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Baron William Arthur Waldegrave is a member of the British Conservative Party. From 1990 to 1997 he held several ministerial posts under Prime Minister John Major. He is currently sitting in the British House of Lords, the House of Lords. His latest book is titled "Three Circles Into One: BrexitBritain: How Did We Get Here And What Happens Next?"

ZEIT ONLINE: Mr Waldegrave, you voted in favor of the United Kingdom staying in the EU in 2016. Why?

William Waldegrave: At the referendum in 1975, I abstained because I did not find the campaign honest at the time. (Editor's note: On 5 June 1975 a referendum on membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) took place in Great Britain). In my opinion, at that time we pretended that it was just a matter of engaging in an economic community. We have criminally neglected the political dimension.

In 2016, I had two reasons for my decision. First, it was about my children: it was unequivocal for remaining in the EU. Their self-image of being British and European at the same time has developed as they had hoped. So I voted for stay . But I also had a tactical reason. The UK negotiated an extremely privileged position in the EU, considering the exceptions to the Maastricht Treaty and the Schengen Agreement. David Cameron has also achieved that we have been exempted from the EU declaration of ever closer union. This was the formal recognition that we did not really want to participate in a political community. We got what we wanted. It seemed to me an extremely inappropriate time to leave.

ZEIT ONLINE: Could the EU have done anything to convince British voters to stay?

Waldegrave: I do not know what Europe could have done. The disaster was not a mistake of the EU, it was a mistake of Tony Blair. He did not use the opportunity in 2004 to postpone uncontrolled immigration for the time being. That was a huge mistake. He thought that these people would later choose Labor. In addition, the economic boom that existed before the financial crisis was particularly felt in the south of the country and in London - the benefits were not equally distributed across the country.

ZEIT ONLINE: Why is it so difficult for Britain to develop a European self-understanding?

Waldegrave: We, the proeuropeans in the Conservative Party and the Social Democratic wing of the Labor Party, have not argued decisively enough for the European ideal - namely to build a new political community in which, sooner or later, loyalty will firstly go to European institutions and national institutions will be secondary. This is not what is dishonorable about it, but the British have not accepted the political dimension of the EU. If we had said clearly - as Helmut Kohl did - that we want to anchor Britain in a larger EU, then we would have had a good base. But we did not even try that.


Waldegrave: What's special about Great Britain is that our institutions did not fail in the 20th century. And because we have never really known about the EU - as almost all the other countries in Europe have done - it was very difficult to counter the nationalist tone.

ZEIT ONLINE: Is it because the United Kingdom won the war?

Waldegrave: The French diplomat Jean Monnet is said to have said once: Britain's misfortune is to have won the war. What he meant was that we were unable to leave our past behind. France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy: all of them, in a sense, have courageously left their defeats behind. Maybe it's harder to leave an honorable past behind you than a dishonorable one.