them?

 Since reunification Germany has become the hegemonic power in Europe;

Germany has, since 1870, been the hegemonic power. It is inevitable from geography and economics.

 in view of what happened twice in one century, is it unnatural that some people are wary of this?

The Hun is always either at your throat or your feet, eh Louis

 I used to think that one day we would have a proper European parliament.

You mean one that is elected by popular sufferage, has power of the purse, can dismiss or appoint “ministers” and has its own chamber and so on… That one?

 Now I realise that, small-minded as we are, many people would only ever vote for a candidate from their own country.

Louis, do you mean …you voted for Brexit because the EU had not become a unitary state with EU wide elections on a common slate? Coz, otherwise I am confused.

 Like a lot of people who are still Remainers, I had committed a category mistake. I thought that loving the EU was somehow the same thing as loving Europe.

Its quite possible to love both.

 I loved Europe’s great cities, its cuisines, its landscapes, its composers and philosophers. I wanted to be Sartre and Camus rolled into one, I wanted to sit outside a taverna on the Plaka, being Theodorakis. If people asked me what I was, I would say “European”. I am European by culture and inheritance.

That’s why you voted for English nationalism is it? VERY European.

 Perhaps unreasonably I rate our continent’s culture more highly than anyone else’s;

I guess you have never read Said’s Orientalism… Its good.

I speak French fairly well, and Spanish and German rather badly; my favourite composers are Bach and Beethoven.

Humblebrag alert

When I was 18, I travelled all over Europe with a piece of pink card that I bought at the village post office. Now, in part thanks to Islamist terrorism and Angela Merkel’s quixotic humanitarianism, the Schengen arrangement may have to come to an end;

The UK isn’t in Schengen. And Schengen is about visa free travel for EU citizens. There was always the right and this was often exercised, to check the validity of someone exercising their Schengen rights. You might be confusing it with something else.

the free movement that we all loved the most about the EU may be lost because of the threat to security that is built into it. Free movement was a double-edged sword in any case. It was fabulous for middle-class families who wanted cheap nannies, gardeners and cleaners, but it alienated the working classes because their neighbourhoods were suddenly and radically changed.

So, loads of white Christian Europeans suddenly descended on them. What. A. Shock. Also, what a load of upper middle class twaddle. The average EU mighrant into the UK RAISES the qualification levels. https://news.sky.com/story/do-eu-migrants-raise-the-education-level-in-your-region-11772798

 There is an area of Ipswich, for example, where there seems to be nobody but eastern Europeans, hanging about, smoking in little knots. To many locals it looks threatening, even if it isn’t.

Yeah, all those white Christian Europeans really stand out in Ipswich.

 In places such as Lincolnshire it became normal not to recruit from local employment exchanges, but directly from Romania. It is probably true that the indigenous British did not want to do most of that kind of work anyway, but it still sparked resentment.

So. Sharon and Darren don’t want to work picking fruit. OK, I wouldn’t. But then when Karina and Pavel do, Sharon and Darren get the hump? Have I got that right?

My daughter Sophie (aged 12) recently asked me if after Brexit Europe would be further away, as if we might be towed into the distance on a steel hawser. She doesn’t know that you cannot be towed away from more than 2,000 years of cultural, social and historical entanglement. England’s attitude should be that of a sensible lover: if you love me, stay; if not, I’m better off without you

I thought this was an arranged marriage

What you can row away from is a troubled political and economic project that has never surmounted the difficulties left behind by the 2008 crash.

Oh this will be good.

The eurozone contains incompatible economies, and so it is impossible to fix an interest rate or a general economic policy that fits them all.

The Eurozone is a subset of the EU. The UK is not in the Eurozone.

 Greece could have got out of its difficulties expeditiously if it had retained the drachma and been able to devalue.

Sure. A sudden stop is always a fun thing. Never has a negative effect. Devaluation has proven so good for poorly managed economies. Just look at Argentina.

 You can row away from delusions, such as that the EU has maintained European peace, when it was very obviously Nato, with the US providing the majority of the manpower and funding;

Arguable. But lets move on

 or the delusion that we cannot rebuild our links with the Commonwealth countries we so shamelessly left in the lurch in the Seventies;

You do know that you cannot “rebuild links” unilaterally. India for example would love to have closer links. But wants much freer movement. So then the Poles and Latvians you worry about smoking will be replaced by Rajputs and Bengalis. You see the issue? Anyhow, the UK wont give the visas so… Austalia and Nz have laughed this idea off the court numerous times.

 or make new agreements elsewhere quite quickly; after all, we will not need the unanimous agreement of 27 other countries.

43% of your exports go to the EU.

You can row away from an economic area that is not so much a free-trade zone as a protectionist one.

If it is protectionist, and you depend deeply on it for exports and supply chains, then is it not more sensible to be within said zone?

 Although today the EU offers preferential terms to many developing countries, it has traditionally helped to keep the developing world undeveloped by charging low tariffs on raw materials, and high tariffs on manufactured goods. The US does the same thing. That’s how the west prevents developing countries from industrialising and competing with us. The EU is still encumbered by the CAP. You can row away from an economic zone that since reunification has been dominated by Germany. Euros pour into Germany but are not recycled to the periphery.

Dear god where to start….

You cannot, however, blame Germany for having the largest economy in the eurozone,

You did, earlier.

 and for finding other countries too exasperating to subsidise any further.

Err. You do know Germany is not the only net contributor

 The French, of course, will be delighted by our departure, because they will become correspondingly more important. I bumped into David Owen last year. The former foreign secretary told me he had become a Leaver because of what had been done to Greece. That is exactly what finally did it for me too; a whole country reduced to penury for years on end; a country that elected a government on an anti-austerity ticket and was instantly overruled and humiliated by Brussels.

For people like me, with an old-fashioned classical humanist education, Greece holds a special place in the heart.

The handling og Greece was poor. But then the Greek economy has been a basket case since the 1830s.

 At one time Greece was the only country in Europe that still stood beside us in the second world war.

Eh? Wut?

Greece’s humiliating defeat of Mussolini was the beginning of his downfall. After that, his troops lost their confidence and their ideological certainties. During the second world war, the Third Reich looted Greece so thoroughly that they even collected up all the pianos, but, some few years afterwards the Greeks forgave the Germans their war debt.

No, they didn’t. They got 115m marks in 1960. The Two plus Four Treaty of 1990 parked the issue. It is still live.

 Corrupt as Greece was, she deserved better than to be punished so severely for the crime of having been admitted to the eurozone before she was ready for it.

Greece could have been handled better. But it would have fared infinitely worse outside the Eurozone than within. In 1961 Greek and Argentine PPP Per capital GDP were the same. Now, even yet, Greece’s is twice that of Argentina.

 Now the Conservative party has a new start, as does the country, which at last has a leader who exudes energy, good humour and optimism, and pulls impossible rabbits out of hats even as his detractors scoff.

So its smoke and mirrors . Gotcha

 The next rabbit may be a decent trade settlement. No doubt this will be difficult, but it is evident that it only will be accomplished by someone who is positive enough to assume that it can be.  

If you wish really really hard…..

 It has been increasingly obvious to me and fellow Leavers for many years now that the English would be better off on their own.

Away off with you so.

 It seems ever more likely that Ireland can be reunified, because all the very good reasons for the North resisting this have gone; the Republic is no longer a corrupt, backward country, it is an energetic vibrant place where anyone would love to live, including me.

Gee thanks. I must go now and take the pig from the parlour before the priest comes in.

 We are an important trading partner;

Yes, we are more important to you than China and India combined. One of the few countries with whom the UK runs a trade surplus.

if Ireland were being strictly rational it would also leave the EU and opt for an Anglo-Irish economic zone.

….oh, sorry I thought you meant…. HAHAHHAHAHA. No.  UK is a small and diminishing part of our total economic vision.

 England has no good reason for wanting to cling on to Northern Ireland, or to Scotland either.

You know you don’t  actually OWN them?

 The English attachment to Scotland is a sentimental one, but the Scots have fallen out of love with us, and inevitably the English will sooner or later have had enough of the grandstanding of the nationalists.

So… its not you its them?

The English have noticed that their own nationalism is the only one that is routinely denigrated and despised, and that also grates.

This the very sentence after you denigrate and despise the Scots and deny the validity of the Irish national consciousness. Mmmkaaaay.

 The English have developed their own “cultural cringe”. I search my memory for its origins and think that it dates from the time when English football fans were notorious all over the world. The flag of St George became the emblem of chanting, rioting, racist rightwing oafs, and so the rest of the English renounced it.

 But that’s a symbol Louis. Not the underlying

 I couldn’t travel in France without people wanting to reproach me with les ooligans anglais. Being English was a matter of shame.

I wonder why.

 In Scotland the Saltire flies everywhere.

Grandstanding maybe?

The English should have reclaimed their flag and thought more about what Englishness is. It is at one level a love of landscape, a rubbing along of like-minded people, a shared language rich in dialect and figures of speech, a love (like the French) of the absurd. The English have lost their sense of themselves as an ancient shared culture, however.

They subsumed it in a dream of empire

In Ireland, Wales and Scotland, the children learn their national dances and songs at school and at home.


In England, I doubt if a single child could recite the first verse of “Greensleeves” or knows what a maypole is.

Not sure what this has to do with Brexit.

 In English schools history is taught in a strangely episodic manner — Roman, Tudors, second world war — so students have no continuous historical narrative and get by on what they pick up from misleading historical dramas that they find on their screens. They don’t know how much they don’t know, or how one thing connects to another.

Again the failings of the English educational system is manifest. B

The English don’t even know their country geographically. Most southerners have little interest in what goes on Up North, and most northerners wouldn’t be able to find Guildford on a map.

Mate. They cant even find Ireland on a map. https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/ireland-map-identify-british-people-one-in-10-europe-geography-knowledge-a7894811.html

The trick is to know the difference between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is always at somebody else’s expense, whereas patriotism depends upon nothing but itself. “My country, right or wrong” is a road to Hell. “I love my country anyway” is something altogether different.

This is horribly confused.

 How the Scots would prosper without the pound, and outside the EU, with possible tariffs between us on the border, is anyone’s guess, but that would not be England’s problem.

Well, an independent Scotland will be in the EU. The only reason there would be tariffs would be if the English go for a tariff based FTA, in which case one would imagine Scottish trade benefiting from the exodus from England.  As for the pound, there are plenty of ways to manage a currency.

With any luck even if the Scottish do leave, it seems likely that the Welsh would stay in the union, either out of sentiment or self-interest.

Hmm. The opinion polls suggest that the drift is towards independence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_independence#Opinion_polling

Plus the Welsh, per se, seem to be heavily remain. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/wealthy-english-blow-ins-swung-welsh-brexit-vote-r3qkpmnn3

  England’s attitude should be like that of any sensible lover: if you love me, stay; if not, I am better off without you.

So, hold on. The EU is an arranged marriage. The UK is…?

The English should shrug, and agree that it’s understandable that everyone should prefer their own mess to somebody else’s order, because, after all, that’s how we feel ourselves.

Back to raw English nationalism which he has flip flopped around endorsing all day.

 The English have never formally been asked whether or not they would prefer independence from the other countries of the UK, or even if they would like their own parliament, and it is high time they were.

Well, independence is coming soon, Id suspect.

And so at last, we leave the EU, despite the tireless rearguard actions of ultra-Remainers. We are the rats that left the EU first, and we are probably not the last. But we are not leaving Europe. That is an inconceivable impossibility. The end of Great Britain also seems to be a distinct, and perhaps even a desirable prospect. However, our neighbourhood of nations will remain a family, bound together by the dialectic of our history, by the uniting in death of far too many of our soldiers, and by our shared cultures.

We won the war you know… apart from the Russias,  Poles , Americans, Greeks…

 This kind of union is far more valuable, deep and durable than any faltering economic and political experiment could ever be.

<cough> Zollverein <cough>

 People are talking about a “new relationship” between the UK and Europe. If you think that a relationship is all about trade agreements and extradition treaties, then clearly something “new” must be come up with.

So, what you want NO FTA?

But the EU is not Europe. Let’s not be confused. Our relationship will be as it always has been, more than 2,000 years old, an oscillation between the polarities of love and hate, respect and disrespect, admiration and contempt, co-operation and churlishness, fascination and disregard, depending upon what providence throws in our path. No family is constituted and determined by written agreement. The Germans and the French, the Portuguese and the Spanish, the Scottish and Irish, we’re a family whether we’re in the EU or not. Rearranging the fences between our houses does nothing to alter the fact that we are, and always have been, in the same village.

In the case of Ireland you have set fire to your house, heedless that it is in a semi-detached with us.  The Scots, to continue the analogy, are in the duplex part of your house. So, forgive if they are a TAD concerned as brexiteers deny the flames exist,  and fling insults to the Polish and Greek and French fire crews.

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