A Conversation With a British Euroskeptic

On June 23, the people of Britain will vote on whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is arguing that Britain should stay in the EU, but a lot of Britons want out, including political economist Rodney Atkinson. A widely published commentator, journalist and author—as well as a former parliamentary candidate and ministerial adviser—Atkinson has argued against Britain’s part in the EU for decades.

Trumpet: How would you summarize your main problems with the European Union project?

Rodney Atkinson

Rodney Atkinson: Well, any objective observer today of Europe would find disturbingly too many comparisons between today and 1941, which was the high point of the Nazi and fascist domination of the European continent. This might sound incredible, and indeed, it should be unheard of, but in fact because of the surrender of democratic sovereignty by so many nations of Europe to this notion of a United States of Europe, the desires of the Nazis and fascists in the 1930s and ’40s have, to a large extent, been reproduced in what was supposed to be a peaceful alternative to that very same fascist Europe.

T: There’s so much about Europe that has the appearance of democracy. You’re arguing very differently.

RA: Indeed, because the sovereign rights of the peoples of Europe emanate from the national parliaments, and all those national parliaments today are pretty well powerless. Instead we have a German- (at best a German- and French-) dominated technocracy or bureaucracy in Brussels …. The form of the European Parliament … is grotesquely undemocratic by any normal national standards. And of course, the 17 or 18 of those 28 countries have, in addition, surrendered their currencies to the euro. Of course, once you surrender your currency, you cannot really exist as a sovereign country.

T: Viewing the popular discontent and unrest in Greece, Italy and other European Union nations, do you see a certain inevitability to the average citizen feeling like they have really lost something?

RA: Yes. It’s taken rather a long time for them to realize it—20, 30, 40 years depending on how long each country has been a member—but now of course the economic and democratic conditions are so horrendous that even the average person has begun to realize what a mistake it all was. I mean we have 23 or 24 million people unemployed in the European Union. That’s over 10 percent of the population, and this level of unemployment has gone on now for decades. … [But] it’s not just the unemployment; it’s the social decline, the collapse of health and social systems, the mass migration of young people, particularly from the Mediterranean countries to the center, to Germany and Holland and Luxembourg in the north …. We’ve seen a social, economic and, of course, democratic collapse due to this hubris, this grotesque imperial idea, which has been dressed up as a peaceful solution after the Second World War.

T: Could you give us a more specific sense of how this represents a modern manifestation of Nazi ideals?

RA: Well, if we look at the 1941–42 plans of the Nazi regime for the whole of Europe—which they called the European Economic Community, which is exactly the name given to the European Union when it was first founded in the late ’50s …—of course, they always start off, these imperialists, in the same way. They have the trade agreements, and then customs unions, and economic union, and then it gradually becomes political union, and then of course they’ve created an imperial state. So that process has been going on since the 1950s. …

If you look at Europe today we see it looks remarkably like the Europe of 1941, which was the sort of height of Nazi fascist aims and ambitions. We see, for instance, the breakup of Yugoslavia into Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, with many names from the fascist period being used by modern-day activists. We see the breakup of Czechoslovakia, just as we did then, into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. We’ve seen a move to overturn a democratically elected government in Ukraine, just as in 1941, of course, Hitler assembled the biggest army in history, 4 million men, to invade Russia through Belarus and Ukraine. And we see today, after these decades of mass unemployment and bankruptcy, how Germany now dominates Europe. Because 28 nation-states have been destroyed democratically. Twenty-eight constitutions, 28 parliaments have effectively no power. Nineteen currencies, 19 central banks have been disposed of. And the German dominance is through the Frankfurt European Central Bank and its currency. Germany has one of the biggest trade surpluses in history: 8 percent of gdp. It’s a massive surplus. And that, of course, is reflected in the massive deficits by other parts of the world and other parts of the European Union.

This economic power has given Angela Merkel enormous political power. We’ve just seen how she’s bulldozed Europe into coming to an agreement with Germany’s old ally from the First World War, Turkey. And we see the nervousness of Russia and Putin, who rightly sees what most East Europeans also see, which is a movement to the east by a German-dominated superstate, not accountable to democratic control because the cradle of democratic control has always been the nation-state, and those nation-states have effectively been eliminated. …

East Europeans know this. Russians know this. And gradually, thank God, more and more people in Britain and the rest of Europe know it, as well. Unfortunately they tend then to vote for extremes of one side or the other, in desperation. But that’s precisely, of course, what happened in Germany in the 1920s and ’30s in the Weimar Republic. They were desperate, and you’ve got millions of people joining the Nazi Party, and then they were disappointed with them, and they then joined the Communist Party, then they went back to the Nazi Party, and they had this enormous swinging pendulum. And you’re getting exactly the same today with extremist parties like Syriza in Greece, like Podemos in Spain.

T: How much is Germany able to do what it’s doing simply because of the ignorance of the people?

RA: Well, it’s principally the ignorance of the political leaders. … In Britain, you know, which is one of the cradles of democracy, we have a democratic constitution which in various forms [challenges] the absolute rule of the king, goes back 800 years to Magna Carta in 1215. … It’s interesting that the freedoms that were granted then to the people of England by the barons forcing the king to sign the Magna Carta … also arose out of the conflict between King John, who signed the Magna Carta, and the pope in Rome. Of course, the Vatican then—as now, incidentally—does not hold much truck with independent nation-states. They don’t like the idea of individual countries going their own way. Indeed, most of British history is a litany of attempts by the Vatican to destroy the sovereignty of the British people. Of course, there was a time when sovereignty just meant the sovereignty of the king; now, of course, it means a democratic society—the democratic rights of the people to appoint, to vote for, their own lawmakers. So you need to know history, preferably, 800 years ago.

T: A lot of people have called for a referendum on Britain leaving the EU for a long time. What has changed, in your view, to make this happen now?

RA: Well, these protest parties have become more and more powerful, more and more threatening of the establishments. In the case of Cameron, his Conservative Party’s claim to represent conservatives has been challenged. Certainly the UK Independence Party appeals also to socialists, who no longer have faith in the socialist party, the Labour Party in Britain. And this has now risen to such a crescendo that the established parties are worried. …

The whole system has got out of kilter because democracy has been destroyed.

T: How optimistic are you about the outcome of that referendum?

RA: Well, first of all, I think no matter what way the vote goes, the pro-EU side has lost because they’ve never had such opposition as they have today. We have really quite substantial leading members of the Conservative Party, also of the Labour Party, actively campaigning to get our country back, to leave the structures of the European Union. And I think the British people will vote to leave. … But even if there’s a narrow victory for staying in the European Union, things will never be the same again, and effectively the Euro-fanatics will have lost even if they’ve won.

T: What do you think the future for Europe is?

RA: It will gradually break down. It’s already broken down. This massive migration crisis has led to the reimposition of national border controls. The economy: The European Central Bank today has agreed to another great wave of money-printing. They’ve reduced interest rates even more, from minus 0.3 percent to minus 0.4 percent, I think. This is all economic nonsense of the highest level. Because it’s not lack of money in the system that’s the problem. It’s the lack of money in the pockets of the people to spend—that’s where all industry and commerce and prosperity begins. Without people to spend money, business has no reason at all to borrow, to invest. That is an elementary thing. And of course, they’ve destroyed the distribution of capital in Western economies. They’ve concentrated it all in the kind of big businesses who are now dictating to us that we have to stay in the European Union. …

The whole system has got out of kilter because democracy has been destroyed, and democracy’s been destroyed because nation-states have been destroyed. And the very people who were so supportive of Hitler personally and the German Europe of the 1940s—the very corporations—are back again today in support of the European Union, which is also collapsing.