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Episode
203

Brexit: Part 1

Oct 19, 2021
Politics
-
28
minutes
Great Britain
European history
Politics
UK politics
Life in the UK
The British Empire

In Part One of our three-part series on Brexit, we look at the history of the complicated relationship between the UK and Europe.

From the arrival of The Romans in 55BC through to fighting with and against Europe through the past two millennia, we ask ourselves whether Britain was ever really part of Europe.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part one of a three part series on Brexit.

[00:00:28] It is, to state the obvious, a big, emotional, complicated, confusing, and most importantly, ongoing subject, and one that is both fascinating and nauseating

[00:00:41] So, to take on this mammoth topic we are going to split it into three parts.

[00:00:48] In part one, today’s episode, we are going to reflect on Britain’s relationship with Europe throughout history, which we will discover is somewhat peculiar, one of a neighbour, partner, and sometimes friend.

[00:01:04] This will take us up to just before the decision to hold a Brexit referendum, a decision that was taken in 2015, with the actual vote happening a year later.

[00:01:15] Then, in part two we will look at the Brexit campaign itself, diving deeper into the reasons that people voted for and against Brexit, how the campaigns were actually fought, and some of the theories about why the country ultimately voted for Brexit.

[00:01:34] And then in part three, the final part, we are going to look at what has happened in the five and a half years since the UK voted to leave, how it compares to the predictions of what would happen, and think about what the future might hold for Brexit Britain.

[00:01:52] We have got a lot to get through, so let’s jump right in.

[00:01:56] Before we dive into Britain’s relationship with Europe over time, let me start with a simple but provocative question.

[00:02:05] Is the UK in Europe?

[00:02:08] I’m not talking about the EU here, I’m talking about the continent “Europe”?

[00:02:13] Well, yes, you’d probably say. 

[00:02:16] Technically it is. 

[00:02:17] But if you asked this question on the streets of the UK, you might get a different answer, or at least people might take some time to think about their answer. 

[00:02:28] Certainly, you would have fewer people in the UK saying that the UK was part of Europe than if you went to France, Italy or Germany and asked the inhabitants whether those countries were part of Europe.

[00:02:42] The UK has always had this slightly peculiar relationship with Europe where the body of water that separates the UK from France, which is as little as 31 kilometres wide at its shortest point, creates a sharp division between the UK and the rest of the continent.

[00:03:03] If we go back thousands of years, 8,000 years ago to be precise, Britain was actually part of the European continent, joined to France, Belgium and the Netherlands through an area called Doggerland, which is now part of the North Sea. 

[00:03:20] Then, approximately 8,000 years ago sea levels rose, partly due to a massive tsunami and melting glaciers, and Britain was forever cut off from the rest of the continent.

[00:03:34] Being an island has some evident advantages when it comes to self-defense, but these advantages were no match for the Roman army, the first permanent European arrivals to Britain, in 55BC.

[00:03:50] After returning for a full invasion of Britain 100 years later, the Romans ruled Britain, with the exception of Scotland, for almost 400 years. 

[00:04:01] This period was, to all intents and purposes, relatively harmonious. The Romans brought technological advances such as the flushing toilet, good food and wine, Christianity and bureaucracy to an island that had lived under pagan religions and with a distinct lack of technological development.

[00:04:23] Strangely enough, after the Romans left Britain in 400 AD, the local inhabitants simply went back to living almost as they had been before the Romans arrived, as if the previous 400 years and all of the great technological inventions they had brought had never happened.

[00:04:44] Now, fast forward to our next important encounter with Europe, and this is an encounter that shows the confusing and at times contradictory relationship that Britons have with Europe.

[00:04:59] In 1066, William the Conqueror, a Norman Duke, from modern-day northern France, invaded England and became King, King William I of England.

[00:05:10] While you might think that he is looked down upon as a French invader, someone who cruelly attacked the country and killed the true English king, he isn’t. Not at all.

[00:05:23] He is remembered fondly, and the Normans are remembered as having brought with them some great additions to Britain: additions to the language, to the food, to architecture, to government, to the legal system and indeed that very French thing of fine manners and fine living. 

[00:05:44] It’s in many ways ironic that William the Conqueror is remembered as a great British king and ruler, much more fondly remembered than many British-born kings, but he was, essentially, a Frenchman and certainly an illegal and, when he first arrived, unwelcome immigrant. 

[00:06:03] You’ll see this as a theme throughout the episode, and in the rest of this mini-series - Brits love to blame Europe, and Europeans for things they don’t like, but tend to forget about the benefits Europeans have brought, and that one of the most important monarchs in British history was from Europe, continental Europe that is.

[00:06:28] Now, let’s jump ahead a few hundred years to our next big event in UK-European relations, and in fact the first time that Britain really broke with Europe: The Reformation.

[00:06:42] In 1534, almost 500 years after William the Conqueror had arrived on English shores and brought Britain closer to Europe, Henry VIII decided to break away from the Catholic Church and declared himself to be Head of the Protestant Church of England.

[00:07:02] One can even make the comparison between the European Union and the Catholic Church here. 

[00:07:07] Both powerful institutions that have direct and indirect control over much of the European continent, institutions that unite people across the continent. 

[00:07:19] But Henry did not want to live under the rules and regulations of a foreign authority, especially when that foreign authority wouldn’t let him divorce his wife.

[00:07:31] Henry VIII is viewed by many, including the famous historian David Starkey, as being the first Eurosceptic, the first person to question whether having such a close relationship with Europe was actually beneficial for Britain, or whether it should try to fend for itself.

[00:07:52] Indeed, Starkey writes that “The xenophobic, insular politics Henry VIII created have helped define English history for the past five centuries.” 

[00:08:05] As with Brexit, nobody had ever broken from the Catholic Church before. And as with Brexit, emotions ran high, it was an emotional subject. 

[00:08:17] As we’ll discover in episode two, and like a religious belief, especially the vote to leave the European Union was an emotional one, made about emotions and beliefs rather than anything else. 

[00:08:33] Now, as we move into semi-modern history, the next element to discuss is the period of European continental warfare, where the British armed forces fought with and against various European powers for much of the 18th and 19th centuries.

[00:08:52] The most important of these wars, at least when it comes to understanding Britain’s relationship with Europe in the context of Brexit, were the Napoleonic Wars, from 1803 to 1815.

[00:09:07] The British army had proved itself to be a formidable fighting force, but it was its navy that was even more powerful. Of course, if you are an island then having powerful sea forces comes in very useful.

[00:09:24] But Britain had met its match with the French military genius of Napoleon.

[00:09:30] Napoleon’s ambitions were vast, both personally and in terms of his vision for Europe.

[00:09:37] Indeed, in 1805 he called for a “European legal system, a European appeal court, a common currency, the same weights and measures, the same laws.” 

[00:09:49] Does that sound familiar to you?

[00:09:52] Napoleon’s desire to rule over Europe was a great threat to British commercial and imperial ambitions

[00:10:00] Great Britain had been growing fabulously wealthy from trade and colonialism, and the idea of a united European continent to rival British power posed a great problem to Britain’s global ambitions. Indeed, the only real reason Britain fought in Europe at all during the 18th and 19th centuries was because of threats to its global trade network.

[00:10:28] Fortunately for Britain, Napoleon’s ambitions proved to be too great, or perhaps the Russian winter proved to be too cold, and he was eventually defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. 

[00:10:43] The victory here is remembered in Britain as a British victory, of the British army against the French, but this is certainly selective memory: it was a European alliance, and in fact less than a quarter of the soldiers fighting against Napoleon were British, with the rest coming from an alliance of different European countries.

[00:11:08] So, that’s another example of selective memory when it comes to Europe.

[00:11:13] After the Battle of Waterloo, Britain’s focus turned away from Europe and towards the rest of the world, where it was quickly assembling an empire that would at its peak cover one quarter of the land on Earth.

[00:11:28] Why limit yourself to Europe, Brits thought, when you could claim the riches of India, China, and East Africa?

[00:11:37] Again, you might recognise a similar line of argument later on in this mini-series.

[00:11:43] Another important consideration for Britain was what was happening across The Atlantic, in the newly formed United States of America.

[00:11:53] In 1890 the US economy overtook Britain’s as the largest in the world, and Britain’s attention was far more focussed on trade with this important non-European ally

[00:12:07] When war broke out in 1914, everything changed for Britain. 

[00:12:13] The complex system of alliances meant that British forces joined the war effort, after an almost 100 year period of what historians have called a “splendid isolation” from Europe.

[00:12:28] And although the First World War ended after four years, this was only really a temporary hiatus, with the eventual peace in Europe only coming in 1945 at the end of World War II.

[00:12:42] Let’s reflect quickly on the importance of the world wars for the British relationship with Europe, before moving on to what this all means.

[00:12:51] While one can argue whether these wars were actually avoidable, both in general and for Britain, they happened, Britain joined them, and around 1.3 million British people were killed during both wars.

[00:13:08] It was, again to state the obvious, a tragic and horrendous period in history, but Britain suffered significantly less than much of continental Europe, especially Russia, Germany, and France. 

[00:13:21] The suffering wasn’t just in terms of losing fewer citizens.

[00:13:27] British towns and the British countryside escaped relatively unscathed, even after World War II. 

[00:13:34] Brits do love talking about surviving The Blitz, the bombing of the UK by the Nazi air force between 1940 and 1941. It did result in the deaths of around 40,000 civilians and the destruction of around 2 million flats and houses, but compared to the destruction wrought upon France, Germany or Russia, where much of the actual fighting of World War II was taking place, Great Britain escaped relatively unscathed.

[00:14:07] Although Britain might have suffered less than many European countries in World War II, it was now evident that it couldn’t simply ignore Europe.

[00:14:17] After all, it was only 31 kilometres away, people can literally swim from Britain to Europe, and problems in Europe proved themselves quickly to be problems also for Britain.

[00:14:32] In Europe there was a sense that European countries needed to form closer alliances, to form tighter bonds, to prevent the possibility of this kind of catastrophic war ever happening again.

[00:14:47] Britain, and especially its wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, shared this sentiment, it felt the same way, but did not feel that Britain should play a part in this new European alliance.

[00:15:02] The fact that Britain had escaped relatively unscathed from the war, and that it had strong alliances and relationships with non-European powers, in particular the US, Australia, India and South Africa, was viewed as confirming that Britain’s approach of “splendid isolation”, of not being too closely involved in European affairs was correct.

[00:15:29] Britain had also been fighting, in its mind, not just for Europe, but for the whole world, including its vast collection of colonies.

[00:15:39] To quote Winston Churchill, “We are fighting to save the whole world from the pestilence of Nazi tyranny and in defence of all that is sacred to man.” 

[00:15:50] So, again, why tie yourself too closely to Europe, when you have much wider, global ambitions and responsibilities?

[00:16:00] Churchill was, however, a strong supporter of The Council of Europe, which was arguably the beginning of the European Coal and Steel Community, the post-war agreement between France and Germany which formed the basis of what became the Common Market or European Economic Community [EEC] in 1957, and later the EU.

[00:16:25] Churchill simply thought that Britain didn’t need to be in it.

[00:16:30] It had influence after all through other post-war organisations, such as NATO, the World Bank and the United Nations. 

[00:16:39] Britain was determined to remain a significant power through these organisations and its international network. 

[00:16:47] Above all, it valued its “special relationship” with the United States of America. 

[00:16:53] This expression of UK-US ties, which was coined by Churchill, is still in use today, as are Britain’s close links with the USA, although the relationship is a lot more special and important to Britain than it is to the US.

[00:17:11] But post-war Britain was not the booming economy that Churchill had hoped it would be.

[00:17:17] Growth was stagnant, and British power and influence was decreasing.

[00:17:23] It was even abandoned by its most powerful ally, the US, during the Suez Crisis of 1957, causing it to rethink how special the special relationship really was.

[00:17:38] Meanwhile, across the Channel in Europe, economies were springing back. France, Germany, and even Italy were enjoying faster rates of growth, in part aided by The Marshall Plan.

[00:17:51] What’s more, the EEC, the European Economic Community, or simply the European Community, started to have more global influence and an increasingly powerful voice on the world stage.

[00:18:06] Brits thought, well, perhaps we should be part of that after all, and twice during the 1960s the UK tried to join the European Community. 

[00:18:18] Unfortunately the UK’s advances were rejected by the French President Charles de Gaulle, who vetoed the UK’s application, partly because he feared that it would bring an American influence on the decidedly European EEC.

[00:18:35] When De Gaulle was replaced by Georges Pompidou, the UK was finally accepted into the EEC in 1973. 

[00:18:45] In the UK this event was not seen as a great cause for celebration, but was rather accepted, grudgingly, as a necessity. 

[00:18:56] There were some familiar concerns about what would happen when the UK joined the EEC, which remember is the precursor, the organisation that came before, the EU.

[00:19:08] For example, there were stories about housewives worrying that their food prices would skyrocket, that there would be large jumps in prices, when the UK joined the EEC.

[00:19:20] It turned out that being part of the EEC wasn’t all that bad, and two years after the UK joined, there was a referendum on membership, essentially the first Brexit vote.

[00:19:34] In this vote, people were overwhelmingly happy with EEC membership, and 67% of people voted to remain. 

[00:19:44] It should of course be noted that the EEC in 1975 was a very different beast to the EU in 2016:

[00:19:53] Before the UK joined the EEC in 1973, there were only six countries: France, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg.

[00:20:04] The UK, Denmark and Ireland all joined in 1973, making it a group of nine. 

[00:20:12] Although there was talk within the EEC of gradually moving towards a political and economic union, the group that the UK joined was based on trade and the UK‘s reason for joining was to do with the advantages that being able to trade easily with these other countries brought. 

[00:20:32] It was simply a marriage of economic convenience - it was a community based on trade, not a real “union”.

[00:20:41] The EU that the UK voted to leave in 2016 was, of course, greatly changed.

[00:20:48] There were 28 countries, including the UK. Membership had been expanded significantly, especially further south and east to countries that the UK had historically had less contact with and viewed with a certain scepticism

[00:21:05] It had moved from a community based on trade to a political and partially monetary union, through the Euro, the common currency. 

[00:21:16] 26 European countries had also signed the Schengen Agreement, allowing free movement of people throughout Europe.

[00:21:24] Importantly, the UK didn’t join the Euro and didn’t agree to Schengen. 

[00:21:30] It had one foot in Europe, and one foot out. It was never fully in, but it still wanted influence.

[00:21:38] Now, we’ll talk more about the feelings of British people towards Europe and towards the EU in the next episode, but if we have to summarise the relationship that the UK as a country has had with Europe over the years, it has been one of semi-detachment.

[00:21:57] Perhaps imagine a village with a group of houses in the centre. All of the people who live there leave their doors open, because they know and trust their neighbours. If anyone runs out of sugar, they know they can just go to their neighbour’s house and ask for a cup. They all have their differences, but everyone has chosen to live here because life is better for everyone.

[00:22:23] On the edge of this village, however, there’s a big house with a large garden and a fence. The house is in the village, and the inhabitants of the house now come to village meetings, because they want to make sure the village is kept clean and tidy, and they also want to be able to borrow sugar if they run out, but they lock their doors, they don’t allow other village children to come and play, and there is a certain sense of superiority that they feel towards the rest of the village, which is in part due to the fact that they have lots of friends in other villages, and some powerful friends too.

[00:23:06] The analogy is, of course, imperfect, but it’s a useful way of understanding the complicated relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe.

[00:23:17] So, to sum things up, what are the defining features of Britain’s relationship with Europe?

[00:23:24] Firstly, geography. Being an island makes it easier to do things like close your borders, and it also cuts you off from the rest of the continent in a very practical way.

[00:23:37] Secondly, and semi-related to the geographical point, Britain sees itself as a very different country to most European countries. Its colonial past, the fact that it is the home to the world’s dominant language, and that it has many close relationships with non-European countries means that it certainly is less European than the major continental European countries.

[00:24:03] Thirdly, a sense of reluctance about foreign rule, and a tradition of breaking with Europe. Henry VIII did it, Britain fought against Napoleon, a man with pan-European aims, and again against Hitler, a man with at least European and probably global aims.

[00:24:24] Fourth, a real lack of introspection, and a memory loss about how closely tied to Europe, in many ways, the UK actually is. From the arrival of William the Conqueror to fighting alongside European countries for much of the UK’s history, Brits simply aren’t very good at remembering this.

[00:24:47] And finally, this reluctance of being part of Europe. As when the UK joined the EEC in 1973, there was this idea that it didn’t want to join it, but it had to. It decided that the benefits of membership outweighed the disadvantages, and it took the decision to join.

[00:25:08] The result of all of this was that, on June 23rd, of 2016, 52% of votes in the referendum, 17,410,742 people, decided that the benefits no longer outweighed the disadvantages, and the country voted to leave, to follow in the footsteps of Henry VIII, to reclaim its sovereignty, and to forge what it hoped would be a brighter future, yet again removed from Europe.

[00:25:42] And that, the actual campaign for Brexit, and the Brexit vote, is what we’ll cover in part two of the mini-series.

[00:25:50] There’s an excellent quote from a Stanford professor called Ian Morris that sums up how Britain’s relationship with Europe has changed over the years, and this is a fitting way to end this episode. 

[00:26:04] Morris writes: "From about 6000 BC through AD 1700, Britain’s big challenge was always how to resist domination by the continent. From 1700 through 1945, it was how to prevent any single power from dominating the continent while Britain expanded overseas. Since the 1940s, it has been how to walk a fine line between the giant economies of North America and Europe. As the 21st century goes on, Britain will face a still more complicated task as new great economies in China and India gain on the old Western powerhouses. Pulling up the drawbridge never has been, and never will be, an option."

[00:26:56] OK then, that is it for part one of this three-part mini-series on Brexit, where we covered the history of the UK’s relationship with the EU. 

[00:27:06] It is a really fascinating topic, and is very helpful for understanding what comes next, and for giving you an insight into some of the factors that influenced the Brexit vote.

[00:27:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:23] In particular, for the Europeans among you, what other important elements of the UK-European relationship are there? In your relationships with people from the UK, have you seen some of these characteristics come out?

[00:27:38] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:42] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:51] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:57] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part one of a three part series on Brexit.

[00:00:28] It is, to state the obvious, a big, emotional, complicated, confusing, and most importantly, ongoing subject, and one that is both fascinating and nauseating

[00:00:41] So, to take on this mammoth topic we are going to split it into three parts.

[00:00:48] In part one, today’s episode, we are going to reflect on Britain’s relationship with Europe throughout history, which we will discover is somewhat peculiar, one of a neighbour, partner, and sometimes friend.

[00:01:04] This will take us up to just before the decision to hold a Brexit referendum, a decision that was taken in 2015, with the actual vote happening a year later.

[00:01:15] Then, in part two we will look at the Brexit campaign itself, diving deeper into the reasons that people voted for and against Brexit, how the campaigns were actually fought, and some of the theories about why the country ultimately voted for Brexit.

[00:01:34] And then in part three, the final part, we are going to look at what has happened in the five and a half years since the UK voted to leave, how it compares to the predictions of what would happen, and think about what the future might hold for Brexit Britain.

[00:01:52] We have got a lot to get through, so let’s jump right in.

[00:01:56] Before we dive into Britain’s relationship with Europe over time, let me start with a simple but provocative question.

[00:02:05] Is the UK in Europe?

[00:02:08] I’m not talking about the EU here, I’m talking about the continent “Europe”?

[00:02:13] Well, yes, you’d probably say. 

[00:02:16] Technically it is. 

[00:02:17] But if you asked this question on the streets of the UK, you might get a different answer, or at least people might take some time to think about their answer. 

[00:02:28] Certainly, you would have fewer people in the UK saying that the UK was part of Europe than if you went to France, Italy or Germany and asked the inhabitants whether those countries were part of Europe.

[00:02:42] The UK has always had this slightly peculiar relationship with Europe where the body of water that separates the UK from France, which is as little as 31 kilometres wide at its shortest point, creates a sharp division between the UK and the rest of the continent.

[00:03:03] If we go back thousands of years, 8,000 years ago to be precise, Britain was actually part of the European continent, joined to France, Belgium and the Netherlands through an area called Doggerland, which is now part of the North Sea. 

[00:03:20] Then, approximately 8,000 years ago sea levels rose, partly due to a massive tsunami and melting glaciers, and Britain was forever cut off from the rest of the continent.

[00:03:34] Being an island has some evident advantages when it comes to self-defense, but these advantages were no match for the Roman army, the first permanent European arrivals to Britain, in 55BC.

[00:03:50] After returning for a full invasion of Britain 100 years later, the Romans ruled Britain, with the exception of Scotland, for almost 400 years. 

[00:04:01] This period was, to all intents and purposes, relatively harmonious. The Romans brought technological advances such as the flushing toilet, good food and wine, Christianity and bureaucracy to an island that had lived under pagan religions and with a distinct lack of technological development.

[00:04:23] Strangely enough, after the Romans left Britain in 400 AD, the local inhabitants simply went back to living almost as they had been before the Romans arrived, as if the previous 400 years and all of the great technological inventions they had brought had never happened.

[00:04:44] Now, fast forward to our next important encounter with Europe, and this is an encounter that shows the confusing and at times contradictory relationship that Britons have with Europe.

[00:04:59] In 1066, William the Conqueror, a Norman Duke, from modern-day northern France, invaded England and became King, King William I of England.

[00:05:10] While you might think that he is looked down upon as a French invader, someone who cruelly attacked the country and killed the true English king, he isn’t. Not at all.

[00:05:23] He is remembered fondly, and the Normans are remembered as having brought with them some great additions to Britain: additions to the language, to the food, to architecture, to government, to the legal system and indeed that very French thing of fine manners and fine living. 

[00:05:44] It’s in many ways ironic that William the Conqueror is remembered as a great British king and ruler, much more fondly remembered than many British-born kings, but he was, essentially, a Frenchman and certainly an illegal and, when he first arrived, unwelcome immigrant. 

[00:06:03] You’ll see this as a theme throughout the episode, and in the rest of this mini-series - Brits love to blame Europe, and Europeans for things they don’t like, but tend to forget about the benefits Europeans have brought, and that one of the most important monarchs in British history was from Europe, continental Europe that is.

[00:06:28] Now, let’s jump ahead a few hundred years to our next big event in UK-European relations, and in fact the first time that Britain really broke with Europe: The Reformation.

[00:06:42] In 1534, almost 500 years after William the Conqueror had arrived on English shores and brought Britain closer to Europe, Henry VIII decided to break away from the Catholic Church and declared himself to be Head of the Protestant Church of England.

[00:07:02] One can even make the comparison between the European Union and the Catholic Church here. 

[00:07:07] Both powerful institutions that have direct and indirect control over much of the European continent, institutions that unite people across the continent. 

[00:07:19] But Henry did not want to live under the rules and regulations of a foreign authority, especially when that foreign authority wouldn’t let him divorce his wife.

[00:07:31] Henry VIII is viewed by many, including the famous historian David Starkey, as being the first Eurosceptic, the first person to question whether having such a close relationship with Europe was actually beneficial for Britain, or whether it should try to fend for itself.

[00:07:52] Indeed, Starkey writes that “The xenophobic, insular politics Henry VIII created have helped define English history for the past five centuries.” 

[00:08:05] As with Brexit, nobody had ever broken from the Catholic Church before. And as with Brexit, emotions ran high, it was an emotional subject. 

[00:08:17] As we’ll discover in episode two, and like a religious belief, especially the vote to leave the European Union was an emotional one, made about emotions and beliefs rather than anything else. 

[00:08:33] Now, as we move into semi-modern history, the next element to discuss is the period of European continental warfare, where the British armed forces fought with and against various European powers for much of the 18th and 19th centuries.

[00:08:52] The most important of these wars, at least when it comes to understanding Britain’s relationship with Europe in the context of Brexit, were the Napoleonic Wars, from 1803 to 1815.

[00:09:07] The British army had proved itself to be a formidable fighting force, but it was its navy that was even more powerful. Of course, if you are an island then having powerful sea forces comes in very useful.

[00:09:24] But Britain had met its match with the French military genius of Napoleon.

[00:09:30] Napoleon’s ambitions were vast, both personally and in terms of his vision for Europe.

[00:09:37] Indeed, in 1805 he called for a “European legal system, a European appeal court, a common currency, the same weights and measures, the same laws.” 

[00:09:49] Does that sound familiar to you?

[00:09:52] Napoleon’s desire to rule over Europe was a great threat to British commercial and imperial ambitions

[00:10:00] Great Britain had been growing fabulously wealthy from trade and colonialism, and the idea of a united European continent to rival British power posed a great problem to Britain’s global ambitions. Indeed, the only real reason Britain fought in Europe at all during the 18th and 19th centuries was because of threats to its global trade network.

[00:10:28] Fortunately for Britain, Napoleon’s ambitions proved to be too great, or perhaps the Russian winter proved to be too cold, and he was eventually defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. 

[00:10:43] The victory here is remembered in Britain as a British victory, of the British army against the French, but this is certainly selective memory: it was a European alliance, and in fact less than a quarter of the soldiers fighting against Napoleon were British, with the rest coming from an alliance of different European countries.

[00:11:08] So, that’s another example of selective memory when it comes to Europe.

[00:11:13] After the Battle of Waterloo, Britain’s focus turned away from Europe and towards the rest of the world, where it was quickly assembling an empire that would at its peak cover one quarter of the land on Earth.

[00:11:28] Why limit yourself to Europe, Brits thought, when you could claim the riches of India, China, and East Africa?

[00:11:37] Again, you might recognise a similar line of argument later on in this mini-series.

[00:11:43] Another important consideration for Britain was what was happening across The Atlantic, in the newly formed United States of America.

[00:11:53] In 1890 the US economy overtook Britain’s as the largest in the world, and Britain’s attention was far more focussed on trade with this important non-European ally

[00:12:07] When war broke out in 1914, everything changed for Britain. 

[00:12:13] The complex system of alliances meant that British forces joined the war effort, after an almost 100 year period of what historians have called a “splendid isolation” from Europe.

[00:12:28] And although the First World War ended after four years, this was only really a temporary hiatus, with the eventual peace in Europe only coming in 1945 at the end of World War II.

[00:12:42] Let’s reflect quickly on the importance of the world wars for the British relationship with Europe, before moving on to what this all means.

[00:12:51] While one can argue whether these wars were actually avoidable, both in general and for Britain, they happened, Britain joined them, and around 1.3 million British people were killed during both wars.

[00:13:08] It was, again to state the obvious, a tragic and horrendous period in history, but Britain suffered significantly less than much of continental Europe, especially Russia, Germany, and France. 

[00:13:21] The suffering wasn’t just in terms of losing fewer citizens.

[00:13:27] British towns and the British countryside escaped relatively unscathed, even after World War II. 

[00:13:34] Brits do love talking about surviving The Blitz, the bombing of the UK by the Nazi air force between 1940 and 1941. It did result in the deaths of around 40,000 civilians and the destruction of around 2 million flats and houses, but compared to the destruction wrought upon France, Germany or Russia, where much of the actual fighting of World War II was taking place, Great Britain escaped relatively unscathed.

[00:14:07] Although Britain might have suffered less than many European countries in World War II, it was now evident that it couldn’t simply ignore Europe.

[00:14:17] After all, it was only 31 kilometres away, people can literally swim from Britain to Europe, and problems in Europe proved themselves quickly to be problems also for Britain.

[00:14:32] In Europe there was a sense that European countries needed to form closer alliances, to form tighter bonds, to prevent the possibility of this kind of catastrophic war ever happening again.

[00:14:47] Britain, and especially its wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, shared this sentiment, it felt the same way, but did not feel that Britain should play a part in this new European alliance.

[00:15:02] The fact that Britain had escaped relatively unscathed from the war, and that it had strong alliances and relationships with non-European powers, in particular the US, Australia, India and South Africa, was viewed as confirming that Britain’s approach of “splendid isolation”, of not being too closely involved in European affairs was correct.

[00:15:29] Britain had also been fighting, in its mind, not just for Europe, but for the whole world, including its vast collection of colonies.

[00:15:39] To quote Winston Churchill, “We are fighting to save the whole world from the pestilence of Nazi tyranny and in defence of all that is sacred to man.” 

[00:15:50] So, again, why tie yourself too closely to Europe, when you have much wider, global ambitions and responsibilities?

[00:16:00] Churchill was, however, a strong supporter of The Council of Europe, which was arguably the beginning of the European Coal and Steel Community, the post-war agreement between France and Germany which formed the basis of what became the Common Market or European Economic Community [EEC] in 1957, and later the EU.

[00:16:25] Churchill simply thought that Britain didn’t need to be in it.

[00:16:30] It had influence after all through other post-war organisations, such as NATO, the World Bank and the United Nations. 

[00:16:39] Britain was determined to remain a significant power through these organisations and its international network. 

[00:16:47] Above all, it valued its “special relationship” with the United States of America. 

[00:16:53] This expression of UK-US ties, which was coined by Churchill, is still in use today, as are Britain’s close links with the USA, although the relationship is a lot more special and important to Britain than it is to the US.

[00:17:11] But post-war Britain was not the booming economy that Churchill had hoped it would be.

[00:17:17] Growth was stagnant, and British power and influence was decreasing.

[00:17:23] It was even abandoned by its most powerful ally, the US, during the Suez Crisis of 1957, causing it to rethink how special the special relationship really was.

[00:17:38] Meanwhile, across the Channel in Europe, economies were springing back. France, Germany, and even Italy were enjoying faster rates of growth, in part aided by The Marshall Plan.

[00:17:51] What’s more, the EEC, the European Economic Community, or simply the European Community, started to have more global influence and an increasingly powerful voice on the world stage.

[00:18:06] Brits thought, well, perhaps we should be part of that after all, and twice during the 1960s the UK tried to join the European Community. 

[00:18:18] Unfortunately the UK’s advances were rejected by the French President Charles de Gaulle, who vetoed the UK’s application, partly because he feared that it would bring an American influence on the decidedly European EEC.

[00:18:35] When De Gaulle was replaced by Georges Pompidou, the UK was finally accepted into the EEC in 1973. 

[00:18:45] In the UK this event was not seen as a great cause for celebration, but was rather accepted, grudgingly, as a necessity. 

[00:18:56] There were some familiar concerns about what would happen when the UK joined the EEC, which remember is the precursor, the organisation that came before, the EU.

[00:19:08] For example, there were stories about housewives worrying that their food prices would skyrocket, that there would be large jumps in prices, when the UK joined the EEC.

[00:19:20] It turned out that being part of the EEC wasn’t all that bad, and two years after the UK joined, there was a referendum on membership, essentially the first Brexit vote.

[00:19:34] In this vote, people were overwhelmingly happy with EEC membership, and 67% of people voted to remain. 

[00:19:44] It should of course be noted that the EEC in 1975 was a very different beast to the EU in 2016:

[00:19:53] Before the UK joined the EEC in 1973, there were only six countries: France, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg.

[00:20:04] The UK, Denmark and Ireland all joined in 1973, making it a group of nine. 

[00:20:12] Although there was talk within the EEC of gradually moving towards a political and economic union, the group that the UK joined was based on trade and the UK‘s reason for joining was to do with the advantages that being able to trade easily with these other countries brought. 

[00:20:32] It was simply a marriage of economic convenience - it was a community based on trade, not a real “union”.

[00:20:41] The EU that the UK voted to leave in 2016 was, of course, greatly changed.

[00:20:48] There were 28 countries, including the UK. Membership had been expanded significantly, especially further south and east to countries that the UK had historically had less contact with and viewed with a certain scepticism

[00:21:05] It had moved from a community based on trade to a political and partially monetary union, through the Euro, the common currency. 

[00:21:16] 26 European countries had also signed the Schengen Agreement, allowing free movement of people throughout Europe.

[00:21:24] Importantly, the UK didn’t join the Euro and didn’t agree to Schengen. 

[00:21:30] It had one foot in Europe, and one foot out. It was never fully in, but it still wanted influence.

[00:21:38] Now, we’ll talk more about the feelings of British people towards Europe and towards the EU in the next episode, but if we have to summarise the relationship that the UK as a country has had with Europe over the years, it has been one of semi-detachment.

[00:21:57] Perhaps imagine a village with a group of houses in the centre. All of the people who live there leave their doors open, because they know and trust their neighbours. If anyone runs out of sugar, they know they can just go to their neighbour’s house and ask for a cup. They all have their differences, but everyone has chosen to live here because life is better for everyone.

[00:22:23] On the edge of this village, however, there’s a big house with a large garden and a fence. The house is in the village, and the inhabitants of the house now come to village meetings, because they want to make sure the village is kept clean and tidy, and they also want to be able to borrow sugar if they run out, but they lock their doors, they don’t allow other village children to come and play, and there is a certain sense of superiority that they feel towards the rest of the village, which is in part due to the fact that they have lots of friends in other villages, and some powerful friends too.

[00:23:06] The analogy is, of course, imperfect, but it’s a useful way of understanding the complicated relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe.

[00:23:17] So, to sum things up, what are the defining features of Britain’s relationship with Europe?

[00:23:24] Firstly, geography. Being an island makes it easier to do things like close your borders, and it also cuts you off from the rest of the continent in a very practical way.

[00:23:37] Secondly, and semi-related to the geographical point, Britain sees itself as a very different country to most European countries. Its colonial past, the fact that it is the home to the world’s dominant language, and that it has many close relationships with non-European countries means that it certainly is less European than the major continental European countries.

[00:24:03] Thirdly, a sense of reluctance about foreign rule, and a tradition of breaking with Europe. Henry VIII did it, Britain fought against Napoleon, a man with pan-European aims, and again against Hitler, a man with at least European and probably global aims.

[00:24:24] Fourth, a real lack of introspection, and a memory loss about how closely tied to Europe, in many ways, the UK actually is. From the arrival of William the Conqueror to fighting alongside European countries for much of the UK’s history, Brits simply aren’t very good at remembering this.

[00:24:47] And finally, this reluctance of being part of Europe. As when the UK joined the EEC in 1973, there was this idea that it didn’t want to join it, but it had to. It decided that the benefits of membership outweighed the disadvantages, and it took the decision to join.

[00:25:08] The result of all of this was that, on June 23rd, of 2016, 52% of votes in the referendum, 17,410,742 people, decided that the benefits no longer outweighed the disadvantages, and the country voted to leave, to follow in the footsteps of Henry VIII, to reclaim its sovereignty, and to forge what it hoped would be a brighter future, yet again removed from Europe.

[00:25:42] And that, the actual campaign for Brexit, and the Brexit vote, is what we’ll cover in part two of the mini-series.

[00:25:50] There’s an excellent quote from a Stanford professor called Ian Morris that sums up how Britain’s relationship with Europe has changed over the years, and this is a fitting way to end this episode. 

[00:26:04] Morris writes: "From about 6000 BC through AD 1700, Britain’s big challenge was always how to resist domination by the continent. From 1700 through 1945, it was how to prevent any single power from dominating the continent while Britain expanded overseas. Since the 1940s, it has been how to walk a fine line between the giant economies of North America and Europe. As the 21st century goes on, Britain will face a still more complicated task as new great economies in China and India gain on the old Western powerhouses. Pulling up the drawbridge never has been, and never will be, an option."

[00:26:56] OK then, that is it for part one of this three-part mini-series on Brexit, where we covered the history of the UK’s relationship with the EU. 

[00:27:06] It is a really fascinating topic, and is very helpful for understanding what comes next, and for giving you an insight into some of the factors that influenced the Brexit vote.

[00:27:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:23] In particular, for the Europeans among you, what other important elements of the UK-European relationship are there? In your relationships with people from the UK, have you seen some of these characteristics come out?

[00:27:38] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:42] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:51] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:57] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge, and today is part one of a three part series on Brexit.

[00:00:28] It is, to state the obvious, a big, emotional, complicated, confusing, and most importantly, ongoing subject, and one that is both fascinating and nauseating

[00:00:41] So, to take on this mammoth topic we are going to split it into three parts.

[00:00:48] In part one, today’s episode, we are going to reflect on Britain’s relationship with Europe throughout history, which we will discover is somewhat peculiar, one of a neighbour, partner, and sometimes friend.

[00:01:04] This will take us up to just before the decision to hold a Brexit referendum, a decision that was taken in 2015, with the actual vote happening a year later.

[00:01:15] Then, in part two we will look at the Brexit campaign itself, diving deeper into the reasons that people voted for and against Brexit, how the campaigns were actually fought, and some of the theories about why the country ultimately voted for Brexit.

[00:01:34] And then in part three, the final part, we are going to look at what has happened in the five and a half years since the UK voted to leave, how it compares to the predictions of what would happen, and think about what the future might hold for Brexit Britain.

[00:01:52] We have got a lot to get through, so let’s jump right in.

[00:01:56] Before we dive into Britain’s relationship with Europe over time, let me start with a simple but provocative question.

[00:02:05] Is the UK in Europe?

[00:02:08] I’m not talking about the EU here, I’m talking about the continent “Europe”?

[00:02:13] Well, yes, you’d probably say. 

[00:02:16] Technically it is. 

[00:02:17] But if you asked this question on the streets of the UK, you might get a different answer, or at least people might take some time to think about their answer. 

[00:02:28] Certainly, you would have fewer people in the UK saying that the UK was part of Europe than if you went to France, Italy or Germany and asked the inhabitants whether those countries were part of Europe.

[00:02:42] The UK has always had this slightly peculiar relationship with Europe where the body of water that separates the UK from France, which is as little as 31 kilometres wide at its shortest point, creates a sharp division between the UK and the rest of the continent.

[00:03:03] If we go back thousands of years, 8,000 years ago to be precise, Britain was actually part of the European continent, joined to France, Belgium and the Netherlands through an area called Doggerland, which is now part of the North Sea. 

[00:03:20] Then, approximately 8,000 years ago sea levels rose, partly due to a massive tsunami and melting glaciers, and Britain was forever cut off from the rest of the continent.

[00:03:34] Being an island has some evident advantages when it comes to self-defense, but these advantages were no match for the Roman army, the first permanent European arrivals to Britain, in 55BC.

[00:03:50] After returning for a full invasion of Britain 100 years later, the Romans ruled Britain, with the exception of Scotland, for almost 400 years. 

[00:04:01] This period was, to all intents and purposes, relatively harmonious. The Romans brought technological advances such as the flushing toilet, good food and wine, Christianity and bureaucracy to an island that had lived under pagan religions and with a distinct lack of technological development.

[00:04:23] Strangely enough, after the Romans left Britain in 400 AD, the local inhabitants simply went back to living almost as they had been before the Romans arrived, as if the previous 400 years and all of the great technological inventions they had brought had never happened.

[00:04:44] Now, fast forward to our next important encounter with Europe, and this is an encounter that shows the confusing and at times contradictory relationship that Britons have with Europe.

[00:04:59] In 1066, William the Conqueror, a Norman Duke, from modern-day northern France, invaded England and became King, King William I of England.

[00:05:10] While you might think that he is looked down upon as a French invader, someone who cruelly attacked the country and killed the true English king, he isn’t. Not at all.

[00:05:23] He is remembered fondly, and the Normans are remembered as having brought with them some great additions to Britain: additions to the language, to the food, to architecture, to government, to the legal system and indeed that very French thing of fine manners and fine living. 

[00:05:44] It’s in many ways ironic that William the Conqueror is remembered as a great British king and ruler, much more fondly remembered than many British-born kings, but he was, essentially, a Frenchman and certainly an illegal and, when he first arrived, unwelcome immigrant. 

[00:06:03] You’ll see this as a theme throughout the episode, and in the rest of this mini-series - Brits love to blame Europe, and Europeans for things they don’t like, but tend to forget about the benefits Europeans have brought, and that one of the most important monarchs in British history was from Europe, continental Europe that is.

[00:06:28] Now, let’s jump ahead a few hundred years to our next big event in UK-European relations, and in fact the first time that Britain really broke with Europe: The Reformation.

[00:06:42] In 1534, almost 500 years after William the Conqueror had arrived on English shores and brought Britain closer to Europe, Henry VIII decided to break away from the Catholic Church and declared himself to be Head of the Protestant Church of England.

[00:07:02] One can even make the comparison between the European Union and the Catholic Church here. 

[00:07:07] Both powerful institutions that have direct and indirect control over much of the European continent, institutions that unite people across the continent. 

[00:07:19] But Henry did not want to live under the rules and regulations of a foreign authority, especially when that foreign authority wouldn’t let him divorce his wife.

[00:07:31] Henry VIII is viewed by many, including the famous historian David Starkey, as being the first Eurosceptic, the first person to question whether having such a close relationship with Europe was actually beneficial for Britain, or whether it should try to fend for itself.

[00:07:52] Indeed, Starkey writes that “The xenophobic, insular politics Henry VIII created have helped define English history for the past five centuries.” 

[00:08:05] As with Brexit, nobody had ever broken from the Catholic Church before. And as with Brexit, emotions ran high, it was an emotional subject. 

[00:08:17] As we’ll discover in episode two, and like a religious belief, especially the vote to leave the European Union was an emotional one, made about emotions and beliefs rather than anything else. 

[00:08:33] Now, as we move into semi-modern history, the next element to discuss is the period of European continental warfare, where the British armed forces fought with and against various European powers for much of the 18th and 19th centuries.

[00:08:52] The most important of these wars, at least when it comes to understanding Britain’s relationship with Europe in the context of Brexit, were the Napoleonic Wars, from 1803 to 1815.

[00:09:07] The British army had proved itself to be a formidable fighting force, but it was its navy that was even more powerful. Of course, if you are an island then having powerful sea forces comes in very useful.

[00:09:24] But Britain had met its match with the French military genius of Napoleon.

[00:09:30] Napoleon’s ambitions were vast, both personally and in terms of his vision for Europe.

[00:09:37] Indeed, in 1805 he called for a “European legal system, a European appeal court, a common currency, the same weights and measures, the same laws.” 

[00:09:49] Does that sound familiar to you?

[00:09:52] Napoleon’s desire to rule over Europe was a great threat to British commercial and imperial ambitions

[00:10:00] Great Britain had been growing fabulously wealthy from trade and colonialism, and the idea of a united European continent to rival British power posed a great problem to Britain’s global ambitions. Indeed, the only real reason Britain fought in Europe at all during the 18th and 19th centuries was because of threats to its global trade network.

[00:10:28] Fortunately for Britain, Napoleon’s ambitions proved to be too great, or perhaps the Russian winter proved to be too cold, and he was eventually defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. 

[00:10:43] The victory here is remembered in Britain as a British victory, of the British army against the French, but this is certainly selective memory: it was a European alliance, and in fact less than a quarter of the soldiers fighting against Napoleon were British, with the rest coming from an alliance of different European countries.

[00:11:08] So, that’s another example of selective memory when it comes to Europe.

[00:11:13] After the Battle of Waterloo, Britain’s focus turned away from Europe and towards the rest of the world, where it was quickly assembling an empire that would at its peak cover one quarter of the land on Earth.

[00:11:28] Why limit yourself to Europe, Brits thought, when you could claim the riches of India, China, and East Africa?

[00:11:37] Again, you might recognise a similar line of argument later on in this mini-series.

[00:11:43] Another important consideration for Britain was what was happening across The Atlantic, in the newly formed United States of America.

[00:11:53] In 1890 the US economy overtook Britain’s as the largest in the world, and Britain’s attention was far more focussed on trade with this important non-European ally

[00:12:07] When war broke out in 1914, everything changed for Britain. 

[00:12:13] The complex system of alliances meant that British forces joined the war effort, after an almost 100 year period of what historians have called a “splendid isolation” from Europe.

[00:12:28] And although the First World War ended after four years, this was only really a temporary hiatus, with the eventual peace in Europe only coming in 1945 at the end of World War II.

[00:12:42] Let’s reflect quickly on the importance of the world wars for the British relationship with Europe, before moving on to what this all means.

[00:12:51] While one can argue whether these wars were actually avoidable, both in general and for Britain, they happened, Britain joined them, and around 1.3 million British people were killed during both wars.

[00:13:08] It was, again to state the obvious, a tragic and horrendous period in history, but Britain suffered significantly less than much of continental Europe, especially Russia, Germany, and France. 

[00:13:21] The suffering wasn’t just in terms of losing fewer citizens.

[00:13:27] British towns and the British countryside escaped relatively unscathed, even after World War II. 

[00:13:34] Brits do love talking about surviving The Blitz, the bombing of the UK by the Nazi air force between 1940 and 1941. It did result in the deaths of around 40,000 civilians and the destruction of around 2 million flats and houses, but compared to the destruction wrought upon France, Germany or Russia, where much of the actual fighting of World War II was taking place, Great Britain escaped relatively unscathed.

[00:14:07] Although Britain might have suffered less than many European countries in World War II, it was now evident that it couldn’t simply ignore Europe.

[00:14:17] After all, it was only 31 kilometres away, people can literally swim from Britain to Europe, and problems in Europe proved themselves quickly to be problems also for Britain.

[00:14:32] In Europe there was a sense that European countries needed to form closer alliances, to form tighter bonds, to prevent the possibility of this kind of catastrophic war ever happening again.

[00:14:47] Britain, and especially its wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, shared this sentiment, it felt the same way, but did not feel that Britain should play a part in this new European alliance.

[00:15:02] The fact that Britain had escaped relatively unscathed from the war, and that it had strong alliances and relationships with non-European powers, in particular the US, Australia, India and South Africa, was viewed as confirming that Britain’s approach of “splendid isolation”, of not being too closely involved in European affairs was correct.

[00:15:29] Britain had also been fighting, in its mind, not just for Europe, but for the whole world, including its vast collection of colonies.

[00:15:39] To quote Winston Churchill, “We are fighting to save the whole world from the pestilence of Nazi tyranny and in defence of all that is sacred to man.” 

[00:15:50] So, again, why tie yourself too closely to Europe, when you have much wider, global ambitions and responsibilities?

[00:16:00] Churchill was, however, a strong supporter of The Council of Europe, which was arguably the beginning of the European Coal and Steel Community, the post-war agreement between France and Germany which formed the basis of what became the Common Market or European Economic Community [EEC] in 1957, and later the EU.

[00:16:25] Churchill simply thought that Britain didn’t need to be in it.

[00:16:30] It had influence after all through other post-war organisations, such as NATO, the World Bank and the United Nations. 

[00:16:39] Britain was determined to remain a significant power through these organisations and its international network. 

[00:16:47] Above all, it valued its “special relationship” with the United States of America. 

[00:16:53] This expression of UK-US ties, which was coined by Churchill, is still in use today, as are Britain’s close links with the USA, although the relationship is a lot more special and important to Britain than it is to the US.

[00:17:11] But post-war Britain was not the booming economy that Churchill had hoped it would be.

[00:17:17] Growth was stagnant, and British power and influence was decreasing.

[00:17:23] It was even abandoned by its most powerful ally, the US, during the Suez Crisis of 1957, causing it to rethink how special the special relationship really was.

[00:17:38] Meanwhile, across the Channel in Europe, economies were springing back. France, Germany, and even Italy were enjoying faster rates of growth, in part aided by The Marshall Plan.

[00:17:51] What’s more, the EEC, the European Economic Community, or simply the European Community, started to have more global influence and an increasingly powerful voice on the world stage.

[00:18:06] Brits thought, well, perhaps we should be part of that after all, and twice during the 1960s the UK tried to join the European Community. 

[00:18:18] Unfortunately the UK’s advances were rejected by the French President Charles de Gaulle, who vetoed the UK’s application, partly because he feared that it would bring an American influence on the decidedly European EEC.

[00:18:35] When De Gaulle was replaced by Georges Pompidou, the UK was finally accepted into the EEC in 1973. 

[00:18:45] In the UK this event was not seen as a great cause for celebration, but was rather accepted, grudgingly, as a necessity. 

[00:18:56] There were some familiar concerns about what would happen when the UK joined the EEC, which remember is the precursor, the organisation that came before, the EU.

[00:19:08] For example, there were stories about housewives worrying that their food prices would skyrocket, that there would be large jumps in prices, when the UK joined the EEC.

[00:19:20] It turned out that being part of the EEC wasn’t all that bad, and two years after the UK joined, there was a referendum on membership, essentially the first Brexit vote.

[00:19:34] In this vote, people were overwhelmingly happy with EEC membership, and 67% of people voted to remain. 

[00:19:44] It should of course be noted that the EEC in 1975 was a very different beast to the EU in 2016:

[00:19:53] Before the UK joined the EEC in 1973, there were only six countries: France, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg.

[00:20:04] The UK, Denmark and Ireland all joined in 1973, making it a group of nine. 

[00:20:12] Although there was talk within the EEC of gradually moving towards a political and economic union, the group that the UK joined was based on trade and the UK‘s reason for joining was to do with the advantages that being able to trade easily with these other countries brought. 

[00:20:32] It was simply a marriage of economic convenience - it was a community based on trade, not a real “union”.

[00:20:41] The EU that the UK voted to leave in 2016 was, of course, greatly changed.

[00:20:48] There were 28 countries, including the UK. Membership had been expanded significantly, especially further south and east to countries that the UK had historically had less contact with and viewed with a certain scepticism

[00:21:05] It had moved from a community based on trade to a political and partially monetary union, through the Euro, the common currency. 

[00:21:16] 26 European countries had also signed the Schengen Agreement, allowing free movement of people throughout Europe.

[00:21:24] Importantly, the UK didn’t join the Euro and didn’t agree to Schengen. 

[00:21:30] It had one foot in Europe, and one foot out. It was never fully in, but it still wanted influence.

[00:21:38] Now, we’ll talk more about the feelings of British people towards Europe and towards the EU in the next episode, but if we have to summarise the relationship that the UK as a country has had with Europe over the years, it has been one of semi-detachment.

[00:21:57] Perhaps imagine a village with a group of houses in the centre. All of the people who live there leave their doors open, because they know and trust their neighbours. If anyone runs out of sugar, they know they can just go to their neighbour’s house and ask for a cup. They all have their differences, but everyone has chosen to live here because life is better for everyone.

[00:22:23] On the edge of this village, however, there’s a big house with a large garden and a fence. The house is in the village, and the inhabitants of the house now come to village meetings, because they want to make sure the village is kept clean and tidy, and they also want to be able to borrow sugar if they run out, but they lock their doors, they don’t allow other village children to come and play, and there is a certain sense of superiority that they feel towards the rest of the village, which is in part due to the fact that they have lots of friends in other villages, and some powerful friends too.

[00:23:06] The analogy is, of course, imperfect, but it’s a useful way of understanding the complicated relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe.

[00:23:17] So, to sum things up, what are the defining features of Britain’s relationship with Europe?

[00:23:24] Firstly, geography. Being an island makes it easier to do things like close your borders, and it also cuts you off from the rest of the continent in a very practical way.

[00:23:37] Secondly, and semi-related to the geographical point, Britain sees itself as a very different country to most European countries. Its colonial past, the fact that it is the home to the world’s dominant language, and that it has many close relationships with non-European countries means that it certainly is less European than the major continental European countries.

[00:24:03] Thirdly, a sense of reluctance about foreign rule, and a tradition of breaking with Europe. Henry VIII did it, Britain fought against Napoleon, a man with pan-European aims, and again against Hitler, a man with at least European and probably global aims.

[00:24:24] Fourth, a real lack of introspection, and a memory loss about how closely tied to Europe, in many ways, the UK actually is. From the arrival of William the Conqueror to fighting alongside European countries for much of the UK’s history, Brits simply aren’t very good at remembering this.

[00:24:47] And finally, this reluctance of being part of Europe. As when the UK joined the EEC in 1973, there was this idea that it didn’t want to join it, but it had to. It decided that the benefits of membership outweighed the disadvantages, and it took the decision to join.

[00:25:08] The result of all of this was that, on June 23rd, of 2016, 52% of votes in the referendum, 17,410,742 people, decided that the benefits no longer outweighed the disadvantages, and the country voted to leave, to follow in the footsteps of Henry VIII, to reclaim its sovereignty, and to forge what it hoped would be a brighter future, yet again removed from Europe.

[00:25:42] And that, the actual campaign for Brexit, and the Brexit vote, is what we’ll cover in part two of the mini-series.

[00:25:50] There’s an excellent quote from a Stanford professor called Ian Morris that sums up how Britain’s relationship with Europe has changed over the years, and this is a fitting way to end this episode. 

[00:26:04] Morris writes: "From about 6000 BC through AD 1700, Britain’s big challenge was always how to resist domination by the continent. From 1700 through 1945, it was how to prevent any single power from dominating the continent while Britain expanded overseas. Since the 1940s, it has been how to walk a fine line between the giant economies of North America and Europe. As the 21st century goes on, Britain will face a still more complicated task as new great economies in China and India gain on the old Western powerhouses. Pulling up the drawbridge never has been, and never will be, an option."

[00:26:56] OK then, that is it for part one of this three-part mini-series on Brexit, where we covered the history of the UK’s relationship with the EU. 

[00:27:06] It is a really fascinating topic, and is very helpful for understanding what comes next, and for giving you an insight into some of the factors that influenced the Brexit vote.

[00:27:19] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:27:23] In particular, for the Europeans among you, what other important elements of the UK-European relationship are there? In your relationships with people from the UK, have you seen some of these characteristics come out?

[00:27:38] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:27:42] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:27:51] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:27:57] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


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