Divorcing from 27 other countries isn’t easy (& Pets killed for food in Venezuela)

December 15, 2018

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher campaigning to “Keep Britain in Europe” in 1975, on the previous occasion Britain held a referendum on the matter.

(Many of her supporters argue that, had she still been alive, she would have voted to leave in the 2016 referendum. Others say she would have followed the same pragmatic line of thinking as Theresa May and voted to stay.)



[Note by Tom Gross]

This is another in a very occasional series of dispatches on Brexit.

I attach some TV interviews with myself followed by two pieces.

The first piece below, by Simon Jenkins, points out that over the last 1600 years, by his count, Britain has already left (and eventually rejoined) Europe eight times.


The second piece, about Venezuela, is a warning of what might happen in a Jeremy Corbyn-led Britain (an increasingly likely prospect as the British Conservative party implodes over Brexit).

Despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, socialist economic polices there have turned Venezuela into a disaster zone, creating one of the world’s biggest refugee crises.

Zoos have seen their animals killed for food, and pets stolen to provide meals.

Meanwhile the ruling socialist elites continue to enrich themselves. The daughter of former President Hugo Chavez is now believed to be Venezuela’s wealthiest individual, worth billions of US dollars.


Among past dispatches on Brexit:

Harvard Professor: Britain’s “lunatic referendum formula isn’t democracy” (June 28, 2016)



These three short TV interviews with me are from Wednesday evening.

* “Do the British people still want Brexit? Divorcing from 27 other countries isn’t easy”


* Theresa May clings on to power, but is Brexit doomed?


* The Brexit delusion: The final end of the British Empire





Britain will go back into the European club. History proves it
We’ve been in an on/off relationship for centuries. Even if we leave now, it won’t be forever
By Simon Jenkins
The Guardian
November 21, 2018

Sometimes, when politics screams and tears its hair out, history can rush forward with a comfort blanket to wrap round its shoulders. It’s all right, it says, calm down, we have been here before. Britain has left Europe in a huff, and been drawn back in again. It has turned its back on Europe, and turned it back again almost as often. Today is just one of those times.

The ancient province of Britannia was firmly part of the Roman empire for four centuries before that empire’s disintegration forced it to leave, in 410. Two centuries later, in 664, England voted at the Synod of Whitby to rejoin what was emphatically a European union, that of the Roman Catholic church, albeit with many a squabble under the likes of Henry II and King John. In 1534, Henry VIII spectacularly withdrew from that union, and Reformation England held itself aloof from Europe’s wars of religion throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

Then in 1704, England changed its mind and the Whigs plunged into the war of the Spanish succession against Louis XIV. The Tories reverted to detachment after Utrecht in 1713 and the Hanoverians left Europe well alone. In 1734 Walpole could boast to Queen Caroline that “50,000 men are slain in Europe this year, and not one an Englishman”. The Pitts would subsidise selected European allies but refused to fight with them, until Britain was drawn into the war against Napoleon. It then triumphed at Trafalgar and Waterloo, and a London square and a station were erected as memorials to the cause of a newly united Europe.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 Britain helped found the Concert of Europe, to resolve the continent’s future conflicts peacefully. But it soon lost interest, to concentrate on trade with our old friend “the rest of the world” – or rather, the empire. It re-engaged for the Crimean war but disengaged to leave Bismarck his supremacy. Lord Salisbury declared a European policy to be one of “splendid isolation … drifting lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a boat-hook to avoid collision”.

In the 20th century isolation met its nemesis: Britain was drawn into a great war it should have helped avoid. It then appeased France’s desire for revenge against Germany, and appeased its inevitable outcome, the rise of Hitler. When Baldwin in 1934 promised “freedom from adventures and commitments abroad, and no rearmament”, it was the climax of the age of leave. The outcome was a second world war.

After that war, a new Europe, or half a Europe, saw Britain fully engaged in Nato. But it declined to join the Common Market in 1957, changed its mind six years later, and finally joined in 1973. Thatcher eulogised the Single European Act in 1986 as “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – with direct and unhindered access … to 300 million of the world’s wealthiest people.” She was ecstatic.

Only at Maastricht in 1992 did the old hesitancy return, due largely to the EU’s drift to “ever closer union”. It upset the delicate equilibrium between the benefits of union and Britain’s sense of independence. John Major declined to join the eurozone and the EU social chapter. The slope was now downhill to two years ago, in 2016. That year, on my count, Britain left Europe for the ninth time in its history.

The lessons of the past are glaringly obvious. The decision to leave is bound to be reversed – some time, somehow. Articles 49 and 50 of the Lisbon treaty are clear: that any state can apply to rejoin. Public pressure to rejoin will be greater the “harder” Brexit proves to be. Erecting borders and barriers across the Channel is likely to prove so costly and inconvenient as to fuel the rejoiners’ cause.

I think it more likely that the EU will degenerate into something else. The Concert of Europe broke down, as did the 1925 Locarno treaty, because of diminishing relevance amid the strands of Europe’s ever variable diplomacy. Of these, the most serious would be a descent into war. Nato remains somewhat hesitantly in place. In a time of military threat from Russia or elsewhere, it would be the European Union of necessity, and Britain is a full member of that.

A more likely scenario has Europe itself changing and dividing, as its economic space has to adjust to the changing politics, economies and cultures of its nations. The EU has clearly become too insensitive, too brittle, to survive for ever. All Europe’s great settlements – Westphalia, Utrecht, Vienna, Versailles, Yalta – have lasted no more than two generations.

History suggests an EU that could evolve into a new Holy Roman Empire: a confederation of states, some big, some small, some little more than cities, like Monaco, San Marino and Liechtenstein. The old Holy Roman Empire was much derided by historians of the age of empires. Yet as its biographer, Peter Wilson, has written, its weakness was in truth its strength. It threatened no one. Its status as an essentially German empire guaranteed its members a local autonomy that was “multi-layered, from household, parish, community, territory, region to empire.”

This empire lived, mostly at peace, for an astonishing 1,000 years, until smashed by Napoleon and Bismarck. It gave Europe among its greatest architects, artists, composers and philosophers. From such an example of graduated union I can see emerging one day a new form of union that Britain would be happy to rejoin.

The “populist” states of eastern Europe might mimic Britain and leave. The eurozone might grow increasingly unstable. Others may default to greater separatism, like today’s Slovaks, Catalans, Corsicans and Scots. There will be many Europes for Britain to want to join. Europe has often felt the need of Britain, as in 1704, 1815, 1914 and 1939. But Britain too benefited from these engagements.

Like it or not, globalisation means states cannot sensibly barricade themselves off from their neighbours. They must find reconciliation and trade. Geography has always been the tyrant of history. You can take Britain out of the EU as often as you like; you can never take Britain out of Europe.



Venezuela is a brutal lesson to the UK’s socialist apologists
By Brian Monteith
City A.M.
November 28, 2018

I know it is very hard to believe, but at some point we shall stop talking about Brexit.

We shall get back to discussing what we can do to improve our lives and those of others.

And we shall look for inspiration from other countries to learn lessons from catastrophic failures or discover truly amazing successes.

As we leave Brexit behind and begin to look towards the next election, we shall start to ask more serious questions of the opposition parties, especially what their economic policies will mean.

The views of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will come under greater scrutiny, and for that reason their admiration for the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela must be given serious analysis.

This is important because it defines what the Labour leaders think is possible: that you can defy the rules of the market and the laws of economics. It presents a warning, because the story of Venezuela is a shocking one – and those who try to excuse it must surely never come close to the UK’s economic levers of power.

Despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela is now an economic basket case, with rampant inflation, widespread government corruption, a massive refugee problem as citizens flee to neighbouring countries, and huge shortages in health supplies, food, and basic essentials.

Zoos have seen their animals killed for food and pets stolen to provide meals.

Venezuela’s problems are of its own making; they are the result of bad policy choices and a revolution that has turned against its own people. And the reason the country is so relevant today is that the excuses made for it by Labour’s devoutly socialist leadership signal that the same mistakes could be repeated here – with catastrophic results.

Two decades ago, there were 650,000 private companies in Venezuela. Now there are only 140,000, a loss of almost 80 per cent.

And the problems are worsening. Just recently Colgate Palmolive halted production at its detergent plant due to a shortage of cardboard for packaging. This was a direct result of the Venezuelan government seizing the Smurfit Kappa cardboard plant in August, and the subsequent cessation of production.

This is not an isolated incident. The regime regularly seizes private companies when they announce that they can no longer continue, promising to restart production.

Such was the fate of Kellogg’s cereal plant when it closed due to “the current economic and social deterioration in the country”, but no cereal has yet been produced.

Some apologists try to blame the US, the EU, and other western nations for Venezuela’s plight, suggesting that economic sanctions are to blame.

But this is disingenuous and deceitful. There is no US ban on importing Venezuelan oil or oil products – indeed, if it were not for the import of Venezuelan oil, the situation in the country would be unimaginably worse.

The economic sanctions that do exist are targeted at politicians and officials of the regime to try to prevent them from expropriating the country’s wealth as they loot Venezuela of its earnings and capital.

It is no coincidence that the daughter of former President Hugo Chavez is believed to be Venezuela’s wealthiest individual, worth billions of US dollars.

Meanwhile, the healthcare system is in a state of collapse, with a systematic shortage of drugs, and the continued haemorrhaging of skilled doctors and nurses who are leaving the country. The same sorry state exists in schools – many have closed due to a lack of teachers and the inability of pupils to attend due transport failures.

Venezuela is a parallel to what happened in Chile in the early seventies. There, a Marxist-inspired government under Salvador Allende came to power and started to appropriate private property, changing the constitution and laws so that his politicians could reign supreme.

It ended in a bloody coup, and thousands of people were murdered or disappeared as the military, under General Augusto Pinochet, ended Allende’s rule.

Since the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship and Chile’s transition back to a parliamentary democracy, the country has become a beacon of comparative economic success.

Over the years, Chile has restored private property rights and adopted an open market economy. Its privatisation of pensions has created a future wealth fund for ordinary people which we in the UK could only dream of.

In comparison, Venezuela under the current President Nicolas Maduro is already in a worse state than Chile under Allende, suggesting that this situation too can only end in bloodshed.

The British Labour leaders should take note: there is no such thing as a successful Marxist economy. Advocates of trying such experiments in the UK should look to a history of failures and recognise the limitations of state intervention.


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