I was around when Britain joined European Union. New Zealand, along with Australia, Canada, South Africa, India and a whole lot of other little countries were members of the British Commonwealth and, before that, the British Empire. These countries had fought alongside Britain in two world wars, against members of the European Union that Britain was about to join.
It was generally regarded as an act of betrayal but there was very little that could be done about it.
Fundamentally, the British said that they had had enough of the Empire and wanted to join their new friends (and old enemies) in Europe. Strangely, both Australia and New Zealand have been rather more keen on the idea of Empire than Britain has been since then.
The British held a referendum and voted to turn their backs on the Commonwealth and join Europe. The world did not come to an end. In fact, the kids were forced to leave home and grow up.
But some interesting things had happened in Europe as well.
The first half of the 20th century had been characterised by two catastrophic World Wars waged was incredible ferocity and unprecedented technology, particularly in the form of aerial warfare. The total death toll in these two wars is estimate to be around 100 million people.
The city of Kleve lay in ruins in 1945.
In the 19th century, there were four major wars that involved major European nations: the Franco-Prussian War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Crimean War, and the Napoleonic Wars (96 battles and 5 million dead).
Since the European Union was formed, there have been no wars in Europe. So, one the immense, but overlooked, benefits of the European Union has been peace.
That peace has come about because the member nations have decided that it was probably in everybody’s best interests to focus on trade rather than warfare. Britain has been a beneficiary of that process. Now they want to opt out of the system that provided peace, prosperity and stability for the last half of the 20th century.
They want to be the beneficiaries of the system, they just don’t want to have to contribute to maintaining it.
Britain’s exit from the European Union will certainly not mean that Europe will be plunged into military conflict but there are benefits from international unions that are based on cooperation and trade and these unions require everybody to sacrifice some national interests for the greater benefit.
Britain has clearly indicated it is no longer prepared to make this kind of effort.