Brexit: John Redwood claims European Union is 'rattled'
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Robert Tombs, the renowned British historian, made the parallel while commenting on the “undemocratic” framework the EU works under. It came as the bloc rushed to reverse the potentially devastating decision to thwart the UK’s vaccination programme and cut-off its AstraZeneca vaccine doses leaving the continent. European President Commission Ursula von der Leyen, along with other leading Brussels figures, quickly passed through the European Parliament legislation that effectively erected a hard border on the island of Ireland following the vaccine crisis, furthering an already tense political situation.
She reversed the EU’s decision after a tense call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson last weekend.
However, many commented that the damage had been done as even in the UK, for the first time in years, the consensus was overwhelmingly against the bloc, according to several polls.
Professor Tombs noted how the action had been taken without the full consent of all 27 member states.
This, he said, was significant, as it not only proved the bloc operates “undemocratically”, but also shed light on how it resembled the historically unfair aristocracy of the 19th century.
Making the comparison, Prof Tombs said: “The word to describe the EU is bureaucracy.
“It’s a bit like a civil service without a government.
“It has a parliament but it’s essentially a facade, it doesn’t sign things or choose who governs Europe.
“People who defend it say, ‘Ah yes, but all the governments are democratic and the governments meet together’, but when they meet they cease to be democratic in the sense that they cease to be unaccountable because there’s no opposition.
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“There’s no way in which things can be devoted and people can make their voice heard because they don’t know what’s going on.
“It’s just really a bureaucracy, and actually like Europe in the early 19th century when the continent was essentially run by aristocracy.
“So aristocrats, dukes and counts and princes would meet together and make decisions, and the people wouldn’t be consulted because the people didn’t have any rights, it is a bit like that.”
The aristocracy in 19th century Europe largely made up the population of cities as industrialisation brought urbanisation, which in turn concentrated wealth to those areas.
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These cities took on more and more political power and significance, similar to the heavily political cities in Europe and Britain today: London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Moscow and more.
As late as the early 1900s, the aristocracy, especially in Britain, Germany, Austria and Russia, held disproportionate political dominance over their respective countries’ discourse.
The aristocracy in Russia, however, disappeared post-1917 revolution as the communists disposed of them.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, new liberal and socialist governments slapped heavy taxes on the aristocratic class, which sped-up their loss of both economic and political power.
Yet, Prof Tombs points out that because the EU Parliament is not a parliament in the sense of what is seen in France, the UK, Germany, among others, those that head the EU appear to be heading back to how things were in Europe.
Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former Finance Minister, in 2015 said this move towards “politicians being in government but not in power” was a result of the economic interests – as once dominated by the aristocracy – now colonising political loyalties.
During a TED talk he spoke of the two spheres, economic and political, and how the former had consumed the latter.
Mr Varoufakis said: “Have you wondered why politicians are not what they used to be? It’s not because their DNA has degenerated.
“It is rather because one can be in government today and not in power, because power has migrated from the political to the economic sphere, which is separate.”
The elite aristocratic groups of Europe often came together for grand parties and to discuss, as Prof Tombs mentioned, ways to govern their countries and protect their own interests while simultaneously working harmoniously.
A common topic was war and belligerence, mainly how to avoid it while maintaining relevance in Europe.
One of the EU’s Brexit negotiators, Guy Verhofstadt, has in recent years been aligned with this theme of urging EU nations to stick together.
In a 2019 speech given to a crowd in Maastricht, the Netherlands, Mr Verhofstadt set-out his vision of tomorrow’s world: One that was filled with “empires”.
He said: “The world of tomorrow will be totally different from the world of today.
“It will be a world dominated by empires like China, India, the US, the Russian Federation.
“It will be a world in which our standards, our way of living, our values, our way of thinking will be under threat by these empires.
“That’s why we need to create a strong Europe, a united Europe as a counterweight for that.
“And for that we need also a new political force in the EU and in the European debate.”
While many welcomed the speech, others noted the dangerous precedent the former Belgian Prime Minister might set in the face of global powers.
Prof Tombs, mentioned that the Brexit debate had in part been characterised by Brexiteers holding a “nostalgia for the past”, yet noted how Mr Verhofstadt’s words appeared to hold a certain “imperial nostalgia” themselves.
Robert Tombs’ ‘This Sovereign Isle’, published by Allen Lane, is out now.
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