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Event Summaries
May 31, 2016

Event Summary: ‘Britain’s Europe – A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation’

Henry Jackson Society

by Jonathan Rubra

On the 31st of May, Professor Brendan Simms of the University of Cambridge gave a talk titled ‘Britain’s Europe – A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation’. The talk was chaired by Dr Andrew Foxall and hosted by Lord Tugendhat in the Houses of Parliament.

While the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU has amassed a vast array of attention over past months, Professor Simms’s uniquely historical analysis of the subject provided a refreshing insight. Quoting Sir Winston Churchill, he outlined that “Europe is where the weather comes from”, discussing that European influences on British politics are as old as the UK itself.

Professor Simms argued that the debate between Europhiles and Eurosceptics is nothing new, claiming that it has appeared in some form or other over centuries. Due, in no small part, to the extreme complexity of the EU’s identity. He outlines that the EU is ‘a union with federal aspirations but confederal instruments’.

Throughout his talk Professor Simms emphasised the importance of the EU’s influence on the UK. Despite clarifying that there was very little desire from the British population to deepen a relationship with the EU, this should not undermine the importance that the UK has on the EU, and vice versa. Calling for a ‘more British Europe’, Professor Simms was keen to stress the historical importance that this union has had on both sides.

Discussing the past financial crises and current migration crisis, Professor Simms noted that throughout history crises can generate support and distrust for a union, thus it should not be taken for granted that current conditions will result in the collapse of the EU. Afterall, he says, ‘just because you have the catastrophe, does not mean that you have the solution’.

Concluding a thoroughly insightful and comprehensive discussion, Professor Simms noted that much of our understanding of the EU boils down to how we perceive ‘union’ in general. The sooner that we start observing ‘union’ as an event and not a process, the sooner we will be able to understand it on a more functional and historical level.