…but we still haven’t learned how to win the peace, says Vice Chair Nick Hopkinson. However, by the tone of some of our tabloid media, one might have concluded 8 May marks Victory over Europe rather than Victory in Europe. We should not forget our armed forces and ancestors were bravely fighting against Hitler and fascism in Europe, rather than individual people belonging to various tribes.
On 8 May we rightly commemorated the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE), and the end of World War II in Europe. Less noticed was the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Plan the following day, which, as we know, launched the first supranational European institution, effectively the foundation stone of today’s European Union.
Prosperity underpins peace. Only last year, 122 veterans writing in The Independent warned that Brexit threatens peace in Europe: “NATO does not keep the peace in Europe – it keeps the peace for Europe. It is the EU that keeps peace in Europe, because when you trade, you do not fight”.
Academics concur. There is considerable evidence of an inverse relationship between (international) commerce and conflict (p. 31 E D Mansfield, Power, Trade and War). Unfortunately, Brexiters’ advocacy of free trade will in fact reduce trade. Our Government is now negotiating to increase trade friction and tariffs with our major trading partner, the EU. Studies conclude any new trade created outside the EU will be minimal - and will be dwarfed by the trade we are losing with the EU. If Brexiters really wanted to reduce protectionism in Europe, they should have advocated staying in the EU to change it, rather than, as now, carping from the sidelines.
After all, Winston Churchill, a hero to many Britons including our current Prime Minister, not only led us to victory in World War Two, but was also a keen advocate of a united Europe. Two of his visionary speeches, one in Zurich in 1946 and a second in The Hague in 1948, are particularly noteworthy. In Zurich, Churchill said “We must recreate the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe”.
Learning from the weaknesses and failures of democracy in Germany’s post-World War I Weimar Republic, Churchill knew post-WW2 Germany needed to be rebuilt, rather than be subject to retribution. My former organisation, Wilton Park, which I served for 23 years including a year as Director, was part of Churchill’s post-war vision to build the new Germany. What Wilton Park did so successfully was to re-educate German prisoners of war in the principles of democracy, in order that they could help build the new Germany (a model tragically forgotten for Iraq after the demise of Saddam Hussein). Today Germany enjoys one of the world’s most successful democracies, while in the UK, question marks surround the conduct of the Brexit referendum and its aftermath.
It was painful to commemorate the VE and Europe Days this year, particularly given the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit Day just three months - effectively the UK’s biggest retreat from Europe since Dunkirk. Churchill not only led us to victory in the war, he also foresaw how we should win the peace. It is a tragedy that so many opportunistic Brexit politicians, including those in today’s Government, have not remained faithful to his legacy and vision in order to safeguard the United Kingdom’s future peace and prosperity.
Nick Hopkinson is Vice-Chair of London4Europe. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily represent those of London4Europe or any other institution.