BY JAMIE FOSTER
On 31 July, the French Embassy in the UK decided to tweet about Passchendaele. The decision itself was unsurprising enough, the tweet, however, bordered on trolling. The French Embassy tweeted that Passchendaele provided an opportunity to cherish peace, solidarity and unity brought about by the EU:
This seems a tad churlish from a nation that is usually so good at remembering the efforts Britain made to ensure French liberation from two German occupations. The twiteratti were quick to point out the fact that peace in Europe owed more to NATO and the US than it did to the EU. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the French Embassy is guilty of mixing up correlation and causation.
It may sound controversial but peace in Europe was largely secured by the invention and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Their potential for devastation ensured that no European state could afford the potential loss of life that a war involving nuclear weapons would bring. Like them or loathe them the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons across Europe was far more tangible a source of peace than the decision to enter a customs union and employ an army of bureaucrats to oversee it. The EU was a product of peace not the cause of it.
It is nonsense to suggest that the EU played any active role in peace-making since its formation. One only need remember the fact that France had a team of advisors in Buenos Aires during the Falklands War, assisting Argentina with the use of Exocet missiles supplied by the French, and membership of the EU did absolutely nothing to prevent this, to recognise that EU membership had little to do with peaceful relations between members. The EU’s contribution to the Serbian conflict highlighted how ill prepared the EU was to act as a peacemaker in Europe.
Currently the greatest threat to peace in Europe comes from terrorism. It is beyond argument that the principle of freedom of movement has made life easier, rather than more difficult for terrorists to operate in mainland Europe. France has found itself to be a particular target of this effect. It is hard to see how peace, solidarity or unity are furthered by the threat from within of terrorists whose activities appear unaffected by the existence of the EU.
It is a shame that an embassy would choose such an undiplomatic message to share with its host. Brexit is a reality that the French must come to terms with. It would seem a matter of common sense that the embassy should do all it can to ensure cordial relations with the UK following Brexit. If Passchendaele teaches us anything it is that France, despite the courage shown during the battle, still needed Britain to come to her aid when the chips were down. The Brits fought alongside our French allies despite not, at the time being members of the EU. We did so twice in the space of thirty years. When the precursors to the EU were being formed France didn’t want Britain to join, and it wasn’t until the death of De Gaulle that position changed. Now it would appear they don’t want us to leave.
Peace should never be taken for granted. As we move forward into a future free of the EU the UK must continue to provide support to our European neighbours in times of trouble whenever they arise. In order to combat terrorism and the threat to peace that it represents it will be necessary to continue to work closely with the EU member states. It would be entirely wrong to suggest that our no longer being members should affect our ability to do so. France would do well to remember that it was the British, and not the EU, who laid down our lives to ensure French liberation. If membership of the EU contributes anything to the maintenance of peace it must be the recognition that our mutual interests outweigh our individual interests. As we leave the EU everything must be done to ensure that good relations are maintained and that the UK deal is one that does not threaten our mutual interests. In achieving this it may be a good idea for the French to think carefully in future before they tweet.
Jamie Foster is Chief Writer for Country Squire Magazine