Brexit: World War II without guns

The EU referendum was decided by the baby boomers, the generation to which I belong and a generation that has spent a lifetime romanticising about a conflict in which it had little or no involvement. I spent my boyhood immersed in the glory of World War II. I knew the names of German generals, built Airfix models of Spitfires and ME109s and listened to family war stories. And I believe there are far more people in the UK than is healthy, who like me can name every capital ship in the German fleet! Little wonder then that my generation views Europe with suspicion.

For many baby boomers I suspect that attitudes to the EU are linked to WWII conflict, a war defined in the nostalgia of the opening credits of Dad’s Army where brave little union jacks are driven back across the Channel by menacing swastikas. But what if this nonsense were to turn out to be true? What if Brexit is history repeating itself, but this time without guns? If it is, then this is how things might play out in this admittedly fanciful scenario from an unrepentant Remainer:

Phase 1: The Phoney War. This is where we are now. War has been declared, but nothing much is happening. Confidence is high, speculation rife, but daily life continues as usual. It’s endless summer and people are wondering what all the fuss is about.

Phase 2: Dunkirk. Our plucky Brexit Expeditionary Force is sent to Brussels, but the BEF is under-strength and ill-equipped to combat the surging panzers. We get our asses well and truly kicked and withdraw from Europe in disarray salvaging national pride by spinning defeat as opportunity.

Phase 3: Blood, toil, tears and sweat. Alone in the world we seek out new allies in our global free trade vision, but, as the years roll by, we are dismayed as UK businesses wilt from the uncontrollable blitz of cheap foreign goods from competing WTO nations. EU free movement of people begins to look a lot less threatening than the free movement of Chinese steel and New Zealand lamb.

Phase 4: Victory. After years of struggle, stability returns but the UK is once again in hock to a superpower. In 1941 it was the USA, this time it’s China. Hinkley Point, we come to realise was the first instalment of a high-interest version of the Marshall Plan. But who cares, the lights are on, we won, so let’s party.

Phase 5: Austerity. Proud, free and broke we re-enter an age of hard austerity where consumers find they can’t always get what they want. We continue to fret about the national debt and wonder if we might re-join a Europe celebrating the economic miracle of post-Brexit recovery, but alas, a new Charles de Gaulle, he says, ‘Non’.

* Phil Aisthorpe has been a Lib Dem member since September 2015 having previously been a life-long Labour supporter. In a previous life, Phil worked as an IT planning manager and business strategy manager with a leading UK financial services organisation.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Only thing, the self same baby boomers voted heavily in favour of joining the community in 1975.

  • Phil Aisthorpe 28th Sep '16 - 2:42pm

    Well Theakes, the article wasn’t intended to be literally true. Just drawing parallels and suggesting that Brexit may well turn out to be not worth all the pain.

  • As it looks likely that the split between Corbynites and other Labour people is around migration (Corbyn believing in a higher migration fund and more spending for public services) with people like Burnham actually believing in lower migration, sectoral limits and some sort of planned migration I would say Leave are doing quite well.

    It’s only the LIb Dems that can’t see the light and are taking an extreme unsustainable cloud cuckoo land position – of not having a coherent policy thus having a de facto `open borders` policy.

  • It’s like saying that if the Lib Dems win Witney then it won’t be worth the effort. Everything is worth the effort even if it’s a signal on the line.

  • Have you ever considered a completely different scenario ie that we gain tariff free access to the single market due to the EU still wanting to sell their goods to us, we are able to develop trade agreements outside of the EU and see higher growth than the EU – or are the Lib Dems still in this submissive stage cowering before the EU like a leather slave in his/her cage while the EU has the whip in its hand/

  • james 28th Sep ’16 – 3:40pm……………Have you ever considered a completely different scenario ie that we gain tariff free access to the single market due to the EU still wanting to sell their goods to us, we are able to develop trade agreements outside of the EU and see higher growth than the EU – or are the Lib Dems still in this submissive stage cowering before the EU like a leather slave in his/her cage while the EU has the whip in its hand/…………….

    Rhetoric worthy of Donald Trump… So your idea is that we will be given all the advantages of membership without paying and without free movement of people?

    What possible objection could ALL the other members have to that?

  • William Ross 28th Sep '16 - 3:57pm

    Another crazy Lib-Dem post trying to compare Brexit to World War 2. Last time it was Vichy France and now its Dad`s Army. I love Dad`s Army too but there are no parallels. Only 6 % of UK companies export to the EU at all. The EU share of our trade is steadily falling and is now at about 45%. This represents about 10% of our GDP. Even if the EU are mad enough to shoot themselves in the foot by refusing to do a trade deal , WTO tarrifs are low. The EU have no “panzers”. Brexit means no more of our money to Brussels, no more Brussels law and no more free movement of people. It is simple in principle. We are not going to be a member of the Single Market after Brexit. We will in all likelihood have a trade deal. If not, little matter…

  • Phil Aisthorpe 28th Sep '16 - 4:13pm

    The idea that the UK’s relationship with the EU is like some sort of supine vassal state under the heel of a malevolent foreign empire is laughable. It’s a club that we joined freely as a full and equal member. It’s a club that we helped build. We freely signed all the treaties. We avoided the bits we don’t like and overall we have prospered as a result. We may be alone in opposing the flow of populism but the Lib Dem position is both rational and principled and one day like Iraq we will be proved right. James, I do not recognise the world that you inhabit.

  • The thing about WWII is that it was worth the effort, so the metaphor is all over the shop. Is it really wise for a pro EU piece to talk about surging Panzers. Coz the perception that EU sometimes seems dictatorial and Germanic is not exactly being challenged here. Also the last point seems to suggest being in hock to the US in 1941 was worse than the alternative which is a bit boggling when you think about it. Hinckley Point by the way was commissioned while we were in the EU.

  • William Ross 28th Sep '16 - 4:22pm

    You are an amazing guy! We ” freely signed all the treaties”? Elitists in the three major parties fundamentally altered the British Constitution by signing the Mastricht and Lisbon treaties amongst others without consulting the people. Having studiously denied the British people a right to vote on their transformed relationship with the EEC/EC/EU since 1975, you want an immediate re-run!

  • @expats – why? loads of other countries seem to have that sort of relationship with it. Brexit was about smashing orthodoxies and creating new realities. The new reality will be that we will have tariff free access, passporting via MiFid2 and the ability to create our own laws and create our own trade agreements. Whatever we do with the EU will have the will of the people behind it answerable by ministers. Why do the Lib Dems think that’s a bad thing? Are they afraid of hard work or change? They seem in psychological paralysis.

  • Phil Aisthorpe 28th Sep '16 - 4:45pm

    What an odd view of democracy you have William. Elected leaders are elitist and governments shouldn’t govern! Perhaps we should all live in a hippy commune. And no, the issue isn’t about re-running a referendum, it’s about remaining in the world’s largest single market and working towards creating a more united and stronger Europe that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s other great powers.

  • Barry Snelson 28th Sep '16 - 4:54pm

    You have the familiar Brexiteers problem with pronouns. It isn’t “we” and “our” it’s all theirs.
    “They” won’t have to worry about reataliatory tarifs on their car exports because they will move their UK plants to inside the single market.

    Only Morgan of Great Malvern is “ours”. Mini and Rolls-Royce are German. Ford and Vauxhall are American, Jaguar Land Rover is Indian, MG are Chinese and for Nissan Toyota and Honda the clue is in the name.
    No director of any of these companies could willingly see a 10% hit on their European sales so as each model line comes to the end the replacement investment will be safely inside the single market. They will then export to the UK from the EU and stop exporting to the EU from the UK. I am sure the EU will help fund these moves with real glee.

  • William Ross 28th Sep '16 - 5:03pm

    As you know, the Lisbon Treaty, which gave us the famous Article 50, was nothing other than the rejected EU Constitution re-cooked. Eurocrats could not take “No” for an answer. A basic principle is that changes to the Constitution require popular support. After Lisbon, the UK government took this principle to heart and legislated that there could be no further transfer of power to Brussels without popular consent.
    We should have voted on Mastricht and Lisbon. I for one did not want free movement of people, or qualified majority voting. Britain ( or Scotland) must be sovereign and independent.

    I spoke finally on 23 June.


  • The idea that the UK’s relationship with the EU is like some sort of supine vassal state under the heel of a malevolent foreign empire is laughable

    You should be honest about what the end goal of our relationship was for pro-EU federalists: the same as the relationship between, say, California and the United States.

    That is: without our own foreign policy, defence policy, or military, and with all our laws subject to being overridden by a federal parliament and interpreted by a federal supreme court.

  • “We freely signed all the treaties.”

    Who is this *We* you are referring to.?
    Fact is, that a variety of politicians, signed a variety of treaties signing away our sovereignty in incremental steps over the last 30 years,.. and *We*,… the people were never consulted at any of those stages. Once we eventually got consulted on June the 23rd, we made it very clear what we think of their unasked for EU treaties, their membership fee extortion, and their attempted theft of UK sovereignty.

    Phil,… *WE* are Leaving.

  • William Ross 28th Sep '16 - 5:51pm

    Wow, Phil has fairly brought out a “Stuka” attack by the Brexiteers!

    My last word is: Phil please go on enjoying Dad`s Army, the Dambusters, etc as will I.
    But don`t change our constitution without consulting the people and when they speak, please accept their word The Second War World has NOTHING to do with Brexit!

  • Andrew McCaig 28th Sep '16 - 6:20pm

    As Hillary Clinton said about Donald Trump: “you live in your own world! “

  • Phil Aisthorpe 28th Sep '16 - 6:23pm

    My article was intended to be more allegory than analogy, William, so of course the history of WWII has nothing to do with Brexit other than both have or will have a beginning, key events, an end and an aftermath. I also hoped it would be thought more amusing than it has proved to be so I’ll forget about a future in stand-up. I still believe though that many people of my generation are overly influenced by an unrealistic view of the war.

  • I think the problem is that you decided to imagine the aftermath as being so negative, and did so with such glee.

    Apparently you find the idea of the country’s destruction… amusing? Can you see how there might be a problem with tone there?

    As they say in stand-up, ‘Read the room!’

  • Barry Snelson 28th Sep '16 - 9:24pm

    Phil Alsthorpe’s op-ed, I thoght, struck an optimistic tone, not a negative one at all. My own predictions don’t end in ‘victory’ in any recognisable form.
    Far from amused I am grimly depressed. Everyone of our significant industries is foreign controlled and won’t stay here to be used as negotiating levers by the Kippers. They won’t hesitate to move to the other side of any tariff barrier we end up with.
    This will all end bad, real bad, and I have never heard any arguments otherwise, that weren’t just ludicrously over optimistic.

  • “We freely signed all the treaties.”

    Who is this *We* you are referring to.?
    Fact is, that a variety of politicians, signed a variety of treaties signing away our sovereignty in incremental steps over the last 30 years,..

    This is the issue that once again rear’s it’s head, namely keeping Westminster on the straight and narrow; as yet we don’t have a solution – but we will need one as Brexit effectively removes some constraints on Westminster. This isn’t a modern problem, we only need to look at the history of Magna Carta to see that it took repeated interventions to get successive monarchs to understand that they were honour bound to uphold the historical agreement.

  • This is the issue that once again rear’s it’s head, namely keeping Westminster on the straight and narrow; as yet we don’t have a solution – but we will need one as Brexit effectively removes some constraints on Westminster.

    That’s what Labour/Lib Dems/SNP and the left of the Tory party are for post-brexit.

  • This is all speculation with little basis. May isn’t giving her hand away and she’s probably right not to do so if it weakens our position. Frustrating I’ll grant you, but negotiations with 27 other states and the EU itself can’t be done properly overnight and no amount of sniping will change that. We should be trying to influence the negotiations but we’re making it easy for us to be ignored through denial. Personally I’ll make a judgement when I see what’s on the table.

  • Why do we give space to these peculiar historical parallel articles, which contain little meaningful analysis or insight but simply try and shoehorn current events into some kind of warped pseudo-historical analogy? They simply make us all look dumb by association.

  • WW2 wasn’t just in Europe. Think Japan. The above article reflects the insular views that have developed in the UK in the last two decades. The Brexiteers are in for a shock if they think doing business in Asia is easy. Glib remarks about trading with the world are easier said than done.

  • Stevan Rose 29th Sep '16 - 7:39am

    “remarks about trading with the world are easier said than done.”

    Yet little New Zealand with just 4 million people manages it. Go figure.

  • Steven
    NZ does a lot of trade with Australia and the US.
    Of course China has become an important market,
    People there don’t want Chinese milk products after all the scandals.
    There is some NZ ice cream in my local supermarket
    but at 500 baht a block not so many buyers. They don’t
    stock Zilch low sugar anymore.

  • Little as in much smaller population. But you knew that anyway. The point is many other countries manage perfectly well without being in the EU. I export to the US and Australia. Some of my materials are imported from Italy but I’m happy to switch to UK materials. So blinded are people by this EU obsession that they are not looking for the opportunities. Those opportunities mean getting off bottoms and going to look. Brexit will happen, despite my voting Remain. Too bad, I will make it work for me and my business.

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Sep '16 - 12:46pm

    Gosh Phil you have stirred it up and I thought your article was gently amusing! I’m the same generation and also voted Remain and voted In in the first place so appreciate your attempts to make the awfulness of Brexit humorous. I thought the China bit was good too. Lib Dems usually pride themselves on their ability to laugh at a crisis so I think you’ll fit in very well.
    PS I’m really glad Stevan thinks he can make Brexit work for his company which also cheers me up.

  • Kay Kirkham 29th Sep '16 - 3:01pm

    I too am a baby boomer ( 1950 version ) and I am going to repeat the intervention I made in the Europe debate in Brighton. My maternal grandfather was wounded in WW1 but survived to have a son who was killed at Dunkirk. During my childhood in the 1950s I heard quite a lot about WW2 with remarks like ‘before the war’ this happened or ‘ during the war’ we did this. I am appalled that so many of my generation have forgotten the bloody conflicts of the 20th century and voted Leave when we need a closer relationship with the rest of Europe not a more distant one.

    As for Dad’s Army, It is very funny as a TV programme but my mother who was in the ATS was less than complimentary about the reality of what they could have achieved had there been an invasion.

  • Phil Aisthorpe 29th Sep '16 - 4:24pm

    Thanks for all the comments. You have motivated me to write more!

  • Stevan
    When it comes to doing business with the Chinese the word is ‘guanxi’.
    Many parts of the world are forming economic unions. The Asean Economic Community came into existence this year.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Sep '16 - 5:54pm

    “Who do you think we are kidding Mr… if you think wer’e on the run .. !”

  • Lorenzo
    China won the war too. Thank God for the Americans and Russians.

  • Simon Banks 30th Sep '16 - 2:30pm

    Er, we did have European allies, didn’t we? Rather a lot of Poles in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, for example, and the British evacuation at Dunkirk would have been a lot less successful without a French army fighting to slow down the approaching Germans. Quite a lot of Germans fought for us, too – former refugees (BOO!) described by the Daily Mail as “a flood of stateless Germans”.

  • “Rather a lot of Poles in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, for example”.

    141 Polish pilots, out of a total of just under 2,900 from Britain + elsewhere. Slightly under 5% of the total.

    Not wishing to denigrate the contribution of a group of extremely brave individuals, but I do find it grating that some current day Poles, and others, posting on various sites, have “bigged up” this minor contribution, to an extent that I have seen it presented that we should allow unfettered free movement of people from the EU because they “Saved us during WWII”.

    I was born at the tail end of the baby boomer generation, I think, (1963) and was immersed in the mythos of world war two: reading about Stanford Tuck and Douglas Bader, etc. Watching ‘The longest day’ when it was broadcast, seemingly every June 6th. The first film I ever went to see alone, at the cinema, and still a favourite, is ‘A bridge too far’.

    But even I am aware that Britain/the commonwealth did not ‘win’ world war two in Europe. We simply avoided loosing it at a critical point, and victory is more due to the Red army, and our survival at least as much due to the Royal navy.

    We simply joined in, VOLUNTARILY, to ‘save’ Poland. To limited success, but to which Poles ought to be grateful to US, for at least making the attempt. It is highly possible we could have reached an ‘amicable’ arrangement with the Axis, sat the war out and ‘preserved the empire’, as opposed to trying to stop the threat of a pan-European dictatorship. The Poles, of course, didn’t have a choice in the matter.

  • Yes, I’m aware of the later Polish contribution to the British/CW war effort, out of proportion to their size. But their size in the Western/African front was very small in proportion to the large forces employed there.

    A case in point – Arnhem, of ‘Bridge too far’ fame. The Polish parachute brigade of around 2,500 men. There is a scene in the film showing the Poles landing – and capturing their own landing areas against german opposition, an incredible feat of arms.

    There is also a scene, at the beginning of the film, where Edward Fox, as General Horrocks drives down the 30-Corps Column, greeting individual men. The thing to appreciate is, that the entire column of the corps, in movement order, would be over 80 MILES long. One of several British corps in that army, one of two British, or majority British, armies in that theatre. One of several theaters where the British were fighting in numbers in their hundreds of thousands. The Polish contribution, in numbers, was minor. Less so on the eastern front, where larger numbers could be massed into a full polish army – by the Russians releasing the Polish prisoners of war that they’d taken in the first place, in 1939.

    Technological contributions were notable, but not war changing. They did contribute to the breaking of the pre-enigma military codes, but later effort was all British/CW. And… I’ve not heard of the mine detector contribution, but it doesn’t sound to be as significant as say, centimetric radar (to be carried on planes, able to detect u-boat periscopes), or the atomic bomb.

    I am not trying to denigrate the contribution of the Polish, which was phenomenal GIVEN THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES. Just that I find it an irritation to have the welcome and not insignificant contribution to OUR war effort gradually being converted into the meme that ‘We’d have lost if it wasn’t for the Polish saving your asses’ in WWII.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • David LG
    There's actually a good interview with Layla Moran on this subject here where she talks about how she changed our policy on this as well as her families situati...
  • David LG
    The odd thing is that it is already our parties policy to immediately recognise Palestine. Furthermore Layla Moran has introduced a Palestine recognition bill t...
  • Yeovil Yokel
    That's a very fancy lanyard Richard is wearing!...
  • Andy Chandler
    @David Raw David have you read my article. I praised those achievements that you just stated. It's within the text. I am just saying that this goes beyond p...
  • Andy Chandler
    @David Raw I mean I will say that in my best judgement I have read my political biographies about Harold Wilson and documentaries for people who were proponen...