Prof. George Hewitt


As the final act is about to be played out in the tragi-comedy that is the insanity of Brexit, I offer quotes from two (in my opinion) enlightening and thus thought-provoking books that should have been read, studied and fully digested by all who advocate(d), or voted for, Brexit. The two books are: ‘This Blessed Plot. Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair’ (Macmillan, 1998), by the late Hugo Young, and ‘The Price of Victory’ (BBC, 1983), based on his Radio 4 series in the early 1980s by Michael Charlton (b.1927), whom I recall as perhaps the most cerebral of reporters/journalists on such programmes as the BBC’s flagship Panorama.

A. From Hugo Young
‘Victory [sc. in WWII] … produced decidedly less dynamic energy than did defeat. As a result, between 1947 and 1951, while British industrial production rose by a gratifying 30 per cent, France and Italy achieved 50 per cent, and Germany 300 percent. By the end of 1950, German production, after the devastation of the infrastructure, not to mention the controls imposed by the occupying powers, was back at pre-war levels. It is true that in that year the British economy, measured by gross national product per head of population, remained the second strongest in the world, with only the US ahead of it. But Germany and France were closing steadily.

‘This was known at the time. The trends and the statistics were no secret. But it wasn’t commonly apprehended, least of all in the quarters where it might have been most expected that the details would be closely studied, and the lesson honestly drawn. In government circles where, Keynes excepted, victory in the war had done more to forify the conceptions of the past than provoke new ones for the future, the evidence was received, as it were, blindfold. Anyone who saw behind it to the truth tended to be ostracised.

‘One man who did was Sir Henry Tizard, chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence. In 1949, he composed a telling minute, contesting the wisdom of the age. “We persist in regarding ourselves as a Great Power,” Tizard wrote, “capable of everything and only temporarily handicapped by economic difficulties. We are not a Great Power and never will be again. We are a great nation, but if we continue to behave like a Great Power we shall soon cease to be a great nation”.’ (Hugo Young pp.23-24).

B. From Michael Charlton
With reference to the UK’s decision not to engage seriously with the gathering at Messina in June 1955, which laid the foundations for European Economic Community (Common Market) 2 years later with the Treaty of Rome, we read:
‘The junior minister in the Foreign Office under Anthony Eden at that time, and with responsibility for European affairs, was [later Sir] Anthony Nutting.

‘NUTTING: I think it was the last and the most important bus that we missed. I think we could still have had the leadership of Europe if we had joined in Messina. I remember [Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri] Spaak saying to me some time afterwards (the Treaty of Rome had been signed and we were outside the European Economic Community), “You know, you have no conception of how much we needed your moral leadership in Europe. We were people all of whose countries had been occupied or had been (in the case of the Germans, and Italy) under a fascist government. It had been the patriotic duty of everybody during the war in those countries to oppose the governments, to oppose authority, to lie, to cheat, to do everything which it was your patriotic duty not to do. Suddenly to reverse, suddenly, when the enemy was defeated, to get out of the way of lying and cheating, withholding taxes, engaging in black-market activities and all that — it was a tremendous moral crisis in our countries. We felt that we needed the moral leadership of Britain who had never had to make these choices, never had to do these underhand things as their patriotic duty. You, who were untainted by this, you could have led us, you could have given us that essential leadership which we needed…”
‘ “But,” he said, “you missed the bus and then when you tried to come in afterwards because you realised that we’d got something good going that you wanted to join, well, then, of course, not unnaturally the price was rather high…”.’ (Michael Charlton p.167)

‘Sir Frederich Hoyer Millar, now Lord Inchyra, entered the diplomatic service in 1923. After serving as Ambassador in Germany from 1955, he came home in 1957 to take charge of the Foreign Office. He was Permanent Under-Secretary for the four years from 1957 to 1961, the years of “reappraisal” in which, after Messina and the funding of the Common Market and Suez, Britain made the turnabout in her historical stance.
‘INCHYRA: … I think it was fairly obvious by 1957 that our future lay in Europe, from a political point of view, but of course there were a great many economic difficulties to be overcome first. My own feeling was, and I became more and more convinced, that from a radical point of view one had to go in, otherwise one would be, relegated is the word, I think, to the second division. That is what I think is so wrong now. Everybody complains that they’re not getting something out. We never went in to get something out. We went in to prevent our being kicked down really to a lower league”.’ (Michael Charlton pp.302-4)

The final quote is from Jean Monnet, the French diplomat and political visionary who is regarded as the founding father of what is now the European Union, and it is how Charlton brought his book to a conclusion:
‘MONNET: I never understood why the British did not join this, which was so much in their interest. I came to the conclusion that it must have been because it was the price of victory — the illusion that you could maintain what you had, without change’. (Michael Charlton p.307).

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