Observations from an Expat

February 12, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Tom Arms

Outside the German Parliament are two huge flags. One is the black, red and yellow horizontally striped flag of the Federal Republic of Germany. Next to it – in an equally prominent position — is a flag with 28 golden stars arranged in a circle on a bright blue background.

The second flag is that of the European Community. It is also prominently paired outside the national parliaments of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and most other members of the European Union.

Outside the British Parliament waves only one flag — the Union Jack.

The only place I have found the EU flag in Britain is hanging from below a window outside the cramped offices of the European Commission in London’s Smith Square. The British have never taken to European membership. Their hearts are still out there on the high seas, or freezing in the Canadian Arctic, boiling in the African jungles or sunbathing on Australia’s Bondi Beach.

It was the British head for business that dragged the United Kingdom into Europe in 1973. The Empire was a rapidly depreciating asset and Europe offered the best chance of a stable long-term market for British goods and services.

They weren’t – they aren’t interested — in sharing the aim of other European countries of ever closer political union, monetary union, defense union, or any other type of union with Europe. Ever since the French kicked the British out of the continent in the 16th century, England has looked to the high seas for its future and struggled — not always successfully — to remain aloof from continental politics.

But for 43 years it has prospered as a member of the European club. More than half of its trade flows Eastwards to what the British still refer to as Europe — a sure sign of their desire for separateness. London is now linked to Paris by the Channel Tunnel. More than a million British citizens live and work in Continental Europe.

You would think that all this would move a small piece of the British heart to the delights of the French Riviera or the German Black Forest. Not a chance.

The British press is replete with stories reviling the inequities of the European Commission and how it and the European parliament daily ride roughshod over the sovereignty of the British parliament and the British people. If you moved across the Atlantic and turned the clock back 160 years you would find similar articles in the Southern newspapers about the insensitivities of the US federal government.

That is why a large slice of the British public — probably a solid 30-40 percent — want to secede from the European Union. Unlike the American South, Britain is allowed to. Under the Treaty of Lisbon they are allowed to resign their membership from the European Club,  and in June — if Prime Minister David Cameron has his way — the electorate will decide in a referendum whether or not to do just that.

It will be a close run thing. Balancing the 30-40 percent solidly against Europe, are 30-40 percent who are just as determined to stay in. As in most polls, the result will be decided by the floating middle ground.

In or out has been a major issue in British politics since the United Kingdom joined in 1973. A referendum in 1975 was supposed to have decided it once and for all. But it didn’t. It stuck around and was one of the reasons that the British Labour Party split in the 80s. It also contributed to the fall from power in 1997 of Conservative Premier John Major. In the last election, dissatisfaction over Europe meant that the UK Independence Party pushed the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. The Conservatives remain split over the issue and several members of the Cabinet will campaign against Europe in the coming referendum.

Cameron is for membership. He has to be. He is responsible for the renegotiated terms which are being put to the electorate.

You may ask —  what are those terms? Well, if you want to know, google them. The details are not that interesting, and in my opinion,  irrelevant. The referendum is a clear battle between the British heart and head. And it will probably continue long after June, whatever the result.



Tom Arms broadcasts on world affairs for a number of US radio stations including WTKF at  http://tunein.com/radio/WTKF-1071-s23160/. His Weekly Viewpoints discussion programme can be heard at 1830 EST on Wednesdays and his LookAhead at the next week’s main events on Fridays at 1800.




Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

1 Comment

  1. John Marquis February 15, at 16:18

    Well-argued piece, and pretty much true, but Tom overlooks another crucial factor in the UK's uncomfortable relationship with Europe. That is a lack of mutual trust, and an underlying suspicion that continentals don't like us very much. In fact, incompatibility is a major flaw in the EU. Northern and southern Europe are socially, economically and temperamentally at odds with each other, while Britain is viewed deep down as an awkward, irritating outsider with its own agenda. For the British people, however, there are only two factors that will influence their vote in the referendum - the cultural pollution caused by mass immigration, and the loss of sovereignty to a faceless bureaucracy. Having endured two world wars in half a century, stoutly defending their freedom in the process, the British are not interested in being pushed around by arrogant Europeans, nor do they wish to see their culture torn apart by a mass influx of aliens. Membership does, of course, offer certain advantages, but as things stand the negatives outweigh the positives by a considerable margin. Unless that gap is closed, Britain will be jumping ship.


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