It’s Remoaners who are nostalgic for empire

Guy Verhofstadt praises the EU empire and Remainers are lapping it up.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Staff writer


‘The world of tomorrow is a world of empires, in which we Europeans and you British can only defend your interests, your way of life, by doing it together in a European framework and a European Union’, declared Guy Verhoftstadt, the EU Parliament’s Brexit spokesman, to rapturous applause at the Liberal Democrats’ conference. Verhofstadt is a fanatical Euro-federalist and has been explicit in his support for the EU empire for some time now. He has consistently called for the EU to become an ‘empire of the good’. Perhaps the ultra Remainers are nostalgic for the old world of empire?

Of course, it is usually Brexiteers who are denounced as empire nostalgics. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, blamed the Leave vote on ‘nostalgia for the past’ and ‘the hope for a return to a powerful global Britain’. The New York Times described Brexit as ‘England’s last gasp of Empire’. A Washington Post headline said ‘Britain clings to imperial nostalgia as Brexit looms’. ‘Imperial fantasies have given us Brexit’, wrote the Guardian’s Gary Younge. In the same paper, historian David Olusaga equated proposals for post-Brexit trade deals with the Commonwealth as Empire 2.0. Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson’s preposterous book, Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire, draws a direct link between 19th-century imperialism and 21st-century Euroscepticism. Brexit resulted from ‘the imperial legacy of colonisation and the failure to decolonise the English school curriculum’, it asserts.

But with the EU, such nostalgia is unnecessary. The European empire is already here. Wolfgang Streeck characterises the EU as a ‘liberal empire’. The EU’s fiendishly complex construction disguises its true nature, but there are some aspects we can certainly identify as imperious. Streeck argues that it has a centre (Germany and France) and a periphery (southern and eastern Europe). The centre rewards compliance with fiscal transfers and military protection. National sovereignty is strictly curtailed, particularly on economic matters, and disobedience among peripheral countries like Greece and Italy is punished with austerity measures and the overthrow of elected governments, who are replaced with imperial governors. Meanwhile, core countries are generally free to break the rules.

The EU is also expansionary, growing from six founder members in 1957 to 28 today (if you include the forever in-limbo Brexit Britain). The European Commission’s most recent expansion plans expect an additional six Western Balkan states to join the EU by 2025. The EU also meddles in non-candidate countries like Ukraine. For Guy Verhofstadt, the already existing empire does not go far enough. Earlier this year he called for the creation of a single ‘Euro-African economic area’ – re-colonisation by other means.

For Britain’s liberal Remainers, the EU provides the certainty of empire while freeing them from the baggage and guilt of the old version and its horrors. Often, EU membership is talked of as an opportunity for Britain not just to participate in the Single Market, but also to take a leading role in EU governance. Before the referendum, former PM Gordon Brown wrote that ‘the true patriotic course for Britain is not just to engage but to lead in Europe’. Now that we are leaving the EU, the political elite agonises over Britain’s global standing. Before the G7 summit, former senior diplomats wrote to Boris Johnson to warn that ‘an impending No Deal Brexit… would result in an unprecedented – and self-inflicted – diminution of Britain’s international influence’. Again, it is Remainers who are clinging on to British influence, but this desire is disguised within a pro-EU outlook.

Brexiteers, on the other hand, at the same time as supposedly pining for a bygone empire, are also labelled as ‘Little Englanders’. Today, a Little Englander is generally used to mean a xenophobe or nationalist. But when the word was first used in the late 18th and 19th centuries, it was applied to opponents of Britain’s imperial expansion. Liberals like William Gladstone and Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who opposed some of Britain’s military ventures, were smeared as Little Englanders. Then, as now, the Little Englanders are hated for their opposition to the empire of the day.

And why would Brexit voters be interested in empire anyway? Many come from towns that have been left behind by political and economic developments of the past 40 years, but it’s not as if they were enriched by empire prior to this. As Janan Ganesh points out in the FT, the regions that ‘shaped and were shaped by empire’ – ‘London, the old metropole; Scotland, the source of many settlers and administrators; Manchester, not just the empire’s industrial centre but its liberal intellectual heart; and the port cities of Liverpool and Bristol’ – all voted Remain.

Imperial nostalgia did not cause Brexit, but imperial ambitions are still exciting some Remainers.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Tim Wheeler

17th September 2019 at 11:19 am

I saw a quip clip of Jo Swinson seated in the audience at conference on the news and I said “Isn’t that Guy Verhofstadt next to her?” I was kind of surprised because it meant the LibDems (and presumably Labour too) are now entirely comfortable for their previous collusion and sabotage activities to be openly acknowledged. I think there is no doubt Verhofstadt is an enemy of British national sovereignty and voter democracy because he openly acknowledges that he is working for its destruction everywhere. Philip Hammond and Theresa May are a little more shy & retiring than the Lib Dems, but I think it’s pretty plain both were conspiring all from Day 1 to ensure Britain left the E.U. in name only. (Ref: Alistair Williams’ Burger King/Brexit Joke.)

Andrew Clitheroe

16th September 2019 at 9:22 pm

This is weak revisionist sauce indeed.

To say that the world of tomorrow is a world of empires is to speak the unvarnished truth. It is in the nature of the most powerful states – currently the USA and China – to propagate their influence. Witness the destruction they and Russia wrought in the squabbling and fragmented arabian states. So it has always been and so it will always be.

Nor is it anything but the truth to say that no one European nation can stand against such influence. To extoll the European Union as an ’empire for good’ in the face of such a challenge is to do nothing more than Darwin did when speaking of ‘natural selection’: borrow a term that does not strictly apply for the purpose of evocative parallel.

We are at present privileged founder members of a democratic union of ancient sovereign states, a thing otherwise unheard of. Our standards and regulations are the most influential in the world. The advantage to us is not that we export our values but that *we get to live by them*. We are 500-odd million strong, and can – barely – tell the likes of China and the US ‘no’ by standing together.

Perhaps the wishes of the most ardent Brexiteers will be granted. Perhaps the departure of the UK will precipitate the dissolution of the EU. If so I only hope the USNHS keeps them alive long enough to see the aftermath, as the world’s only remaining powers pick apart the wreckage.

Winston Stanley

16th September 2019 at 11:00 pm

“Join the Empire or die.”

Classic imperialism at its very worst.

The “varnish” is coming off now, thanks to Brexit.

Andrew Clitheroe

17th September 2019 at 2:39 pm

Are you seriously incapable of telling “Get on board or I will kill you” from “Take my hand or you’ll drown”?

Andrew Clitheroe

17th September 2019 at 2:45 pm

Even if I’m mistaken, and you’re a strong swimmer and the riptide is not as severe as I believe, can you detect no virtue in my concern?

Jerry Owen

17th September 2019 at 9:58 am

So brexiteers being slagged off for wanting to turn the clock back for the days of empire were ahead of the curve ,and you remainers have just caught up … Or you are just two faced.
Will the true remainers stand up !!

Andrew Clitheroe

17th September 2019 at 11:41 am

It seems a little insecure, frankly, to conflate a democratic union of nations with colonial empires built on blood and conquest just for the chance to preach to the choir that “We are rubber, they are glue.”

It is evident there can be no criticism of the Church of Leave. “Remoaners” cannot be permitted a single redeeming virtue. Everything they value and cherish must somehow be hypocritical or tawdry. Such is the blind zeal of these two minutes of hate that you have personally – not once but twice – made statements in exact opposition to the article while applauding it’s correctness.

Jamie Spary

21st September 2019 at 9:51 pm

You’re implying that 27/28 nations can agree? Take on USA/China? They couldn’t organise the proverbial (ref: migrant crisis/Greek crisis/Italy crisis, need more?).

You talk of exporting values, what are they? We joined a single market and are part of an empire? I hope that one day, you will be conscripted in the eu army to fight for your beliefs. It won’t be though, it’ll be some poor bloke from a leave town.

Andrew Clitheroe

23rd September 2019 at 1:09 pm

If you take a moment to read my post I specifically said it’s not about exporting our values, it’s about us being able to live by them because as a bloc we can’t be pushed around as easily.

As for being conscripted into an EU army – can I play at just making up any old crap, too? Looks fun.

James Knight

16th September 2019 at 5:47 pm

I have yet to meet a Brexiter who talks about Empire or nostalgia. I hear lots of Remoaners in the media talking about that and thinking we are in the 1930s. They are looking at the world through a rear view mirror. Look at how the share of trade with the EU has fallen since the single market came into being. Most global growth is outside the EU. It reveals a poverty of their own vision for the future of th UK outside the EU. You don’t have to have voted leave to have that.

What is even more illiterate is that Brexit is entirely about self governing nationhood. National self determination was a challenge to imperialism and colonialism. It was the key challenge to the age of Empire. You could imagine todays Remoaners dismissing claims for self determination on the grounds that people would be worse off and the natives don’t have the education to know what they are voting for.

Winston Stanley

16th September 2019 at 6:50 pm

Yep, cast your opponents as yourself in the rear-view mirror while obscuring the bigger picture and what is really going on.

Racism and anti-racism are essentially the same thing in their historical contexts, ideational strategies to expand the material base of capitalism. The European ruling classes promoted racism to justify the expansion of capital during the era of imperialism and colonialism, it justified European conquest and domination of new lands.

Now that the European national capitalist states have lost their empires and colonies they use “anti-racism” to justify and to enforce the expansion of the capitalist material base, to expand the domestic market and workforce by incorporating workers from other lands into the home base of the national capitalist state.

The capitalist states are the racist states, just as they are the anti-racist states, essentially they are capitalist states spinning whatever currently suits their material interests as the “good”. The anti-/racist states do not think twice about spinning the opposition to their new joint EU empire as “racist”, even though it is they who are the racists just as they are the anti-racists.

Get this, Brexit voters who want out of the EU empire are the racists and imperialists and not the capitalist states. We supposedly are what those states are/ were in the rear-view mirror when we try to opt out of the empire. What a reversal in that mirror. National self-determination is now “racist and imperialist”.

The deception is preposterous but ppl fall for it. Their habit is to trust the status quo and to blindly conform to it and its propaganda spin – they dissent at their peril b/c there are always plenty of lies and mischaracterisations to use against them. Brexit has brought deception strategies into the light of day.

Winston Stanley

16th September 2019 at 7:10 pm

… Brexit through the looking glass.

Winston Stanley

16th September 2019 at 5:19 pm

Excellent article from Myers.

The dishonesty-gullibility paradigm is unveiled. Do one thing (build empire) while posturing as the opposite (anti-imperialist), and accuse your opponents of being what you yourself are (empire builders). That sort of thing goes on all the time.

It is foundational to “morality”, pose as the “good”, in some rarefied sense, often religious, and above the natural struggle for survival, while really just advancing the interests of one’s species, kind and self.

Never admit what you are and standardly pretend to be the opposite – and cast everyone/ thing else as what you are. Humans are a fundamentally dishonest species. It is like the brain evolved as a deceit organ for deceiving others and the self – and for falling for it.

“The empire of the good.”

The EU at core is a capitalist empire, it is about the expansion of markets, resources and the workforce. Everything else is spin for the “plebs”. It makes perfect sense that the EU would formally expand into Africa – markets, natural resources and more workers. It is a material venture, all else is spin.

The freedom of movement of Africans into the EU is congruent with the needs of capital. The EU has a sub-replacement fertility rate of 1.6 kid per woman, a 75% replenishment rate, which means that the number of births falls to 58% over two generations, to 33% over four generations, and to 20% over six generations, of the original number of births.

Capital going forward needs a huge influx of labour. It already does that by non-EU migration and increasingly by refugees, via Italy, Spain and Greece, and into northern Europe like Germany and France. The EU can do more than dream of making African migration formal by incorporating parts of it into the Schengen Zone.

Capitalist empires have always been about the expansion of markets, resources and the labour force. The EU is no different. It spins it as an “empire of the good” with the “freedom” of movement of goods, capital, services, and labour, exactly what capital needs. And with “liberal democracy” though that is just a posture as Brexit makes clear, and the technocrat governments in Italy, Greece and Ireland. The EU itself is centralised and thoroughly undemocratic.

The EU is the Holy Capitalist Empire. At base it is just a capitalist empire, everything else is spin. We cannot be surprised that the left and liberal moralistas fall for that stuff. There are always lots of ppl who do. Lots of ppl will buy into, and internalise, the “goodness” of the capitalist empire just as lots of ppl bought into and internalised the “goodness” of the feudal empire for 1000 years.

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was also a “good and holy empire”. Really it was just a feudal empire but it used the trappings of religion and of feudal “goodness”, feudal values to reinforce the feudal material empire and feudal social relations. The EU is a capitalist material empire with capitalist social relations and capitalist values , the spin of “goodness” to reinforce the material empire – only superficially liberal democracy, feudalism had the myth of “God” and capitalism has the myth of “democracy” and “freedom” to “justify” it.

Again it is the deceit-gullibility paradigm that is at the heart of morality. Spin a material empire as something else, something “good” and above the material. God may be “dead” but state BS clearly is not.

At base, we are animals struggling for survival in a material world, going through various epochs of material history, and the spinning the whole thing with BS, deceiving ourselves and others about “goodness”, about who and what we are and what we are doing.

Jerry Owen

16th September 2019 at 4:51 pm

It always amazes me that the remainers simply cannot see that Brexit voters are supportive of the WTO, how can that possibly be described as being of ‘little Englander’ mentality ?
The ‘little Englander’ mentality belongs to those that can only just see past the English channel… The remainers !

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