In 2017, when the ugly spectre of populism stalks the planet once more, Britain’s most lauded wartime Prime Minister would be ashamed of a Conservative government that is leading Britain off its long stint on the world stage, while trying to hold a gun to the heads of our European neighbours.
By putting the country on course to leave the European Union, the single market, and even the customs union, Theresa May is turning her back on the post-war settlement that has brought peace and prosperity to the people of Europe for over 70 years.
In the face of the Prime Minister’s threats, political and business leaders in Europe are uniting behind an increasingly impenetrable position in which the survival of the European Union and the single market is prioritised over maintaining the current trading arrangements with the UK.
This impasse has put Theresa May’s destiny and the future of this country into the hands of an ignorant, capricious, amoral, authoritarian in the White House, the values of whom couldn’t be further removed from everything we’ve held dear for the past half a decade.
The Prime Minister’s charm offensive belies the desperation of her Government to get a feel-good free trade deal with new Trump administration, whatever the political cost. This cost could not only be felt in Britain, but across Europe.
Friday’s meeting saw the post-referendum stakes rise significantly, so much so that Brexit has become a proxy in a culture war between those who want to consign the post-war consensus to the flames and those of us who want to defend Western liberal democracy.
Britain’s submission to an insular and unpredictable White House administration can only intensify Putin’s efforts to realise his own imperialist fantasies in Eastern Europe and sow political discord across the continent. The upsurge of populism in Europe has provided him with plenty of political allies.
France’s National Front, Germany’s AfD, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, Italy’s Northern League, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Holland’s Party of Freedom, and Britain’s Ukip have all been, to different extents, capable of shifting the centre of political discourse to the right and more closely to Russia’s anti-Western, anti-globalisation outlook.
From the EU to Nato, these political insurgents are complicit in corroding trust in our institutions and weakening European political consensus. Most disquieting is the relish with which large sections of the British press and many of our politicians, particularly in the Conservative Party, treat this spectacle. This delight in the potential disintegration of our European neighbours belies something more sinister than a debate over Britain’s future trading partners.
When Winston Churchill visited Harrow School in 1941, he told its pupils to “never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense”.
Those of us who want to live in a world where equality, human rights and free speech are respected, where the use of torture is prohibited, and the fight against environmental degradation endures, should take note; a proxy war has begun and there’s everything to lose.
Seb Dance is Labour MEP for the London region
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