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Remainers are wrong about Suez Colonial nostalgia was never a motivation


November 8, 2021   6 mins

As an easy shorthand for fiasco, the Suez crisis — which came to an end 65 years ago — has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the past five years. Days after the Brexit referendum, Gordon Brown called the vote “the biggest setback to our international position
 even bigger I believe than the crisis at Suez.” In 2018, Boris Johnson’s brother, Jo, attacked Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement as “a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis”.

When Parliament then refused to pass the deal the following spring, Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser and ambassador to Paris, claimed that May’s last-ditch appeal to Brussels for more time was “perhaps the greatest humiliation for a British prime minister since the Suez crisis
 When can a British Prime Minister have cut such a lamentable figure at an international meeting?” Good question.

While a few Brexiteers have also made the link (Boris Johnson once said that if May’s deal went through, it would be “the greatest national humiliation since Suez”), the parallel has mainly attracted Remainers. It’s not hard to see why. While some are old enough for it to have been the defining moment of their youth, for others, it is simply a sophisticated way to state their prejudice that Leavers ignorantly voted for some sort of splendid imperial isolation — a claim that has been thoroughly debunked by the historian Robert Saunders.

That has not stopped the FT journalist Philip Stephens from arguing (in his recent book, Britain Alone) that “Brexit, like Suez, was an attempt to chart the future by reaching back into the halcyon days of history,” the triumph of “an appeal to nostalgia over reason”. And David Lammy, who has accused “hard Brexiteers” of:

“still mourning Suez, Britain’s last fling of the colonial dice. Back then, Anthony Eden failed to recognise that Britain was no longer capable of launching a solo imperial adventure. Let us not fall for the same hubris today.”

But contrary to this stereotype, the Suez Crisis was not a lonely, self-inflicted error brought on by nostalgia. The reality is more complex and far more interesting.

The Suez crisis began, perhaps, at the UN’s General Assembly of 1955, when the US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, extolled “the immense benefit the British Empire had been and was” in a conversation at the UN with the British foreign secretary, Harold Macmillan. The two men were bemoaning the recent decision by Egypt’s Prime Minister, Gamal Abdel Nasser, to buy weapons off Russia, after balking at the conditions the United States would attach to such a sale. The Americans had supported Nasser’s coup, but as their client turned against them, Dulles asked Macmillan “if we had enough troops to reoccupy Egypt”. Macmillan thought Britain had.

Once, it would have seemed impertinent to ask such a question. But Britain had emerged from the war deeply in debt; since the sterling crisis six years earlier, the nation had been in dire financial straits, because of an unsustainable balance of payments. After the Conservatives returned to power in 1951, Macmillan had privately compared the cabinet to the “directors of a rapidly deteriorating concern. They dare not tell the shareholders the facts”.

A few months before Dulles and Macmillan spoke, Churchill — winged by a stroke in 1953 — had finally shuffled off into retirement. He was succeeded by his impatient understudy, Anthony Eden, who was also in no great shape: due to a bodged gastric operation, he was plagued by chronic pain. Macmillan’s report of Dulles’s sly enquiry as to whether Britain might intervene triggered a splenetic prime ministerial rant. “The big interest in the Middle East is ours, not America’s,” he said, annoyed by what he saw as the consequences of a cack-handed American intervention. “We are dependent on Middle East oil.”

The dependence was not just economic but financial: Eden was referring to the fact that the oil produced by Iraq and Kuwait was priced in sterling — a legacy of the fact that both countries, though never British colonies, had formed part of Britain’s informal empire. The Bank of England could always print currency to afford it, while sales to other countries provided a welcome boost to Britain’s holdings of foreign currency. The comparison of Suez and Brexit breaks down because in 1956 nostalgia played no part in British calculations. They were guided by fear of losing an ongoing advantage.

That fear had an important consequence. Based on another claim of Eden’s, that the “US has almost always been wrong about the Middle East”, the minutes of the meeting record an important decision: “We should not, therefore, allow ourselves to be restricted overmuch by reluctance to act without full American concurrence and support.” In mid-October, the British government made a crucial move. Without warning the Americans, it authorised military action to remove a Saudi force from a remote oasis, where it was preventing British oil exploration in Oman. The US had significant financial and strategic interests in Saudi Arabia, but the British found Dulles’s reaction, when he was belatedly told about the fait accompli, encouraging. He “did not like the news”, recalled one diplomat, “but he was not unpleasant about it.”

The “Buraimi incident,” as this altercation was known, seemed so obscure as to be laughable at the time (it was the subject of a Goon Show sketch), but it set a precedent. Buoyed up by the ease with which they had routed the Saudis, the British now sought to press home their advantage by encouraging Saudi’s northern neighbour, Jordan, to join a regional military alliance with Iraq, known as the Baghdad Pact. The heavy-handed British approach backfired and, barraged by incessant Egyptian radio propaganda, in March 1956 the king of Jordan sacked the British head of his armed forces, John Glubb, following rioting. Eden believed Nasser had engineered this coup. If Suez is a formative influence on today’s Remainers, then Eden had been scarred by Munich. Fearing the consequences of failure to deal with the Egyptian leader before he became too powerful, he told a close adviser: “It is him or us, don’t forget that”.

It was not just the British attitude to Nasser that was hardening: so was the United States’. In the spring of 1956, Dulles began talking of “ditching” Nasser; like FDR before him, and Donald Trump more recently, President Eisenhower was keen to swing his country’s support behind the Saudis, who had started to see the Egyptian’s republican ideas as a threat. The previous year the United States had promised to lend Nasser millions of dollars to enable him to build a new dam at Aswan. On 21 July, Dulles announced that the United States was pulling the loan. Nasser responded days later by announcing that he was nationalising the Suez Canal.

Eden felt his convictions about Nasser had been vindicated. The idea that he was alone in this — that Britain was isolated in its approach — is groundless. When news of Nasser’s move reached London, Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Said, happened to be in Downing Street at a dinner and worried that Nasser would only be emboldened by the takeover. “Hit him,” he advised Eden. “Hit him hard and hit him now. 
 If he is left alone, he will finish all of us.” So worried was Nuri by the news of the canal’s takeover that he even suggested encouraging the Israelis to invade Egypt.

Since being forced out of Palestine by a Jewish insurgency eight years earlier, however, the British had only the most perfunctory relationship with Israel. It took an old rival, and old ally, of Britain to bring the crisis to a head. Not that anyone, in drawing parallels with Brexit, would admit that France had anything to do with Suez.

Unlike the British, the French had a strong relationship with Israel, and a direct imperial interest, since Nasser was supporting the insurgency in French Algeria. They opened secret talks with the Israelis that autumn. In mid-October, French representatives presented their idea to Eden: Israel would invade Egypt, giving Britain and France grounds to go in and order both sides to retreat from the canal. Precisely because he was unwilling to go it alone, Eden leapt at the French proposal. To allay old Israeli suspicions of Britain, the secret protocol summarising the arrangement was signed by representatives of the three conspiring powers. Madcap plot it may have been, but Suez was never a solo British plan.

The Israelis invaded Sinai on 29 October. The following day Britain and France, as they had secretly agreed, issued ultimatums to both Israel and Egypt and landed troops in Port Said on 5 November. The collusion was not hard to see, and under immense international and — more importantly — financial market pressure, which threatened to drain Britain’s remaining reserves, the two European powers were soon forced to abandon their military operation. The truth is that Britain lacked the confidence in 1956 to act alone. But had she done so, she might well have got away with the deception: it was high-altitude photos of French jets on Israeli runways that alerted Washington to exactly what was going on.

A sense of vulnerability led Britain and France to lash out. Britain, which owed millions to Washington, looked towards its creditor. France, on the other hand, turned to Europe as a way to preserve her empire from American predation. These complexities — in particular the role of money — are lost in the comparison of Suez and Brexit. But then its chief purpose has not been honest, but to denigrate the intelligence of Leavers.


James Barr is a historian specialising in the Middle East and author of Lords of the Desert and A Line In The Sand.

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Andrew Hammond
Andrew Hammond
2 years ago

This is the sort of article that very much embellishes Unherd. An article which seeks to grasp the post war situation as it was, rather than as some dimly remembered party that one vaguely understands didn’t go well., albeit one wasn’t there. I would posit this article could have been twice as long and twice as enjoyable. My thanks to you.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago

Personally, I think that Suez was one of the worst things in British recent history. Brexit was one of the best.
Brexit was a complaint from Northern England and Wales about being ruled by the stockbroker belt around London. Of course, those people didn’t listen because they are too clever to listen. They will carry on moaning for a long, long time.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Brexit was a complaint from Northern England and Wales about being ruled by the stockbroker belt around London.

Probably true. Unfortunately leaving the EU does nothing in itself to solve that problem, or any other problem come to that. Abstract sovereignity may look pretty, but it does not bring food on the table. It rather reminds me of a teenager torching the family car because there is never enough money to give him a new gaming computer. It registers the complaint all right – but it does not bring a solution any closer. Unless, of course, you think it is a solution that everybody gets poorer as long as the stockbroker belt is hit worst.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“
everybody gets poorer.”

Despite being an instinctive leaver, I fell for Project Fear and voted remain. My wife voted to leave.

On the morning of the result, in some dudgeon, I checked the value of my pension pot on line, insisted my wife take note and that we look at it again in a week, “to see the damage this has done.”

It went up about 10%.

It seems unlikely to me that the working classes will get poorer as the flow of cheap labour they’ve had to compete with, since Blair opened the floodgates, diminishes. Certainly that seems to be the case for lorry drivers and hospitality workers.

Increasingly I see no reason to believe the country as a whole will become poorer. In an increasingly volatile world, flexibility may well become a more important asset than size, which is all the EU has to offer.

A bit like the climate nutters, the forecasts of Project Fear never materialise and the apocalypse is always just over the horizon.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

In an increasingly volatile world, flexibility may well become a more important asset than size, which is all the EU has to offer.

You might be right – but it rather sounds like wishful thinking to me. On lorry drivers and hospitality workers I will not disagree with you, though. That is a real benefit to people that has come out of Brexit – the first and only so far. We can only hope that this rebalancing will not be eaten up by overall losses.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

The cost of cleaners in north London has gone up if you can even find one, darling. It is a disaster.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I think that there has to be some sort of ‘Reset’ button. Back in the 2010s my business was just travel, travel, travel. I am from the North and my wife is Welsh. I remember travelling from London back to the North or visiting Wales and thinking that I had entered another world, a drab, poor world with no light.
London has everything. It has a fabulous travel system with regular tube and train services. Going to battery cars is meaningless to Londoners. It has fantastic places to eat. It has some poverty. But the drabness and sheer lack of a future in the North has to be experienced to be believed. Therefore, I support most things which try to shock Londoners out of their relative superiority.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I agree that Brexit was one of the best, though for me the cause was the growing realisation that our laws were being made and enforced by bodies outside our democratic control. Being unable to control immigration was the issue that crystallised this, up to that point, vague impression.

The people electing the politicians who then make the laws the people have to live under may lead to good laws or bad laws but it is surely sacrosanct.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

OK, that actually makes sense. I, too, have found the concentration of power in Brussels immensely frustrating. Freedom is priceless – but it is not cheap. If you think that being fully independent is worth the cost of being poorer and weaker and having to accommodate your biggest market (the EU) anyway, I can only respect your choice. If the referendum had been fought and won on that platform, I would never have favoured a re-run. As it is, the referendum was fought on ‘having your cake and eating it too’, which rather tarnishes any mandate it confers on the leavers.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Er the leave slogan was “take back control.” It was absolutely fought on the issue of repatriating power from an unaccountable elite.

Shop workers, lorry drivers, factory workers weren’t ever motivated by dreams of imperial nostalgia (to your comment earlier) they were motivated by a strong and verifiable feeling they were being had over.

It was the remain side that made an entirely economic argument and so far their predictions have proved false.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Yep. Remain lost because it was pitting north London economic arguments (“think of the cost of polenta”) against argument about sovereignty, and understood neither the arguments nor indeed that they mattered.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

It was also fought on the slogan of “350 million a week more for the NHS”. And it was variously claimed that Britain would keep all the benefits of being in the EU, and that it would be able to completely ignore the EU when managing its future trade and foreign policy. No leaver ever admitted that there could possibly be any downside to leaving. As I said, “have your cake and eat it”.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

And Project Fear said house prices would collapse, Osborne would have to do a special budget, Nissan and all other major manufacturers would flee etc,etc.

It’s called hyperbole and it’s what happens during political campaigns. It still rankles with me that I fell for it, particularly given the inexcusable behaviour of our political, media and business elites that followed.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I was a reluctant Remainer too but mostly because I could see how Leave was being portrayed, and I didn’t want the chaos, or our country smeared like that. I was OK with the current deal so I took the coward’s way out basically and voted for the status quo. If the referendum had implied that if we stayed it would be seen as a mandate for full integration and the Euro, that would have been enough to make me vote Leave in 2016. If a 2nd referendum had been forced I’d have voted Leave, because the assault on democracy was a fecking disgrace.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

No remainer admitted the massive loss of sovereignty from when we joined and the continied loss as we would be forced top join the Euro and EU Army.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“No leaver ever admitted that there could possibly be any downside to leaving.”

Well
Michael Caine said he voted Leave because he’d rather be a poor free man than a rich slave.

I agree with him, but my suspicion then and now is that when the dust has settled, it will be better for Britain to control our own laws and make our own deals, than for the EU to do it without us even in the room.

If that’s ‘having your cake and eating it’, fine, but it makes sense to me.

It will take a few years to deal with the hassle of cutting those apron strings to the EU, obviously, but – as with how we moved on vaccine supply orders – it’s better to be adult and free, with all the risks and rewards that entails, than infantilised and subject to a foreign power.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

You will have a much weaker bargaining position when dealing with anyone from New Zealand to China – to the EU (that is still a major part of British trade). You will be freer, yes, and that is worth much, but if you think you will be richer or stronger on your own I think you are sorely mistaken.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

It rather depends what we are selling, doesn’t it? Take JK Rowling books, for example, or Ed Sheeran’s music. Are there Belgian equivalents available? Perhaps, but readers wanted the originals. Or our legal services, or our high-end industrial capacity. (Would you really want a stent made in Nigeria?)

I think you underestimate British talent. Many have. Rather fewer have gone bankrupt betting on us. I bet on us. You choose to carp and complain – and constantly underestimate. That’s fine. Now watch what we do.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dan Gleeballs
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

That is OK. You can very easily prove me wrong, after all. Just show how the new trade deals you make with oher continents deliver enormous riches, how businesses migrate from the EU to Britain to enjoy the benefits of British talent. Or just make a credible accounting of where you are spending those 350 million a week that you have saved by leaving the EU.

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I’ll see you here in twenty years to the day. I expect you to buy me a pint.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Much has been made of businesses setting up offices in the EU. But a cursory investigation reveals that EU companies are also setting up offices in the UK.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I’m sure we’ll easily save ÂŁ350 million a week, but the days was much postponed when Mrs May conceded a vast exit penalty for ……….. nothing.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Weaker possibly, but not bad either. 6th largest economy is a great bargaining chip too you know. We don’t need to do better than the EU, getting a good enough trade deal is still a good deal. Plus we can do it more quickly and flexibly than the EU, that’s a benefit in itself.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You do realise that New Zealand’s population is about the same as Wales?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Yes. And I still think that the EU can get a rather better deal with New Zealand than the UK can.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Given the recent experience of EU negotiation, I very much doubt it. Besides, the UK already agreed a perfectly decent trade deal with NZ on 20th October. We don’t need the EU’s “expertise” to get an even better one.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You talk about strength which is often meaningless. Well in defence the fightng spirit is what is important as this determines the rigour of training and the losses a nations is prepared to suffer.No European nations have the rigour of selection and training combined with experience of the British Armed Forces. Just look at how the RMCs have outperformed the USMC,
When it comes to research the top universities are in the UK. When it comes to major breakthroughs in science and technology, Imperial. UCL, Kings, LSE, Oxbridge. Manchester, Durham, Edinburgh plus high tech companies and self defence companies outperform Europe. The only universities worth working with are some parts of French Grand Ecoles, Max Plank in Germany and Delft in the Netherlands. In fact the best university to ties up with is ETH Zurich. Joint Imperial /ETH would probably be the best in the World.
Theatre and literature we lead the World and large amounts of film production is moving from the USA to the UK. The Grand Prix teams are based in the UK at Silverstone and Witney.
Running anything in Europe means a few Tier 1 organisations spend vast amounts of time and money coordinating with Tier 2, 3, 4 5 and 6 organisations. The Oxford University /Jenner Institute were able to develop a vaccine because they are Tier 1 vaccine research organisation at the forefront of technology. Speed not mass, as Newton put it is important. In fact acceleration is what is vital.
0.5 x mass x velocity squared = Energy

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Wrong. Every Leaver I know was fully prepared for ‘bumps in the road’. This narrative that Leavers expected instant riches and to do better than the EU is a Remainer projection. We didn’t need to do ‘better’ whatever that means, we just wanted to go our own way – and seeing the direction of travel of the EU many decided this might be the only chance we’d ever have of getting out before joining the Euro etc was no longer a choice. If the options had included Stay – but refuse further integration and act to control immigration, the result wouid have been different.

*What price freedom?*

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

No sorry – the “cake and eat it” argument I have only ever heard coming from remainers on the behalf of imaginary brexit voters.
“So be it” would be a more accurate phrase. People knew leaving would be difficult – not least because the EU would try and make it so “pour encourager les autres”
But knew it was a price worth paying in the long run for sovereignty.
Which isn’t as quaint or dirty a word as many like to suggest. It’s hardly quaint to suggest that perhaps the best people to have a say on Britain’s future, are the British people voting for British politicians, in a British system of government that has evolved for over 800 years.
For what it’s worth, the price so far has been negligible despite the doom mongers predictions. In fact in many cases the opposite has been true as you admit. Early days though for sure.

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I heard it from Boris Johnson: “As for cake, I am pro having it and pro eating it” were his words. But if you can find some good examples of mainstream leavers before the referendum admitting that there would likely be some significant cost to leaving, I look forward to seeing it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I was talking about leave voters not someone campaigning for Brexit. Those are very different things
I’ll indulge you a quick google to show leave voters not being swayed by fanciful promises:
https://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/19/europe/cnn-brexit-poll/

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Well, the trouble is that you have no way of knowing what went on in 20 million people’s heads – any more than I do. Personally I would say that if all the leave campaigners claim that there will be no downside to leaving, it is probably because they know that people are not willing to vote leave if there is any appreciable cost. My theory is that the UK electorate had a profound conviction that Britain would always be prosperous and powerful no matter what it did, and getting out form under the EU would automatically bring their country back to its rightful place. So all that stuff about risks was something that people simply refused to believe – which is why they chose to rely instead on the sunny optimism of Johnson.

Maybe we should agree to disagree here. There is certainly on doubt, after the parliamentary electoin, that Brexit is what people want. Only do not ask me to respect the judgement of people who are not willing to face up to the downside of their decisions.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Yeah agreed – disagree with you but good discussion.
My view is the opposite. Most British people are quite pragmatic and don’t get overexcited by any fanciful notions; especially not those coming from any authorities or politicians.
Leavers voted for change at their first real chance as nobody had been paying attention to their concerns for many years. I would wager what the politicians were saying on either side was broadly irrelevant for many.

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“Only do not ask me to respect the judgement of people who are not willing to face up to the downside of their decisions.”

The future will have its ups and downs, of course. However, if I had to pick a people able to weather those storms, even thrive in them, it would be the British.

You sometimes seem a little bitter, young Fogh. I only hope you can learn to enjoy the sunny uplands ahead.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

As I said above, show me those sunny uplands and I shall admit you were right. Just do not hold your breath while we are waiting.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The correct phrase, as used by Churchill, is “sunlit uplands”, but for some reason Remainers always talk about “sunny uplands”.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Katy Hibbert

Dan Glieballs talked about ‘sunny uplands’. It would be rather rude of me to correct his wording.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I think you underestimate the instincts and intelligence of the British public

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Boris? The master of understatement? Is that your representative of British Leavers? Wow.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

The Boris is the British Leavers’ choice for representative of the British Leavers. They voted him in, and they are still supporting him. Presumably there is a reason why they want to be governed by him?

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Yup that’s my camp – I didn’t care about the short and medium term economic impact (10-15 years), even if it was negative, and was more concerned with the longer term benefits of not being anchored to a failing protectionist trade body. So Project Fear had no effect on me, and many others who I believe thought like me of the longer term benefits.

Katy Hibbert
Katy Hibbert
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

The ÂŁ350 million on the bus had no effect on me whatsoever, except the pleasure it gave me watching Remoaners rise to the bait.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Katy Hibbert

I thought the hysteria over that was pathetic

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Excellent post.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Funny, I don’t remember the Leave campaign slogan  â€˜having your cake and eating it too’, but my decision wasn’t based on slogans, or the campaign, but on a growing understanding over many years of our role in the EU (provider of markets and money), and the lack of direct voter influence (the EP is a veneer).
This understanding converted me from enthusiast to opponent, adding contempt along the way for some (not all) Remain supporters starting at the time of the € argument.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

Very interesting article, and I have to admit I knew nothing of any of this. The one thing I might dispute is that if anything, these facts do support the notion, at least, that Theresa May’s atrocious Withdrawal Agreement was actually a larger failure of statecraft than the Suez Crisis, simply because the above article does seem to imply that Suez was not in fact all that large a failure of statecraft in the first place. It looks more like an unfortunate course of events following a decision possessing what looked like a plausible chance of success at the time.

Brexit itself, of course, is not a failure of Statecraft in any sense, and it’s a bit of an odd thing to assert from the position of effectively backing the destruction of national statecraft in future, which is what awaits all the nations of the EU as they surrender their existing sovereign power to Brussels in exchange for whatever benefits they believe European federation may give them. But just because I hold to that position does not mean I can claim that Theresa May’s attempt to enact Brexit should not be criticised: it was indeed the worst failure of statecraft in lving memory, and this should not be forgotten.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I agree; Mrs May started from a position of weakness, but with a number of good cards in her hand, but for reasons I still don’t understand, presided over a monstrous failure of statecraft. How it compares with Suez, we don’t yet know.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Re the photo: was Britain really still using Crusader IIIs in 1956? They didn’t work properly in the desert the first time.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The answer’s surely no; the Centurion was introduced in 1945. By 1956, we had even been trough the Korean war. It was perhaps the most successful tank of its time ever.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
2 years ago

Excellent article, thank you. But I must say the Remainers I know have not the foggiest where Suez is let alone what happened in 1956.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Maxwell

Neither do the ones who enjoy using it as a symptom of ‘nostalgia’.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Excellent article.
These sorts of events are a combination of many factors. One aspect was that Britain was bankrupt by 1942 and post 1945 was supporting the USA in opposing communism and paying for a welfare state. Another is the rise of conflict between town arab and beduin.Nasser represents town arab nationalism whereas King Abdullah of Jordan, son of the Emir of Mecca, was supported by the Beduin. Those opposed to the King of Jordan were town arabs, mainly from the West Bank. It were the beduin who liberated Aquaba and Damascus from Ottoman Turk rule.
Nasser became the Soviet supported town arab nationalist in opposition to monarchical led beduin arabs. Iraq is led by a king, Faisal 2 who is a relative of King Abdullah and is supported by the beduin.
By 1956 there is conflict in the arab world between town and beduin.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

At the time, many Arabs didn’t consider the Egyptians to be Arabs, indeed, neither did the Egyptians. However, one thing tended to unite them all, whether town or Bedouin, monarchy or republic, indeed even Muslim and Christian; opposition to Israel.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

I seem to recall that phrase being mentioned at slightly raucous, boisterous meaning, Christmas gatherings,,maybe only at Christmas, when always one of the eldest in the group might pipe up, wine in one hand, “There hasn’t been anything like it since Suez!”. That is the Christmas crackers could not be found, or the cranberry jam located. Disaster! And it was not the time to inquire about Suez, if one had been vexed that one was still ignorant about it. So that was it till the following Christmas, when up cropped Suez again. Perhaps a disaster involving the turkey could have cast enough sombre faces into the frame, such that eliciting an explanation for Suez would have then been possible. And cheer slowly restored.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago

This is a very muddled article. To start with we need to get the hard facts about Suez. Britain did not own, and never had owned, the Suez Canal. It was owned by a Joint Stock Company registered in Egypt with shares traded on the Paris Stock Exchange. The British Government (and the French) owned shareholdings but not majorities. The canal was not “seized” it was nationalised in the same way that Britain had nationalised the coal mines in 1947 and have re-nationalised railway companies recently; the shareholders recieve the cash values of their shareholdings at the point of takeover.
Rather more significantly, Britain did not own the Canal Zone. It was Egyption territory leased to Britain for 50 years in 1886 with the lease renewed for a further 30 in 1936. There was not the faintest chance that Egypt (even before Nassar) would have agreed a further extension so by 1966 the canal would be physically in Egyption hands no matter who owned it. Britain had agreed, a few years earlier, to de-activate its military bases in the Canal Zone, and would only re-activate them in certain circumstances which did not include conflict between Israel and Egypt.
After the Egyption nationalisation of the canal the US were attempting to strike a deal with Egypt to form a sort of users’ association to manage the Canal under Egyption ownership. This might have had a chance of succeeding. However, without informing the US (or for that matter Parliament) the UK tipped the wink for Israel to attach Egypt across Sinai and then issued both Egypt and Israel to withdraw their forces back (in the case of Egypt to West of the Canal Zone, and if this was not complied with Britain and France would occupy the Canal Zone by force.
The US were livid at having been kept in the dark, cut of British supplies of Credit (the Arab countries had already cut off oil and we would need to buy on the world market in US Dollars) and that was Game Set and Match. We put our toys away.
So what are the parallels. Firstly, I think is the fact in both cases Britain has over-estimated the strength of its position. That is clear from Suez and is clear whenever I am reminded by people that we have a trade deficit with the EU so therefore can dictate the terms of trade. That has always struck me as odd; after all I buy far more from the Co-op than it buys from me, I don’t somehow feel in a position to bully them. The Germans did point out that while we buy 7% of their car output, there is still 93%which we don’t.
Rather more seriously, however, is the possibility that we didn’t really expect the to keep to the NI protocol and will rip it up (not just temporarily suspend it) if we don’t get what we want. That would be the Suex parallel, of failing to stick to agreements we have signed.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Eisenhower realised his greatest mistake was not supporting the UK as Nasserism spread Soviet influence throughout the Middle East.By 1958 Egypt, Syria and Iraq were in the Soviet camp.Nasser tried to take over Yemen and ended up in a fight with Saudi Arabia.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

I never understood how anyone expected the NI protocol to be rigid and permanent, not tested and adjusted. It was always tricky and sensitivities are involved that cannot necessarily be predicted on paper. Trade deals are just that. Trade deals. The fact the EU consistently insisted that its political goals were submitted to before trade was even discussed – with the clock running down – says more to me than anything else about the lopsided nature of Article 50, and its vagueness always felt deliberate coming from an institution that has 1000s of pages of directives on pillow size.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Did you expect the NI protocol to be tightened and made more difficult for Britain in order to satisfy the EU – or did you expect it to be made looser and smaller in order to satisfy Britain? If the latter – why did you expect the EU to go along?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

In your metaphor, you may not feel in a position to bully the Co-op, but I can guarantee that if the Co-op set all the rules of your purchases from them or anyone else, you would not be happy, and might start thinking that you were the one being bullied.
By the way, the other customers of your Co-op are treated differently. Some are even paid to shop there.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

I recall seeing in an encyclopaedia year book for 1970, a photograph of an ebullient President Richard Nixon being cheered by crowds of people in Cairo as he was driven through the city in an open-top car.
It’s impossible to think that this could happen today.
Was he with Nasser at the time? In the car? This would have been just three years after the Six-day War between Egypt and Israel.
Were the enthusiastic cheers in part for America’s having put the colonial powers of Britain and France in the shade? And for America’s role fourteen years previously in making Britain and France back down over Suez?
I blabber on. Tomorrow I will google Nixon, Cairo, 1970. Goodnight.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago

The attempt to confront Nasser in 1956 might today be looked on with more favour in the USA if Nasser’s coalition had succeeded in extinguishing the state of Israel in 1967.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Very good article. But it is still the case that Brexit was brought about by an incorrect and nostalgic belief that of course Britain is strong enough to go it alone and dictate terms to its neighbours. It is just that Suez was different.

Vote me down.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Your ‘power” obsession is yet again wrong-headed.
Britain will never dictate terms to the EU – and that is unimportant to us – as the comments in this thread clearly demonstrate.
You will have to be patient to see if your apparent yearning for a schadenfreude outcome in relation to the U.K. will materialise.
Maybe you should cast your net wider 
.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Barton
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Well, if you do not care to stop trading with the EU altogether, and you admit that you cannot dictate terms to the EU, then your trade with the EU will be largely on terms that the EU dictates to you. That is just the way it works when a yorkshire terrier wants to make deals with a dobermann. It does not sound like either you or the British government has really digested the implications yet, though.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Ras Ive voted you up but only for allowing Leavers a belief rather that explaining it all though Dom’s Svengali like powers. But you are sounding like Dave Spart.

Last edited 2 years ago by Adrian Maxwell
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The 6th largest economy in the world *should* be able to go it alone. Most others do after all. I’m not sure why being subsumed into the United States of Europe is considered such a positive. Or a mandatory condition for trade.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Your repetition of this point is just silly, just because it is a Guardian talking point doesn’t make it true! No one was motivated by imperial nostalgia. It was ‘taking back control’ that resonated. That doesn’t mean of course that British governments will use the greater degree of control they now have well, but at least they, unlike the European Commission, are accountable to the voters.

If it hadn’t been for the almost hysterical ramping up of Project Fear, the government funded propaganda etc, the majority for Leave would have been much greater.