Telegraph commentator, Harry de Quetteville, posed a very good question in his newspaper column today (Tue 11th March 2014), asking "should Britain just accept that it is no longer a major power?", which seemed to link in very well with the recent remarks made by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, when he suggested that too many people in Britain today are backward looking, insular and seemingly desperate to revive a Britain that no longer exists. According to Mr Clegg and many of his fellow European Union supporters, casting a glimpse back to the former days of Empire, of international influence, industrial power, military security, economic independence and political statemanship would be a hollow exercise, when compared to looking forward to their own vision of a federally absorbed Britain, with minimal international influence, limited industrial capacity, shared defensive capabilities, a highly dependant economic future and people like themselves leading the way. Rather than wanting a Britain that is global, that is enterprising, independent, confident, principled and forthright, they would much rather have a Britain that is parochial, that is safe, malleable, dependent, reserved, unprincipled and timid.
All three major party leaders, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, David Cameron, along with most of their parliamentary colleagues would have us believe that Britain is now so diminished as a nation, as a significant world power, that we have little choice but to rely on the succour and security of the European Union, in order to add value, to add strength, to the British voice on the international stage. They choose to overlook the fact that the UK still remains a member of G7, G8, G20, IMF, NATO, OECD, WTO, Commonwealth of Nations, is a recognised nuclear power, remains a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has the 4th largest defence spending in the world, was the world's first industrialised nation, is the 6th largest economy in the world and is the world's 8th largest economy in terms of purchasing power. In addition to belonging to dozens of internationally recognised bodies, the UK still retains sovereignty over 17 territories outside of mainland Britain, which exist as British Overseas Territories and/or Crown Dependencies.
Despite being a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), in 2013 and in response to suggestions that Britain might reconsider its membership of the European Union, the German defence minister at the time, Thomas de Maiziere, publicly stated that he believed that a British withdrawal from the EU would almost inevitably harm the UK's standing in the world and have a highly negative effect on Britain's membership of NATO, even though the defence alliance and the EU are two entirely separate entities. As things stand the biggest single contributor to NATO remains the United States, while the likes of Britain, France, Germany, etc. are also significant contributors in terms of finance and manpower, although are inevitably restricted by various national budgetary constraints. However, for any German defence minister to suggest that Britain would, or could not meet her responsibilities to the alliance in any future military or humanitarian emergency is completely dishonest, a threat that one can only conclude is designed to influence future public discussions regarding the UK's future relationship with the EU, rather than with NATO itself. It is also worth pointing out of course that on occasion Britain has initiated military and humanitarian missions outside of the NATO alliance, with absolutely no recourse to its European and North American partners, so the prospect of "standing alone" in any future armed conflict would hardly be a cause of major concern for the UK. With some of the best trained, equipped and battle-hardened frontline troops in the world, despite their recent downsizing by Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg's coalition government, Britain's armed forces still present one of the most formidable military forces in the world today, with or without our NATO allies alongside.
In case anybody remains in any doubt about the innate entrepreneurialism, inventiveness, or competitiveness of the British people, it's worth pointing out that throughout our nation's history, Britons (including our ethnic Scottish, English, Irish and Welsh inventors), sometimes acting in partnership with other nationalities, sometimes acting alone, have been responsible for inventing or discovering a whole range of everyday things that the entire world now just take for granted. These include; the telephone, television, stereo, photography, DNA, hip replacements, radio telescope, vertical take-off aircraft, jet engines, jet aircraft, birth control pill, beta-blockers, hovercraft, hypodermic syringe, tranquilliser gun, silent burglar alarm, childproof bottle caps, collapsible baby buggy, wind-up radio, CT scanner, MRI scanner, DNA fingerprinting, DNA sequencing, stem cell uses, world wide web, Concorde aircraft, thermos flask, lawnmower, flat glass process, chocolate bars, electric telegraph, modern fire extinguisher, light bulb, pneumatic tyre, cats-eye road marking, carbon fibre, disc brakes, steam engine, steam turbine, soda water, reflecting telescope, marine chronometer, synthetic dye, passenger railways, linoleum, toothbrush, automatic kettle, glider, military tank, modern torpedo, safety bicycle, tension spoked wheel, cement, seed drill, spinning frame, Bessemer steel making, electric motor, hydraulic press, modern sewage system, programmable computer (Colossus), stainless steel, ATM bank machine, tin can, electric vacuum cleaner, waterproof material, penicillin, cloning, IVF, radar, cordite, corkscrews, depth charges, electro-magnets, fax machine, power loom, periscope, polyester, rubber bands, submarine, umbrella, and the universal joint.
Even today and despite the often widely held opinion that Britain is a much less important place in the world, in terms of the things that we produce and the services we provide, the UK still remains a world leader in areas like the creative industries (architecture, film, media, the arts, literature, etc.), aerospace, military shipbuilding, motor sport, music, technology, agriculture, financial services, sport, tourism, petro-chemicals, research and development, food manufacturing, engine technology, brewing, automotive (Landrover, etc), insurance services, medical research, hotels and catering, pharmaceuticals and information technology.
The top earning exports from the UK include; machinery and mechanical equipment, fuels, oils and substances, road vehicles and parts, electrical equipment and components, pharmaceuticals, precious stones and jewellery, optical equipment and apparatus, organic chemicals, aircraft and space vehicles, plastics and plastic products, as well as engineering products (valves, etc.)
Where Britain falls down, fails if you will, is when it comes to defending our own national interests, our historic industries, our traditional trading partners, thereby forcing us to rely on other non-traditional countries for supplies of basic resources, or finished manufactured products. Agriculture, fishing, steel-making, coal mining and ship-building, are just some of the historically important heavy industries that have largely been lost to the British economy; and to those hundreds of thousands of British workers who might have expected to find viable full-time employment within them.
Even though in 1973 our politicians promised us much, in reality, membership of the EEC, now the EU, has delivered very little in terms of real long term benefits to our country. Rather than taking full advantage of our own pre-existing imperial friendships to access historic overseas marketplaces with their 2.3 billion citizens in the Commonwealth of Nations, we have somehow managed to anchor ourselves to a continental corpse that is only a fraction of the Commonwealth's size; and that is becoming less important to overall global trade by the very day. At the same time, with the European Union increasingly being dominated and driven forward by a smaller and smaller number of powerful northern nations, so it becomes less and less democratic for the 500 million citizens who entirely rely on the corrupt and bloated corpse. Surely any British politician who would willingly advocate our continued membership of this fetid organisation, or even greater involvement, cannot be said to be acting in the best interests of our nation, if they would argue for "more Europe", rather than "much less Europe".
Despite how diminished Britain might be thought to have become over the course of the past 40 years, beneath the thin veneer of dilapidation, destitution and dog-earedness that our political elite have brought about through their own personal vanity and political ideologies, there still remains the Britain that forged and built an empire, because the people remain fundamentally the same. Our generous nature, our tolerance towards others, our stoicism in the face of adversity, our quirky traditional humour, our pride in our unique culture and traditions, all of these things are the result of our shared 2000 years of history; that have helped to make us the people that we are. It would be beyond belief if we were to simply settle for being part of a second rate economic, social and political experiment like the EU, when we could do so much better on our own.
It's a complete fallacy for the likes of Nick Clegg, David Cameron, or Ed Miliband to claim that we couldn't manage on our own, if we were to withdraw from the European Union. Our world beating industries, would still be world beating industries; and people would still want to buy their ideas, their products, whether we're in the EU or not. Our Aerospace industries would still design, build and sell fast jets to the world's air forces, whether we're in the EU or not. Our Petro-chemical industries would still continue to develop new products, new processes that other countries want to buy and export. Why? Because Britain is absolutely bleeding brilliant at producing high-end products that people around the world want to buy, that's why!
Consider also that out of the European Union, our own farmers will be released from the bureaucratic nightmare that originates from Brussels. Out of the EU, our traditional fishing grounds would be restored allowing British fisherman to carefully exploit our natural resources; and maybe help rebuild some of those communities that were blighted by the EU imposed fish quotas. Rather than rely on foreign fuel sources, outside of the EU, maybe we could look at using our own native resources of coal, shale gas, renewables, etc. that the British householder and business owner can actually afford. Outside of the European Union we can develop some of those long lost trading links with our Commonwealth cousins that we should never have surrendered in the first place. Outside of the EU, Britain can re-take its proper place at the high table of the various international bodies, rather than having to defer our position and our historic rank to the EU's entirely invented diplomatic corp. Outside of the EU, British representatives would speak exclusively for the British people. And who knows, outside of the European Union, the British people might just start to find that they like being in charge of their own national destiny again; and who knows just where that might lead, to the past way of doing things perhaps?