Laetitia Cash talks to Spear’s contributor and pro-Brexit historian Andrew Roberts
Laetitia Cash: During the 1990s and when Sir James Goldsmith and The Referendum Party came on the scene, you were always around observing. Tell me about your memories and the genesis of this June 23rd EU Referendum.
Andrew Roberts: We would not be having the Referendum we are today if it wasn’t for Jimmy, to ensure the British people had their say on the EU. At the end of his life he put enormous energy and his own resources to apply as much pressure as possible on John Major’s Government in the 1997 election.
As we knew there was no more campaigning to be done and the polls had closed, the day of the eve of the 1997 election, myself, Kate Reardon, Robin Birley and Patrick Robertson all sat down to a jolly lunch in Mayfair and to share anecdotes of the campaign. He was very upbeat about how many Tory seats The Referendum Party was going to cost John Major.
As Jimmy was a gambling man, he predicted he would deny John Major between 15 and 20 seats. In the event there was a Labour landslide and although they didn’t win any seats, it was 21 seats The Referendum Party had a meaningful impact on. There are not many billionaires today who have the intellectual stature and grasp of the full consequences of remaining in the EU as Jimmy had.
Jimmy knew he was dying and he deliberately elongated his life and stopped medication in order to remain intellectually sharp at the cost of enormous physical pain. He put his country before his own personal well being. It was incredibly brave of him.
Laetitia Cash: What about the time running up to the Blair Revolution and the 1997 General Election and the preceding Maastricht Rebellion in Parliament?
Jimmy knew Bill [Cash], as the parliamentarian, couldn’t break the whip in John Major’s Government.
Bill was leader of the Tory rebels in Maastricht and was very effective. He mastered his brief like no other and knew the legal implications of it all; the procedures, knew all the key European documents and treaties inside out – he was the go-to man for anyone who wanted to really understand what John Major was giving away.
It was John Major who gave away British competencies – far too many of them. He came back from negotiations on the Treaty of Maastricht saying we have qualified majority voting and it was game, set, and match when the opposite was true. Major put us on a road – he accepted all the aspects of further integration into the EU, which involved an open-ended surrender of our sovereignty. He failed to slow the slide towards an anti-democratic Federal Europe.
Laetitia Cash: Many people would criticize Sir James’s motives based on his wealth and own associations with the global elite – what was his motivation? How was he different from the Davoseoise (those who frequent Davos, Bilderberg, Jackson Hole and other elitist gatherings)?
Just because he was rich and went to Eton did not mean he could not empathise with ordinary people. In the last chapter of his life he put many millions into doing what he could to make sure the British people were given a say in their own destiny.
The Eurocrats are usually people who have been rejected by the voters in their own countries – like former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock and Former Cabinet Minister Peter Mandelson.
Laetitia Cash: There is a lot of talk of elites and the ‘Davos-eoisie’ bringing about the death of the nation-state. What is behind why the EU is so unpopular with ordinary people?
Andrew Roberts: I’ve never been skiing in Davos. These are people who have been ‘deracinated’, this means the international businessmen, civil servants, and political elite (both former and present public officials) are so cosmopolitan, feel so international that they don’t feel they belong to any country or show any allegiance to any particular nation.
The people who spend too much time at Davos have no reaction to seeing a union jack or hearing the national anthem. They’ve been deracinated.
Laetitia Cash: Clearly a paradoxical figure, as an MEP and leader of Parliamentary group, L’Europe des Nations, in interviews Sir James talked about his ‘politics of restoration’ and his political movement ‘Struggle for Values’, which sought as its aim, the decentralisation of the EU structures, breaking up of a bloated bureaucracy and the preservation of the nation-state – he saw the EU as an ineffective and dysfunctional institution in desperate need of radical reform, which rigidly refuses to put the consumer and the citizen above corporate-political interests. What do you think?
Andrew Roberts: I agree with Jimmy. Ordinary people and the British voter, as opposed to the deracinated ones, still think in terms of nations and states. It is rational they do.
I am disturbed by the attacks on how British patriots are being labeled as hyper-nationals, which carries with it overtones of extremism, when in fact it’s perfectly natural and honorable to feel patriotic and have love for your own country.
Laetitia Cash: Having written a lot about the UK and the US relationship, what do you make of President Obama’s interventions over the campaign?
Andrew Roberts: It was outrageous of Obama to threaten the British people after 75 years of the Special Relationship when Britons have fought and bled and died beside Americans on battlefields around the globe.
At the end of Obama’s visit here, the Vote Leave share of the vote went up 2 per cent, so I’d like to have him back!
Laetitia Cash: How do you make sense of the tragic death of Jo Cox MP running up to this historic Referendum?
Andrew Roberts: Utterly horrific, but it was wrong of Polly Toynbee in her Guardian article effectively to blame the Leave Campaign for what was solely the crime of deranged Neo-Nazi.
Laetitia Cash: You are working on a new book about Winston Churchill, many from the Remain camp, including his Grandson, are claiming this great defender of democracy and freedom as their own, what do you think he would be thinking today?
Andrew Roberts: He would be a Leaver, as is clear from his memo of 29 October 1951 in which he wrote in a Cabinet memo: ‘Our attitude towards further economic developments on the Schuman lines resembles that which we adopt about the European Army. We help, we dedicate, we play a part, but we are not merged with and do not forfeit our insular or commonwealth character. Our first object is the unity and consolidation of the British Commonwealth…Our second, “the fraternal association” of the English-speaking world; and third, United Europe, to which we are a separate closely- and specially-related ally and friend… it is only when plans for uniting Europe take a federal form that we ourselves cannot take part, because we cannot subordinate ourselves or the control of British policy to federal authorities.’ (National Archives, CAB129/48C(51)32.)