Why are we British, or evidently most of us, still so viscerally
hostile to the idea of the European Union?
Is it the economic mess created by the single currency;
or the idea that the European Parliament and the Court of Human Rights between
them are marginalizing our own institutions?
Or is it nothing more than a modern manifestation of our superiority
complex, largely driven by ethnic prejudice, which found its expression in the
19th century political doctrine of Splendid Isolation?
Many once regarded the EU, and its predecessors, as a
plot by those crafty French to dominate the Continent, at Britain’s expense, by cleverly exploiting Germany’s war
guilt. Nowadays, as the decline of the French
economy starts to resemble our own fall, those same people are more likely to
see it as a German scheme to achieve by economic means what they twice failed
to win by military force.
The euro crisis has replaced both shibboleths –
conveniently some like to gloat – as the excuse we need to opt out of, not only
the euro but the whole damned Babel-like edifice. And a plausible excuse it is; trying to
shoehorn a dozen countries with markedly differing economies, and independent
fiscal regimes was always a recipe for the chaos that has duly been the
But titter ye not, as Frankie Howerd used to say. The European debacle is potentially our
undoing too, whether we’re ‘in’ Europe or
Britain can no doubt survive without Europe – and vice versa goes without saying – but where
are we supposed to turn as an option? The United States, contrary to popular
belief, is no friend, economic or otherwise.
The Commonwealth is a chimera. China, India
offer nothing to which we can comfortably adhere.
Prime Minister David Cameron, we’re told, will tell us
on Friday what we should do. I’m not
holding my breath. Expect a policy
mish-mash of staying in Europe but renegotiating those substantial parts of the
that we don’t like. This will be
followed by a referendum. Not in my
lifetime, I’d guess, and it shouldn’t happen at all.
We’re in and we should stay in and make the best of
it. That doesn’t mean rubbing our
partners the wrong way every Friday afternoon.
We might find ourselves annoyed with them, but in the other direction
they’re more than entitled to be cross with us.
This nonsense – Britain
versus the Rest – has been going on for half-a-century of bickering, most of it
We’ll be far better off without The Rest, claims Nigel
Farage, the head of the United Kingdom Independence Party, among others, and his
arguments have fallen on receptive ears.
But let me ask Mr. Farage this question: do you, when you travel around
Europe, see from your train or car windows countries that seem conspicuously
less affluent than Britain? I don’t.
I see countries that look as if they’re light years ahead of us in both
industrial infrastructure and living standards.
I see people who look healthier and better dressed than we are, and without
paying the price of suffering under the yoke of tyrannical government.
British governance, for all the worthy talk of proud
national traditions of democracy and freedom, is probably no more competent
than most continental models. Britons who
claim to be happier certainly don’t look it.
The country looks dowdy, tired, in need of radical modernizing.
Are we always wrong in our squabbles with Europe? Of course
not; the British virtues of democracy, tolerance and common sense are to be
commended. But we no longer possess them
exclusively, if we ever did. Nor are we
always right. Our permanent occupancy of
a minority of one surely suggests otherwise.
The answer is plain: we must stay inside and work the
system, and be prepared to lose an argument or two. If that doesn’t look like a whole lot of fun,
what’s the alternative?
I’m damned if I know – and for what I don’t know I
can’t summon up much enthusiasm.