Finished reading: Britain Alone by Philip Stephens 📚
Historical account of British foreign policy and geopolitical positioning from Suez to Brexit. Holding ourselves up to the “great power” mirror and seeing a real one reflected in the 40s and early 50s to a quickly diminishing one in the 60s to a former one in the 70s and onwards.
As a historical account kept me hooked. Lots of new detail I didn’t know about Suez, Polaris & Trident, the “Sterling area” and the rollback of Empire.
A large theme (and well trodden elsewhere), is that Britain having not lost the war, sees itself as different and apart from the “lesser countries” of Europe. In the post war period, it still saw itself as one of the “big three” of the US, USSR and Britain/Commonwealth/Empire. Whitehall in the 50s believed the terrible state we found ourselves in post war was merely temporary.
The first half of the book is the slow realisation that it was not temporary, with some fascinating insight into players like Harold Macmillian and the games he played with presidents and parliament. He knew that Britain could no longer act independently from the US and was becoming more economically dependent on the European Community. But post-war British “Great Power” pretensions, from both Labour and Conservative, means we miss out on the first wave of European integration.
Missing that first wave of European integration ends up being crucial to everything that happened next. The UK arrived too late and too poor. The rules of club were set, the direction of travel known. Next up: 40 years of sailing against the wind, demanding opt-outs, rebates.
A self important square peg of an island refusing to bend to the new European destiny that started in Sicily in the 50s, while we were begging the Americans for rockets to shoot nuclear weapons.