We are not leaving. We’re abdicating

European flag on the roof of SPD party headquarters Credit: Jens Büttner/PA

European flag on the roof of SPD party headquarters Credit: Jens Büttner/PA - Credit: DPA/PA Images

We cannot abandon our continent and responsibility for its defence and properity says ANDREW ADONIS

We cannot abandon our continent and our responsibility for its defence and prosperity, either as a practical or as a moral proposition.

Whenever we have attempted to do so in the past, the result has been strife and often war and huge bloodshed.

Because we were so sure of victory in the referendum two years ago, and David Cameron wanted to avoid 'blue on blue' arguments, this fundamental truth was downplayed.

But it goes to the heart of our national purpose and identity, as I argue in my new book with Will Hutton, Saving Britain.

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It is an age-old debate. Its essence is the dispute between Churchill and Chamberlain over the Munich agreement of 1938, the background to the two blockbuster films of the last year, Darkest Hour and Dunkirk.

Chamberlain, in his broadcast the night before flying to Munich to barter Europe's future with Hitler, pronounced the German dictator's threat to Czechoslovakia 'a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing'.

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Churchill repudiated this idea fundamentally, prophesying that the subjugation of Czechoslovakia would be followed by Poland and ultimately the peace and freedom of Europe at large, including our north-western part of it.

When people say, 'but that was then, this is now, and it's completely different,' they are so wrong. Consider the neo-fascist Putin, straight out of the 1930s.

Putin has already invaded and occupied one of his neighbours (Ukraine), and is militarily and psychologically threatening both the Baltic states to the north and the Balkans to the south.

A senior NATO general put it thus to me: 'Putin is like the hotel thief who goes down the row of doors trying all the handles, and slips into any which are open or loose.'

The general made another vital point: 'Don't think that you can separate defence and trade as the Brexiters do – and say defence is safe with NATO.

'Countries which engage in trade wars soon fall apart on defence and security too, which is the lesson of relations between Britain and Germany in the decades leading up the First World War.'

Tellingly, the best book on that subject, by Christopher Clark, is entitled The Sleepwalkers.

It is not only trade and security which cannot be separated, but different forms of defence co-operation.

Britain and the EU are already at daggers drawn – almost literally – over future British engagement in Galileo, the EU's £9 billion space navigation project, which has overlapping defence, scientific and commercial applications.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Brexiters making bellicose statements about how 'outrageous' it is for the French to be 'playing games' with Galileo should reflect on their own statements that NATO was unaffected by Brexit and we could sleep safely at night.

And we haven't even left the EU yet!

Churchill saw all this. It is why he stood up to Hitler and offered France a complete political union instead of its armistice with Hitler in June 1940.

It is also why he was to the fore in the setting up of what became the European Union, a movement he launched with his great Zurich 'United States of Europe' speech of 1946 – which, significantly, came six months after his Fulton speech on Stalin's 'Iron Curtain' descending over Europe.

To those who say that these larger purposes have always been obscured, this too is nonsense. Just read the EU's founding treaties.

The Treaty of Paris, which established the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, opens with these words... 'Considering that world peace can be safeguarded only by creative efforts commensurate with the dangers that threaten it…resolved to substitute for age-old rivalries a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts, have decided to establish a Coal and Steel Community.'

The only thing to have changed since 1951 is the end of the coal industry – and the demise of Europe's steel industry, now further threatened by Trump's punitive tariffs which a united Europe is seeking to resist in the name of our prosperity and security.

So, no to abdication. Modern Britain is better than Edward VIII.

We are the new Elizabethans.

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