In Remembrance services across the UK, we have just paid tribute to those millions of our forebears who gave their lives for our country in two world wars, as well as in more recent conflicts. They died not only to preserve the freedoms we continue to enjoy today but also for the liberation of so many on the continent of Europe subjected to unspeakable tyranny.
In more recent times, their successors in uniform stood ready to give their lives to prevent the Soviet Union from seeking to impose its own tyranny on the peoples of Europe. Fortunately, that bloodshed was averted, and the people of Eastern Europe were themselves liberated.
As Minister for International Security Strategy at the Ministry of Defence, I was privileged to take part in D-Day commemorations in Normandy, where I was much impressed by the enormous gratitude shown some 70 years on by local French communities for the contribution made to their liberation by British forces. Meanwhile, the UK worked hard to help rebuild Germany, where I grew up in the Fifties, and which now, thanks in large measure to the euro, has become the most powerful economy in the region.
What was the principle for which Britain made these sacrifices? National self-determination. For this we sought to defend Belgium in the First World War, Poland in the Second, and those lucky enough to be our side of the Iron Curtain throughout the long decades that followed.
My purpose in bringing all this up is only to point out that Brexit, whether or not you agree with it, is unquestionably a fulfilment of this principle. It is simply Britain exercising its right to control its own fate. Some of our continental partners may be unhappy about that, but they should at least accept our right to do so.
Yet at present I find it hard to contain my anger when I hear reports of EU figures “demanding” that we hand over billions of pounds of our taxpayers’ money in exchange for a mutually beneficial trading relationship.
We are asked to make concessions which, once made, seem to count for nothing. Worse is the further demand that we accord to EU citizens a legal status more privileged than that of native Britons. Meanwhile, some neighbours are actively seeking to poach as much business from us as they possibly can.
This goes beyond merely asking the UK to settle its debts. It begins to look like a desire to punish us for having the temerity to obey our people in their desire to leave.
This attitude is not acceptable. Britain has contributed handsomely to furthering the prosperity of Europe, not just in the net £180 billion we have already paid into the EU budget since 1973 but also in the disproportionately large contribution we have paid towards the defence of Europe.
Throughout the Brexit negotiations, David Davis has shown a quite uncharacteristic degree of emollience, while the Prime Minister displayed in Florence a generosity of spirit worthy of Mother Teresa herself. Yet we continue to be told that the UK has “not done enough”.
More importantly, there seems to be little recognition that in pursuing Brexit we are doing something all Europeans should be able to understand. Those who have borne, and fought so hard against, the oppression of their own democracy and independence, supported throughout by the UK, can surely see how much we value our own.
We are not bomb‑throwing anarchists attempting to topple the world order, and we are not trying to spite or hurt our European neighbours. We are just a nation doing what we think is in our best interests, according to the principles for which both world wars were fought.
I am not asking for EU nations to agree with our decision, and I fully accept that their job is to look after their own people’s interests. However, as we approach the crucial European Council meeting in December, Britain deserves to be treated with a respect commensurate with our history and our sacrifice.
After Brexit, we will of course continue to contribute to European defence and security through Nato, but we will resume our proper place in the world as a sovereign nation state. Our people fought and died for Europeans to have that right. It would be nice if they could stop treating us like criminals for exercising it ourselves.
November 19th, 2017: Telegraph