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Because I was often afforded little time to express my views I boiled my opposition down to three basic arguments. The first is that the unification of Europe is a deeply ideological and historicist project which is incapable of debating itself properly or of tolerating free thought. It is one of those many human crusades which tells you that the project is right, the project is the future, dissent is backsliding. It is a sub-class of the Whig Theory of History with strong similarities to its Bonapartist and Marxist antecedents. The doctrine or analogy of “Jacques Delors’ bicycle” says that if the pace of integration ever slackens we will fall. It is a doctrine which explains why the EU does things so extraordinarily badly; for example, it explains the biggest mistake of all, the inclusion of far too many countries in the single currency and the consequent sabotage wreaked upon the economies of southern Europe. No lessons have been learned: the current President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, still talks the language of ever-closer union.

The second argument develops the first: it is that the destiny of Europe according to this project closely resembles what sociologist Michael Hechter called “internal colonialism”. This posits a form of political union which concentrates political, economic and cultural power into a geographical “core” with the result that the remaining “periphery” then suffers from decay and a sense of subjugation. The thesis was developed to explain what happened to the United Kingdom (including Ireland) from the 18th century onwards, but it can be applied to the United States and — even more clearly — to Italy.

A version of the Whig Theory has informed us that the Risorgimento which united Italy was both good and inevitable, but this is winners’ history rather than good history and has been seriously challenged by the late Denis Mack Smith and, more recently, by David Gilmour in his book The Pursuit of Italy. Imagine an Italy which was not united: a Republic of Venice which was a prosperous commercial land and not just a damp tourist attraction. Or a Piedmont or Lombardy as rich and independent as their Swiss neighbour. A Kingdom of Naples (“the Two Sicilies”) — as southern Italians never chose a republic — as satisfying to the imagination as it was in the 18th century. Even ignoring Fascism, the record of united Italy is one of corruption, gangsterism and incompetence, a kind of cultural heaven living with civic hell. The danger is that Europe will become a Greater Italy.

Finally, I always tried to mention the truthful observation about human relations at every level offered in Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall”: “Good fences make good neighbours.” It is much easier to love your neighbours when they knock on the door when they want to talk to you than if they acquire their own key and turn up whenever they feel like it. Or to love the Germans when they are not making your laws. Or to continue to love the Italians when the Camorra have no easy access to your banking system. Or to refrain from anti-Polish sentiment when gangs of Poles are not fishing your rivers to extinction. The “good fences” argument applies most clearly to migration. It is a fundamental principle of the EU that the citizens of 27 other countries have the same right to live in my country as I do. Of Americans who think that voting for Brexit was chauvinistic or even racist I would ask, “What percentage of US citizens would vote for a law which said that all ‘Americans’, from the Yukon to Tierra del Fuego, have an unequivocal right to live in the United States?” The US is a spacious land with plenty of room for immigrants compared with the UK.

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Peter Bollada
December 20th, 2017
12:12 PM
I felt a glow of satisfaction on finishing this article in a cafe. Maybe it was also the quality of the tea (Darjeeling). It seems like the gentlest of reasons for Brexit I have come across - the travellers reason. To quote one gem: "I positively love being somewhere else, on someone else's territory".

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