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British Foreign Policy towards Europe from a historical perspective

(39 Posts)
SpringingIntoAction Fri 08-Apr-16 15:17:58

If, like me, you have a long-standing interest in Europe and the emergence of what is now the EU, it is useful to consider the modern day EU in the context of British policy towards Europe over the last few centuries.

These words, written in 1936, by a historian, explain how Britain historically conducted its relationship with its European neighbours and the policies that drive British actions towards Europe. It explains how Britain provided the balance of power within Europe.

I think it's very useful to consider how the modern policy towards Europe has changed and whether the policies that we followed for centuries in our European dealings still have any validity?

'For four hundred years the policy of England has been to oppose the strongest, most aggressive, most dominating Power on the continent, and particularly to prevent the Low Countries falling into the hands of such a Power.

Viewed in the light of history, these four centuries of consistent purpose, amid so many changes of names and facts, of circumstances and conditions, must Mark as one of the most remarkable episodes, ehich the records of any race, nation, State or people can show.

Moreover, on all occasions England took the more difficult course.

Faced by Philip II of Spain, against Louis XIV under William III and Marlborough under Napoleon, against Willem II of Germany, it would have been easy, and must have been very tempting to join the stronger and to share the fruits of his conquest.

However, we always took the harder course, joined with the less strong Powers, made a combination among them and thus defeated and frustrated the continental military tyrant, whoever he was, whatever nation he led.

Thus we preserved the liberties of Europe, protected the growth of its vivacious and varied society, and emerged after four terrible struggles, with an ever-growing fame and wider empire, and with the Low Countries safely protected in their independence.

Here is the wonderful unconscious trading of British Foreign Policy. All our thoughts rest in that tradition today.

I know of nothing that occurred to alter or weaken the justice, wisdom, valour or prudence upon which our ancestors acted.

I know of nothing that has happened to human nature which in the slightest degree, alters the validity of their conclusions.

I know nothing in military, political, economic or scientific fact which makes me feel we are less capable. I know of nothing that makes me feel we might not, or cannot, march along the same road.

I venture to put this very general proposition before you because it seems to me that if it is accepted everything else becomes much more simple.

Observe that the policy of England takes no account of which nation it is that seeks the overlordship of Europe. The question is not whether it is Spain, or the French Monarchy or the French Empire or the German Empire or the Hitler regime.

It has nothing to do with the rulers or nations, it is concerned solely with whoever is the strongest or the potentially dominating tyrant.

Therefore we should not be afraid of being accused of being pro-French or anti-German. If the circumstances were reversed, we could equally be pro-German and anti-French.

It is a law of public policy which we are following and not a mere expedient dictated by accidental circumstances, or likes and dislikes, or any other sentiment.

The question therefore arises, which is to-day the Power in Europe which is the strongest , and which seeks in a dangerous and oppressive sense to dominate?


The author reiterated those views 12 years later and said they were still the approach that should be followed.

Daisyonthegreen Fri 08-Apr-16 20:41:34

Very interesting ,I think we have tried to be Democratic,we are by no means perfect but we need to stand up for ourselves now and get out of the frighteningly undemocratic EU.

SpringingIntoAction Fri 08-Apr-16 20:52:44

it would have been easy, and must have been very tempting to join the stronger and to share the fruits of his conquest.

This could be talking about the EU.

The question therefore arises, which is to-day the Power in Europe which is the strongest , and which seeks in a dangerous and oppressive sense to dominate

I think we all know the answer to that. The EU is dominated by Germany.

My interpretation is that based on historical precedence we should be out of the EU providing that critical balance within Europe to an EU dominated by Germany.

And once that alternative option is offered by our Brexit, we may be joined by other like-minded nations, this weakening the EU empire. and its expansionist desires.

annandale Fri 08-Apr-16 21:00:36

I would have said Russia.

A very different balance in British perspective now post 1956 of course when we found that trying to have an independent foreign policy without regard to greater powers in the world was no longer feasible.

SpringingIntoAction Fri 08-Apr-16 21:06:08

So, do we need the EU, and to be in the EU, as a counterweight to Russia?

Do you see the EU's expanisionist desires coming up against Putin's interests e.g. Ukraine?

Can the EU be considered a force for good in keeping the peace or is it more likely to lead to hostilities?

annandale Fri 08-Apr-16 21:35:37

I think the EU is a counterweight to Russia.
Can the EU be considered a force for good in keeping the peace - yes, of course it can, though not all would say so. Perhaps I should paraphrase Churchill in saying 'we should not be afraid of being accused of being pro-EU or anti-EU' but should 'make a combination' with other nations in the EU.

SpringingIntoAction Fri 08-Apr-16 22:36:38

Well spotted grin. But Churchill said we should be "interested" bit "not absorbed" in Europe.
Churchill doesn't mention Russia here, although he did spend much of his last years in politics warning against the Bear.

Do we agree that the EU is expansionist?

Can you not forsee a time when our (EU) interests and that of another bloc - probably Russia collide?

Do you not consider that the EU is playing a dangerous game in Ukraine, with very large EU grants to that country and its stated desire for closer EU relationship with Ukraine? (Something the Dutch rejected in last Wednesday's referendum).

I consider that to be the geo-political equivalent of Putin making overtures to Scotland or Wales.

annandale Sat 09-Apr-16 04:36:45

In answer:

Really? How odd.

Do we agree that aiming for a balance of power in the world is probably the foreign policy of, erm, every nation on the planet?

YokoUhOh Sat 09-Apr-16 05:04:10

Jingoistic nonsense.

I'm in total agreement with Annandale: Suez put paid to any belief that we were somehow a 'superpower'.

ThenLaterWhenItGotDark Sat 09-Apr-16 06:01:55

What Annandale and Yoko said.

...and what in the name of all that is batshit conspiracy theorist would Putin want to be doing in Wales?

Itinerary Sat 09-Apr-16 13:40:12

Vladimir Putin wants Britain to vote for Brexit, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't:
"The Russian President will enjoy Brexit, but staying on the Titanic that is the European Union would delight him even more"

As the above article says,

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that insofar as world leaders brood on the possibility of Brexit, Vladimir Putin alone rubs his hands in glee.

The corollary of this truth is that if Vladimir Putin wants you to do something, it’s wise to find the opposite of that something, then do that instead."

Itinerary Sat 09-Apr-16 13:49:13

The conclusion of the article above is:

"Yes, a Brexit vote carries all sorts of risks. Yes, Vladimir Putin will enjoy the spectacle and seek to exploit it. But staying on the Titanic in an iceberg zone also carries risks. A Brexit vote opens the way for the rest of Europe and Russia alike to look hard at first principles and adjust accordingly. Several new smaller, lighter, more manoeuvrable ships sailing along nicely together, instead of one massive sluggish vessel that’s taking on water?"

In any case, is Brexit really in Russia's interests? Not everyone thinks so.

Is Brexit Really In Russia's Interest

A Brexit Could See British Policy on Russia Sharpen

The Brexit Debate and Russia

From the last article above:

"So how does Putin relate to all of this? Well, shocked by the surprisingly strong popular support of the anti-EU movement, the “pro” forces have been forced to reach very deep into their bag of tricks. Unable to make any political hay with technocratic arguments about trade flows and foreign investment they are now using crude scare tactics. “You know who wants us to leave the European Union? Vladimir Putin, that’s who!” Precisely why Vladimir Putin should have a veto over British foreign policy isn’t exactly stated, but the implication is that a Europe without Britain would (somehow) be bulldozed by the Russians who anyways are weak and inept to begin with. It’s less of a logical argument than it is an emotive one: do you feel comfortable holding the same opinion as someone as bad as Putin?"

"Of course, two can play the “what does Putin want us to do?” game. Some of the more intelligent and astute members of the “anti” campaign have responded in kind, smirking that Vladimir Putin would love nothing more than for Britain to stay on the “sinking ship” of today’s sclerotic and recession-plagued EU."

Daisyonthegreen Sat 09-Apr-16 18:32:46

As domination is mentioned in Springs original post look at this
The domination of the "worker" has been virtually admitted.
Nothing new you may say but I certainly am not condoning it hence I shall vote Leave.

Daisyonthegreen Sat 09-Apr-16 19:21:54

Exactly,the inners have few arguments,I for one am not concerned in the slightest by my decision to vote Leave on June 23rd.

Daisyonthegreen Sun 10-Apr-16 15:32:17

It transpires that the EU gave monetary support to the Chinese steel company that dumps steel here in the UK .
With "friends like that who needs enemies".
The money or part thereof would be British money as we stump up a great deal per week ,£350 million.
So effectively the EU has made us help pay to help destroy our own steel industry.
The EU obviously despises us,this underlines my view that Leave is a good idea.
Source Daily Express today 10 th April.

Itinerary Sun 10-Apr-16 16:07:05

So effectively the EU has made us help pay to help destroy our own steel industry.


... but it doesn't surprise me sad

Daisyonthegreen Sun 10-Apr-16 20:58:10
The EU is rotten and against Democracy.They have completely ignored a Dutch vote.

Daisyonthegreen Sun 10-Apr-16 20:59:51

I think the EU is not fit for people's Democracy.We must free ourselves.

Daisyonthegreen Sun 10-Apr-16 22:21:47
Whatever next!!!!!!!!!

Daisyonthegreen Mon 11-Apr-16 00:48:23
It just keeps coming.
To think I said whatever next in my last post.
Seriously out of order this is.

Daisyonthegreen Mon 11-Apr-16 14:36:37

The EU is to reject all Mr Cameron's requests for changes for us in the EU.
If we are mad enough to stay in the EU can you imagine the "kicking" they will give us.We give £350 million a week to the EU too!
I am voting Leave for a better future for my children.

Daisyonthegreen Tue 12-Apr-16 13:54:35

NHS staff past and present ask the public to vote to LEAVE the EU to save the National Health Service.
I shall oblige and vote Leave.
We cannot and must not let the NHS down.

Chalalala Wed 13-Apr-16 08:07:43

These words, written in 1936, by a historian

Written by Winston Churchill. The same person who later said in 1946 that "we must build a kind of United States of Europe", and -

why should there not be a European group which could give a sense of enlarged patriotism and common citizenship to the distracted peoples of this mighty continent? And why should it not take its rightful place with other great groupings and help to shape the honourable destiny of man?

and -

The structure of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single State less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by a contribution to the common cause.

Daisyonthegreen Wed 13-Apr-16 08:20:40

Words allegedly of Sir Winston ,after a terrible conflagration.(World War Two)
Sir Winston Churchill never lived to see the corrupt state of the EU.
You are desperate to quote a late mans words who would no doubt be horrified to see what is occurring now.
You hope to sway people but really you just expose your desperation.
Besides it is not the states of Europe that Sir Winston ever envisaged ,it's a free for all with Turkey coming in as well.

Chalalala Wed 13-Apr-16 08:34:34

Not "allegedly" at all, he said this in a speech delivered in Zurich on 19 September 1946.

But no need to get all panicky, I only cited him to put the OP's quote in context. As you quite rightly point out Churchill lived in a very different period and had no way of knowing how the world would develop. Therefore his opinion is probably not the most relevant to today's situation.

But these exact arguments also apply to the quote cited in the OP wink

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