Do you think that it's a coincidence that there have been so much focus on the Second World War in films recently? Even the Royal Mail has got in on the act with the release of a bunch of stamps featuring characters from Dad's Army! Churchill, Dunkirk, Darkest Hour all do more than teach us the history of the 20th century. They portray a Britain under threat and needing to stand together as it is forced to stand alone. As March 2019 approaches, do these reminders of a Britain separated from the continent serve as a subtle form of propaganda for the leave campaign? Art always speaks into the present ....
There is something about the Dunkirk spirit that is compelling. It speaks of a 'can do' attitude, of plucky working class heroes, the ordinary folk who got in their tiny boats and affected one of the greatest maritime rescues of all time. Catastrophe turned to triumph because of the 'little' people. All this makes for a great movie, but is it true? Without the assistance of the US and others, could Britain have held out against the Nazi advance forever?
The reconciliation project that emerged after 1945 eventually became the European Union, and the United Kingdom is leaving. The EU is obviously flawed - it is, like any transnational body, having to cope with the competing national interests of its members. That means that it will always be allowed to do slightly less than it is capable of. To fulfil its potential, and to do so legitimately and democratically, would call into question the existence of national governments themselves and that can never be allowed to happen.
One of its flaws is its focus on creating forums where national governments can confer and make decisions. This has weakened the other instruments, mostly notably the European Parliament, but also civil society and the regions. It was always supposed to be more than a confederation of nation-states. Its real ambition was to bring face-to-face the competing communities of Europe in order to tackle the ideologies of prejudice and hate that had stoked the fires of genocide and crimes against humanity. The European project was never just about the rebuilding of economies or nations, but the reconstruction of humanity itself in the aftermath of the Holocaust. In an age where populism is on the rise as living standards fall, we would do well to remember that.
Those who seek a life for the UK outside the Europe have underestimated how much the world has changed since 1945. The empire has crumbled and no longer does British rule hold sway from the Caribbean to the Pacific. The Commonwealth is not a club for Britain's oldest friends; it is a colonial hangover where the colonised are still forced to seek influence and access to the top table provided by the UK. As Britain voluntarily leaves the table where decisions are made, so developing nations will seek more powerful and reliable friends.
Whilst some believe the reason for Britain's loss of status in the world was precipitated by entry to the Common Market, the truth is that EU membership has allowed the UK to 'punch above its weight' on the world stage, even as its own power was slipping away. NATO will shore up that influence for a while, but the US looks like an increasingly unwilling partner in the alliance.
In the end, I believe the UK will be forced by realities to re-enter the EU as an associate member, with much less influence than it currently enjoys. In the meantime, the Union will forge ahead with greater integration of decision-making and external policy, in order to maintain influence in a globalised world where standing alone means falling behind.
Whatever the outcome post-March 2019, Britain's future lies inextricably tied up with the rest of Europe. So perhaps we ought to trade some of that Dunkirk spirit for a soupçon of joie de vivre.