Today, Europe commemorates the end of the First World War with the signing of the Armistice in the woods of Compiegne. But the flawed peace Treaty of Versailles the following year did not end the war – tragically, it merely set the stage for Part Two to start in 1939.
Winston Churchill called this whole period the Thirty Years War so in 1946 he determined to launch a genuine reconciliation throughout Europe. The following year, he founded the European Movement – both in the UK and across the whole of Europe - for the purpose of creating a mass movement for a `just peace’ – with the Charter of Human Rights at its centre. That movement flowered into what we now call the European Union and, last year, we celebrated 60 years of peace amongst its members.
From the very beginning, Churchill recognised the need for broad integration. In 1948, the breadth of his vision was laid out at The Hague: “Mutual aid in the economic field and joint military defence must inevitably be accompanied step by step with a parallel policy of closer political unity.” In the last of these speeches, he made his views on the UK’s role crystal clear: “Britain is an integral part of Europe, and we mean to play our part in the revival of her prosperity and greatness.” (More and full analysis including text of these speeches)
The message was taken up by French Foreign Minister Schumann when he made his celebrated Declaration in 1950 and stated "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity." That dogged building of solidarity was done through the concrete achievements of first the Customs Union in 1957, and then the Single Market in 1992.
It is this painfully-built solidarity between Britain and the rest of the EU that may be about to be shattered by Brexit. If we do indeed turn our backs on `them’ just as we all jointly commemorate the end of Part One of the Thirty Years War and deliberately unravel Churchill’s vision of “mutual aid in the economic field”, then the symbolism to `them’ will be dramatic.
But – even at this late stage - Brexit does not have to happen. Three weeks ago, more than 700,000 people marched through the streets of London to demand a People’s Vote on the final deal that would unravel the Churchillian vision. The largest opinion poll yet -by Channel Four - showed a major shift of opinion to favour Remaining in the EU. That cannot be surprising as a Sky news poll in the summer showed plummeting belief by electors in the Government’s negotiating competence: by 78:10, they believe the Government is doing a bad job.
As Members of Parliament pay tribute to the dead of the Thirty Years War, surely they cannot fail to see the connection with the Sixty Years of Peace and Prosperity that have ensued. They must now represent the best interests of their constituents, look into their consciences and ensure that the people have the final say on such a profound decision.
Graham Bishop is vice-chair of the European Movement and an experienced consultant on European Integration. You can sign up to receive his briefings and more at GrahamBishop.com.