Brexit Tertulia at Boqueria by our social affairs correspondent
Delicious tapas and wine in a warm basement of the lively Spanish restaurant Boqueria in Acre Lane, south London on November 30th proved a perfect setting for an extended discussion about Brexit stimulated by the lawyer, media expert, and European campaigner Peter Wilding.
The founder of British Influence, a campaign group to keep Britain in a reformed EU, Wilding kicked of the evening with an impressive overview of the history of the UK’s post-war relations with Europe, and a similarly incisive and well informed analysis of the current situation and future prospects.
Noting a catalogue of lost opportunities in the post-war years when the UK was looked on by the rest of western Europe as an exemplary democracy with visionary as well as an courageous prime-minister-notably Winston Churchill-, the guest speaker lamented the failure of British leadership after the Thatcher golden years, the emergence of a new attempted hegemony in the form of a European Super State as Germany and France competed for control, and the fragile and fractured political landscape now threatening the future unity, stability and prosperity of Europe.
Wilding, who has practiced and lectured as a solicitor on EU law, and served as a spokesman for the Conservative Party in the European Parliament, was among the first commentators to coin the word Brexit when in May 2012 he wrote a blog post titled “Stumbling towards the Brexit” , because of the inability of the UK and other leading European countries to agree on a reform of the EU.
Responding to lively questions and comments from BritishSpanish Society members, Wilding argued that Teresa May’s statesmanship was weak, pandering to the anti-European bias of the sectors of the UK media and a hard core of hardline Conservative party MP’s, and with her own cabinet divided on what terms to negotiate Britain’s departure from the EU.
He saw the main challenge of pro-European campaigners that of ensuring that the UK’s policy on Brexit became more transparent and accountable, with reliable information “ flooding in” despite the UK government’s attempt to keep the public in the dark about what its plans were.
While noting the lack of a political consensus, Wilding predicted that the hardline Brexiteers would lose the support of public opinion as events unfolded, with parliament and voters waking up to the legal challenges and economic, financial , and strategic disadvantages of the UK pulling out of the EU.
At the same time Wilding warned of the EU also imploding with the rise of nationalist populist forces, while arguing that the next two years would be critical in defining the future of Europe and the UK’s place in it. In the end the UK government and parliament had to decide if they wished to go down in history as “the arsonist of Europe or the forerunner of change.”
The evening was a sell-out event with an audience that enjoyed the informal venue, as they shared food and wine, in a cordial, convivial and well informed discussion on an important issue of current affairs in the true Spanish tradition of a tertulia.
It was attended by a select group of distinguished BSS members drawn from a cross-section of professional experience from the world of diplomacy and law to business, banking, and politics.
In thanking the speaker and those present , chairman Jimmy Burns quoted from his Spanish grandfather the late Spanish liberal doctor and writer Gregorio Marañon and a well-known tertuliante about what he saw as his two guiding principles of any debate: firstly being prepared to understand why the other thinks differently; second never accepting that the ends justified the means.
Mr Wilding, who confessed to being a great admirer of Spanish culture having lived and worked in Spain, set the tone for a very convivial evening with comments that were engaging as well as cordial , and on occasion humorous, as when he broke into a prefect imitation of Churchill’s voice.
This was the latest in an ongoing series of occasional talks and events linked to the issue of the UK and Europe which the BritishSpanish Society is organizing with expert speakers in different venues.