The Thirty Years War, 1618 to 1648, fought largely in the Holy Roman Empire (modern Germany and surrounding states), is estimated to have killed between eight and twelve million people. The English Civil War was responsible for the death of around 4% of the population, approximately 200,000 people, equivalent to more than two and a half million people today. A substantial factor in both wars was the irreconcilable conflict, touched off in 1517 by Martin Luther, between Catholicism and Protestantism.
Anyone unwise enough to allow themselves to be drawn into an argument about religion—from the very existence of God, to the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin—knows that such arguments are an exercise in futility. Religion is an act of faith; adherents come to Believe because of family, culture, intellectual enquiry, or just gut feeling. It is impossible to prove either that God exists, or that he/she does not exist; likewise, it is not possible to prove that one religion is more correct—or incorrect—than another.
And so to what amounts to a religious war raging in the United Kingdom regarding the rightness or wrongness of the decision to depart from the EU. Adherents of Remain can argue ‘till they’re blue in the mouth’ about the legion drawbacks of the decision (many of which are just coming to light): the clear financial cost, the danger to the high tax-paying financial sector, the intractable problem of the Irish border, travel, work, study, and residence in the EU, import duty on goods purchased from the EU, the slump in sales of shellfish to the EU, and so on. Leavers will say, ‘yes, that may all be so, but it is a small price to pay now that we are free from the unelected bureaucrats of the EU and the European Court of Justice!’ etc, etc. The UK is free at last to control its borders, free to make its laws, and free to levy taxes; the government is answerable only to its electorate and parliament.
There is no right or wrong here. You believe either that the price was too high, or you are convinced that given the freedoms now enjoyed, it was worth it.
What prompted these speculations has been my reading of the on-going civil war on Twitter between the pro- and anti-EU factions, with vicious and entirely uncompromising invective on both sides. There seems to be no common ground, and in what is/was a binary decision, this is hardly surprising.
But it seems to me that if a spirit of real constructive cooperation existed between the governments of the United Kingdom and those of the EU, many of the current difficulties could be overcome. For example, consider the intractable problem of the Irish border. The issue seems to be that the UK standards relating to chilled meat do not conform to those of the EU. Why? We have had conformity for more than forty years—has it changed? Is the freedom to impose our own standards really worth the consequences of not retaining the EU ones? And if the EU don’t trust us to impose their regulations, why not allow inspections. Has there been a change to ease a trade deal with America? Biden has said that that will not happen if there is any threat to the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
I suspect, as Cummings said, that policy is made on the hoof after Johnson looks at the leaders and letter pages of the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that is consistently and virulently anti-Europe. But this is not a game being played by the good old chaps on the Eton playing fields; problems on the Irish border have real consequences for real people. We need to stop rattling sabres and get down to some real jaw-jaw. The people of this country will not forgive the government and its ministers if Northern Ireland blows up again over this.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs