A historian and writer has set the record straight on Brexiteer arguments that the UK has ever been ‘oppressed’ by European Union membership.
The Conservatives have recently launched the new election slogan “set Britain free”, prompting Dr Helene von Bismarck to retweet her own response from a recent lecture.
The slogan’s sentiment follows remarks from anti-EU figures such as Ann Widdecombe, who has compared leaving the EU to emancipation from slavery.
“The perception of the EU as an oppressor of the United Kingdom is based on an extremely selective reading of the history,” Dr von Bismarck told members of the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House.
I apologise for the RT, but since the Conservative Party has now started to campaign with the slogan 'Set Britain Free', I could not really help myself. https://t.co/JgqFxiLEZm— Helene von Bismarck (@HeleneBismarck) December 2, 2019
The academic, who is a prominent commentator on anglo-EU relations, acknowledged that the UK’s attitude to membership has been “half-hearted”, but said that to French observers, for example, the concessions that the UK has secured within the union are a considerable win.
“British diplomacy within the EU was often extremely successful,” she said, noting all the opt-outs the UK has secured as a member as well as the EC budget rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984.
She continued: “The drama of the last four years should not make us forget that the United Kingdom was much more than just an awkward partner in the integration process.”
In fact, she said, as part of its membership, the UK has championed both the single market and the enlargement of the bloc to include Eastern European countries.
“The European Union is what it is today, not just in spite of but also because of the United Kingdom. And I would say this is not a bad track record for a ‘hostage’ which needs to be unleashed.”
Von Bismarck, who has written for the Times and der Spiegel as well as for numerous academic publications about Brexit, retweeted Chatham House’s video from November 12 saying: “Since the Conservative Party has now started to campaign with the slogan ‘Set Britain Free’, I could not really help myself.”