This coming week, December the eleventh to be precise the United Kingdom and the European Union cross another major watershed. Prime Minister Theresa May will face a vote in Parliament on Tuesday on her proposed and already agreed to by the European leadership plan to exit the European Union and set out on its own for the first time in almost half a century in the sea of globalization and hyper competitive trade and job displacing innovation that now characterizes the world economy.
I first encountered the notion of the European common market and Britain‘s eventual role in it as a high school student in Winnipeg in 1962. I was fascinated by the notion that a noble experiment in transcending war and nationalist excesses that had led to the catastrophic war that had cost so many millions of lives and affected so many people in my own community was being constructed by democratic idealist leaders in continental Europe. I interviewed a professor at the University of Manitoba who specialized on the emerging common market and who kindly shared some of his written research with me. His name was Mark Doctoroff. When I first arrived in Britain as a visitor in 1968 the issue of Britain joining the common market was a hot topic and London already a very fashionable sophisticated capital city -not surprising since it dated back to Roman times. It was still the cultural capital of the English speaking world only equaled or bested in the eyes of some by New York .
Much has changed in the fifty years since. Mrs. Pistor‘s bed and breakfast near Victoria station vanished long ago, the United dairy vending machine near Russell square is no longer and six old pence will get you nowhere on the underground. But Britain remains somewhat faded but still grand if not great. Ted Heath‘s government was elected over Labour‘s leader Harold Wilson in 1970 and during his term he negotiated Britain‘s entry into the common Market, the route no longer being blocked by the veto of General De Gaulle the French President. Britain‘s membership was confirmed January first, 1973. Opinion about its membership has always been divided in both the Labour Party and the Conservative party ever since.
People like Enoch Powell , originally an academic and very conservative parliamentarian in the early days were essentially xenophobic nationalists and very hostile to immigration. Boris Johnson and other contemporary Brexiteers are pale imitations of Powell but they are implacable opponents of the European Union. Other tories including Theresa May seem to be reluctant opponents of membership who would, if they could, renegotiate the terms of membership. Within Labour it was the more centrist wing of the party that supported membership while somewhat strangely most of the Left initially opposed it because of the conservative monetarist bias of the European central bank, distrust of European technocrats and the lack of regulation of globalization and its impact upon workers and their unions.
All of these debates and conflicts have simmered for years and they are likely to be reflected in the vote called for by the House of Commons next Tuesday which looks increasingly like May will lose.If she does there is serious talk of holding a second referendum with the hope that now the negative details of leaving are known a majority of citizens will vote to remain.
Much is in the balance whatever the outcome.
As my Latin teacher liked to point out Hic Britannia Britannia insulam est ! and yet we know in the contemporary world John Donne‘s No Man is an Island has never been truer.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.