If the European Union wants to make British people angry, it’s doing a stellar job. In October, after revising how they calculate gross domestic product, EU officials determined that Britain was wealthier than they thought. They abruptly handed Britain an unexpected bill for $2.7 billion, including back payment, for the EU budget. Then other EU leaders publicly castigated London for noncompliance with the EU’s liberal immigration policies. And in November, Jean-Claude Juncker—a man who openly spurns democratic norms, saying, for example, in 2011, “I am for secret, dark debates”—was appointed president of the European Commission.
Britain’s simmering resentment of the EU boiled over.
Ever since Britain joined up with Europe in 1973, it has experienced rhetorical fights, political impasses and financial catastrophes. Rather than cohering and melding into Europe, its closeness with the Continent has only caused friction. Yet it has remained steadfastly part of the EU.
But signs are increasing that this relationship is at an impasse. These days, major problems with Europe seem to come every few months, each sparking a reaction more impassioned than the last. And in 2014, the British electorate sent a strong message that it is ready to end the status quo.
In late May, for the first time since 1910, neither the Labor Party nor the Conservative Party won in a nationwide election. The UK Independence Party (ukip) won 26.8 percent of the vote in the European elections, followed by Labor and the Conservatives, which each won around 25 percent.
But ukip always does relatively well in EU elections. Thus, many people dismissed this as a flash in the pan—the apex of ukip’s dramatic rise, which would see it coast back to obscurity in time for the national elections in 2015.
That notion was dispelled in the autumn. On October 9, for the first time ever, a ukip member won an election for a seat in Britain’s Parliament. Then on November 20, a second was voted in. “An Earthquake Called UKIP Hits Britain,” read the title of the Wall Street Journal’s coverage. In both cases, these were high-profile politicians who had defected from the Conservative Party. Their victories put ukip on the national map. ukip also came close to winning seats previously held by Labor Party candidates. Many pundits predict that it will pick up several seats in the next election.
Britain is undergoing a huge political shift.
The shift is so dramatic that U.S. think tank Stratfor—an organization that rarely focuses on internal national politics—noted that ukip leader Nigel Farage’s “rapid rise in British politics has moved the entire British political spectrum toward more euroskeptical positions, and no major party is impervious to ukip’s influence. … Britain’s traditional party system dominated by the Tories [Conservatives] and Labor will undergo a tough test in 2015” (Oct. 15, 2014).
As 2015 dawns on Britain’s relationship with the EU, one thing is clearer than ever. Britain has gone as far toward EU integration as it’s ever going to get. And the gap between the Isles and the Continent is widening fast.
Why is the UK always the fractious member, always wanting to do its own thing? Other EU member countries have issues with Brussels—but none is so keen on leaving as Britain.
What we are seeing is really a manifestation of a fundamental and historical difference between people of Britain and those on the European mainland. Understanding this difference can illuminate just how irreconcilable the differences that are visible between the two really are. And beyond that, it can help to show the direction we can expect Europe to take once—as we expect will happen—the UK is no longer in the picture.
The essential nature of this difference can be best understood by viewing today’s European unification project in its historical context.
The Dream of Rome
“There was once a dream that was Rome,” said Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the movie Gladiator. “You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.” But this fictional version of Marcus Aurelius was wrong. That dream was not fragile. Instead, it has been one of the most enduring dreams in all of history.
In the fifth century, Ataulf, king of the Visigoths—one of the Germanic tribes that brought an end to the Roman Empire in the West—is reported to have said: “At first, I ardently desired that the Roman name should be obliterated, and that all Roman soil should be converted into an empire of the Goths.” But the dream of Rome’s absolute monarchy and the vision of united Europe under one emperor, one law and one church was too strong. So Ataulf concluded: “I have therefore chosen the safer course of aspiring to the glory of restoring and increasing the Roman name by Gothic vigor.” So the king of the Visigoths and his Germanic brethren began a pattern that continues to this day: repeatedly claiming the mantle of a resurrected Rome.
The last 1,500 years of European history can be summarized as repeated attempts to resurrect the empire of Rome. Tyrants and kings from Charlemagne to Napoleon and the Habsburgs to Mussolini all claimed to be new Roman emperors. The title of the German king, kaiser, is merely a Germanized form of the word caesar. Rome’s law, custom and religion have become the standard for a continent.
The European Union is no exception. One of its founding fathers, Otto von Habsburg, said, “The [European] Community is living largely by the heritage of the Holy Roman Empire, though the great majority of the people who live by it don’t know by what heritage they live.” More and more, the popular press is likening the EU to the medieval Holy Roman Empire—so called because its rulers all shared the dream that was Rome.
But there was one small corner of the empire that never bought into that dream. Even after 350 years of Roman occupation, its inhabitants rejected the idea that they were Roman.
Britain was different from the rest of Europe then, and it’s different today. That difference is key to understanding the future of the EU, as Britain drifts, once again, toward the exit.
The Britons “might be within the Roman Empire. But they were outside the charmed circle of Romanness,” writes historian David Starkey in his history of Britain, Crown and Country. “They were subjects and natives. They were not Romans.”
The Roman Empire was full of Gauls, Spaniards and even Germans—whose homeland wasn’t even part of the empire—serving in high office, yet they considered themselves full-fledged Romans. But few if any Britons were among them.
“Whatever the reason … the British then, remained semi-detached from the empire, just as the British now are semi-detached from the European Union,” Starkey concludes.
Norman Davies, a historian with very different political leanings and a different view of history to Starkey, draws the same conclusion. “[T]here can be little doubt that the Roman lifestyle was only adopted by a minority of the total population,” he writes in his book The Isles: A History.
As best as can be seen through the mists of time, the Britons kicked out the Roman invaders in a.d. 410, and then wrote to the emperor to obtain legal sanction for their act. They got it. “It was a unique event in the history of the Roman Empire; it was based on no precedent, and had no parallels elsewhere,” writes Paul Johnson in The Offshore Islanders. “For the first time a colony had regained its independence by law; and it was to remain the last occasion until, in the 20th century, the offshore islanders began the constitutional dismantlement of their own empire.”
After the sacking of Rome in a.d. 410, Britain and most of Western Europe were overrun by Germanic-speaking barbarians. Yet still the Britons remained different. In Europe, life after the fall of Rome was essentially the same as before. People lived in the same towns and cities, worshiped under the same bishops, served the same lords and spoke the same language. All that changed was the remote figure at the top of the empire. The Germanic invaders “divided and localized” the Roman rule, “but they kept all of the wealth, pomp and authority they could,” writes Starkey.
“In Britannia it was a different story,” he continues. “Here the fall of Rome marked the end of Romanness.” When the barbarians came to Britain, they did not try to set up a new Rome.
“Everything that was Roman about Britain,” he says, was “annihilated.”
“Quite why the Anglo-Saxons should have behaved so differently from their fellow Germanic tribesmen across the Channel it is hard to say,” he writes.
“[I]n Britannia, uniquely in Western Europe, there was a fresh start. For along with their new language, the Anglo-Saxons brought a new society, new gods and a new, very different set of political values. And from these, in time, they would create a nation and an empire which would rival Rome. A version of their tongue would replace Latin as the lingua franca: English common law would challenge Roman law as the dominant legal system; and they would devise, in free-market economics, a new form of business that would transform human wealth and welfare.
“Most importantly, perhaps, they would invent a new politics which depended on participation and consent, rather than on the top-down autocracy of Rome. It is a story to be proud of and, at its heart, lies a single institution: the monarchy” (ibid).
The Fate of Modern Rome
These two rival systems have significant bearing on Europe today. That history could repeat itself so directly after 2,000 years have gone by is astonishing. In the rough outline of the disagreements among English leaders on whether or not to expel the legions in the twilight years of ancient Rome, we can see a reflection of Britain’s current debates about its place in the EU.
But there are important differences. In the days of Rome, Britain was an unimportant provincial island at the extremity of the empire. In the EU, however, Britain is a major and influential neighbor. It is not as influential as it would like and nowhere near as powerful as it once was, but it is certainly no mere European colony.
Membership in the EU has been bad for Britain in many ways, but it has come with one advantage. The firm presence of this opposing British system has slowed the EU’s development into a modern incarnation of the Holy Roman Empire. But now, as Britain shuffles toward the exit, its influence on Europe is leaving with it. This frees the Continent to accelerate its integration into a new Roman Empire.
Britain isn’t the only EU member that has remained free of this Roman tradition. Scandinavia, for example, has never been drawn into the orbit of Rome or the Holy Roman Empire. The Netherlands was a founding EU member, yet it has never really shared the dream of Rome. Along with Britain, these nations have helped prevent Europe from once again traveling the path toward the Holy Roman Empire. But with British influence waning, they lack the clout to do so any more.
Romano Prodi, one of the EU’s elder statesmen, describes the effect of Britain’s flirtations with exiting. “France is ever more disoriented, and Britain is losing power by the day in Brussels after its decision to hold a referendum on EU membership,” he wrote in an article for the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero (Nov. 23, 2014).
The result of this retreat is a new power structure building around Germany.
“Germany is exercising an almost solitary power,” Prodi continued. “The new presidents of the Commission and the Council are men who rotate around Germany’s orbit, and above all there is a very strong (German) presence among the directors, heads of cabinet and their deputies. The bureaucracy is adapting to the new correlation of forces.”
The Telegraph’s international business editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, correctly identified what Prodi is describing: “a reconstituted Holy Roman Empire governed from Berlin.” As Britain turns to exit, Europe is once again resurrecting that dream of Rome.
But Evans-Pritchard makes clear that he doesn’t think this new Holy Roman Empire is a viable future for Europe. “If Mr. Prodi is broadly correct—and I suspect he is—British withdrawal from the EU will accelerate an unstable chain reaction and ultimately cause the whole project to unravel,” he wrote. “It is simply unthinkable that the EU can survive as a reconstituted Holy Roman Empire governed from Berlin, yet without at least the charisma and sanctity bestowed on the medieval Hohenstaufen [a dynasty that ruled the Holy Roman Empire] by Rome” (Nov. 24, 2014).
In other words, Europe cannot exist as a German-led Holy Roman Empire without the moral and religious support of the Catholic Church that it had anciently. Evans-Pritchard does not believe it will get that support, and that therefore the whole thing will fall apart.
The Missing Ingredient
His analysis only slightly misses the mark, and mirrors very closely what Herbert W. Armstrong, editor in chief of the Trumpet’s predecessor, the Plain Truth, wrote in his book The United States and Britain in Prophecy: Europe’s “leaders talk continually of political union—which means, also, military. So far they have been unable to bring about full political union. This will be made possible by the ‘good offices’ of the Vatican, who alone can be the symbol of unity to which they can look.”
That situation continues to this day. As has now been well documented, top European leaders launched the euro, Europe’s common currency, in order to force the nations that use it to come together in a political union. That has not happened yet. As bad as it was, the euro crisis was an insufficient catalyst. The missing ingredient in the formula is the Vatican. And there are signs it won’t be missing for much longer.
“A 2,000-year-old history links Europe and Christianity,” Pope Francis told the European Parliament on November 25. Francis was the first pope to address that Parliament in 30 years, and his speech was accompanied by frequent outbreaks of applause. “This history, in large part, must still be written,” he said. “It is our present and our future. It is our identity. Europe urgently needs to recover its true features in order to grow, as its founders intended, in peace and harmony, since it is not yet free of conflicts.”
As men like Prodi and Evans-Pritchard see, an EU without Britain and that separate, anti-Roman tradition will lurch toward becoming a new German-led Holy Roman Empire. This would fall apart without the Catholic Church. However, the church will not let that happen. Once EU leaders are desperate enough to give the Vatican a greater role in the Union, the moral and religious force of the Vatican will come to bear. The EU may come close to collapse before that happens, but the dream of a united Europe—a new Rome—is too strong to fall that quickly.
Why the Difference?
Again, we return to the question: Why does Britain not share that dream? Why is it necessary for the UK to get out of the way for this unity to happen? Why, after 2,000 years, does this stark difference remain between the British and Roman ways of life? That difference is not merely down to an accident of geography. It’s something deeper.
Herbert W. Armstrong found this deeper dimension in the Bible, as he explained in The United States and Britain in Prophecy. It is the biblical and prophetic identity of the British people—as well as those of European peoples, especially the Germans. That same key unlocks the reason for the radical difference between Britain and the Europe that seeks to resurrect Rome. It also unlocks deeper meaning in Britain and Europe’s history.
In that book, Mr. Armstrong proves that Britain, America and several other modern European nations actually descended from Abraham. (They are the modern nations of Israel.)
Because of His promises to Abraham—and not for any special talents or virtues of the British—God gave Britain a world-ruling empire. To do this, He had to preserve them and separate them from the continent of Europe. At the same time, the repeatedly resurrected Roman Empire played a separate role in His plans. Neither group of people is better than the other. Both Britain and Europe are sinning peoples who live in a world that has rejected God. In the coming, God-ruled world, the descendants of Israel and Germany (Assyria) are listed, side by side, among the leading nations of the world (Isaiah 19:24-25).
But for today, God is allowing a revival of the Holy Roman Empire to emerge to punish modern Israel—mainly Britain, America and the Jews in the Middle East. These nations have a long history with God, as detailed in the Bible. They received a huge abundance of blessings from Him. Yet they have become deeply sinful nations—leading many other nations into a way of life that brings misery and hopelessness.
This is the ultimate reason why Britain and the EU cannot mix. Britain is descended from biblical Israel, God’s own nation, and the Holy Roman Empire is the system God will use to punish those descendants of Israel.
This is why, when Herbert Armstrong wrote of a “soon-coming resurrected ‘Holy Roman Empire’—a sort of soon-coming ‘United States of Europe’—a union of 10 nations to rise up out of or following the Common Market of today,” he said that “Britain will not be in that empire soon to come” (Mystery of the Ages; request your free copy). This explains why the forces in Britain that would take it out of the EU are gaining ground, and why ukip will be a force to watch in next year’s UK general election. It also reveals why we should expect a further hardening of attitudes among Europeans toward Britain.
As far back as 1956, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “Germany is the economic and military heart of Europe. Probably Germany will lead and dominate the coming United States of Europe. But Britain will be no part of it
Herbert Armstrong understood this lost master key. The insight this gave him meant he could forecast Britain’s current existential angst about its EU membership—50 years in advance.
This understanding unlocks 2,000 years, and more, of European history. And, far more importantly, it unlocks the purpose God is working out here on Earth, the gospel that Christ brought, and the earthshaking events of the coming few years.
“There is a direct and most vital connection between this true gospel, which Christ taught, and the uniting of 10 nations in Europe,” wrote Mr. Armstrong in the March 1973 Plain Truth. “Prophecy is directly connected with the true gospel.”
This understanding of this master key goes far beyond merely unlocking the history of a small island off the northeast coast of Europe and its place in the EU. “[A]n entire third of our Maker’s revelation to mankind [the Bible] is devoted to prophecy—writing the history of future events before they occur,” wrote Mr. Armstrong in The United States and Britain in Prophecy. “These foretold future events reveal the great purpose being finally worked out—being brought to its completion.”
Understanding this master key unlocks the great purpose that is being worked out in world events. It is understanding that no one can afford to be without.