For this post, EU Perspectives, turns to Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” and a scene where the People’s Judean Front (PJF) plots to kidnap Pontius Pilot’s wife. In between discussing how to get into their hated governor’s house, the conversation turns to, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Rather a lot as it turns out – peace, sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health amongst others, which prompts the leader of the PJF, Reg, (played by John Cleese) to state,
“All right, but apart from – the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health – what have the Romans ever done for us?”
Fast forward two thousand years and it is as if the Monty Python team wrote the script for UKIP and their Tory admirers.
“All right, but apart from – peace, prosperity, trade, funding, an inter-connected infrastructure and cheap French wine – what has the EU ever done for us?”
Tory and UKIP anti-EU campaigners and other Eurosceptics could come straight from central casting. Featuring, Boris “Reg” Johnson, Michael “Reg” Portillo, Lord “Reg” Lawson – or EU Perspectives all time favourite: Mr Fargy-“Reg”-Wargy (aka Nigel Farage).
There is a certain streak of martyrdom to their speeches that smacks of freedom fighter’s rhetoric, which makes David Cameron’s assertion that the Brits come to the European Union, “with a frame of mind that is more practical than emotional” sound at odds with the rhetoric of the odd-bods listed above.
They may wish to portray themselves as England’s last hope to free themselves of the terrible empire that is the EU, but in reality they are no such thing. It is pure sentiment, not reason, that distinguishes freedom fighters from rational politics. Far, far easier for the Reg’s of this world to generate publicity for their cause by spouting populist sound-bites than to sit down and quantify the benefits of pooling interests for peace and prosperity.
Complete withdrawal from the EU may fulfill the ego’s of the cast set out above – but whilst they congratulate themselves on their anti-establishment streak – all the benefits of being an active member of the EU wilt away leaving Britain standing proud, independent, alone – and with egg on her face.
To return once more to “The Life of Brian” Reg pays one final visit to Brian as he awaits crucifixion. Reg, safe and comfortable, congratulates Brian on dying for such a noble cause,
“Your death (Brian) will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the Roman imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture and any other Romans contributing to the welfare of Jews of both sexes and hermaphrodites. Signed, on behalf of the P. F. J. , etc. ”
The question the UK is going to have to ask herself is this: does she want to martyr herself and withdraw from the EU or does she want to continue enjoying the benefits of remaining an active member?
Should the UK vote no to EU membership not doubt “Reg”, wealthy enough to remain safe and secure from the full impact of withdrawal, will turn up and make a final speech which could read as follows,
“The withdrawal of the UK will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate all other EU Member States from the hands of the EU imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture and any other EU members contributing to the welfare of the UK of both sexes and hermaphrodites. Signed, on behalf of the anti-EU campaigners. , etc. ”
At the end of the day though the EU is no empire. It has no Caesar, no Pontius Pilot and no centurion’s with which to enforce its will. The EU is not about authoritarian rule by a God Emperor.
The EU, unlike the Roman Empire, is a consensual body. The UK has a voice and a seat at the table. If the UK decides to withdraw so be it. The other EU member states, wise to the benefits of membership, will move on with or without the UK. Mr Fargy-Reg-Wargy and his ilk, on the other hand, like Don Quixote in a previous era, are tilting their lances at imaginary windmills.