The doctrine of Splendid Isolation is alive and well in this island.
Amateur historians will remember that the phrase, dating back to early Victorian times, referred to the British government’s policy of standing aloof from European affairs in favour of looking after Britain’s imperial ‘possessions’ around the world. Quite right, too, most citizens would have said at the time. Many are still saying it. Today – this very week – Splendid Isolationists, sometimes known as Euro-sceptics, are dancing with glee over the problems of Eurozone.
They have no reason to be so happy.
Though not a member of the Euro ‘club’, Britain is a member of the European Union, and does most of its overseas trading with Europe. The fall of the Euro, besides sending world markets into a prolonged tailspin, would wreck Britain’s trading figures. Britain’s balance of trade is nowhere near healthy enough to withstand such a shock. Deep recession, here as much as on the continent, would almost certainly follow.
Listening to the anti-Europe crowd you could be lulled into thinking that Britain’s economic performance over the past century has been superior to that of every other advanced industrial country. It may stand comparison with the economies of Italy or Spain at present, but not with those of the United States, or Germany, or Sweden, or even France. I for one, having traveled extensively around those countries, need some convincing that Britain looks more prosperous or more confident about itself. Frankly, for all its residual charm, the place looks old and tired.
Britain is in all respects, from geography to every known political imperative, a European country. The separation by twenty-two miles of English Channel is significant only in the context of military history; and anyway, the distance has now been breached by connective tunnels. What other ‘club’ in the world would the anti-Europeans want us to join? The Commonwealth? The Organization of American States? The League of Arab Nations?
Some of our elected representatives at Westminster – by no means a majority – have seen fit to sponsor the Victorian idea that Britain should remain above the European fray, even if these days the conflict is economic rather then military. They advocate a referendum on Britain remaining in the Union – knowing full well, of course, that the vote would almost certainly be in favour of leaving. Such an outcome would undeniably reflect the popular will. So would a vote to abolish all taxes, or to restore the death penalty.
The popular will, far more than the law, is an ass. We elect our politicians to lead the mob, not to follow it.
Little Englanders (with apologies to equally parochial Celts) are as anachronistic as the once popular but now presumably defunct League of Empire Loyalists. They could still join the Flat Earth Society.
Britain outside Europe – whatever kind of Europe it may be now, or seek to become – would be alone, friendless and enfeebled – the village eccentric living in a dilapidated cottage in the woods. We must stay in. A sensible British contribution to future European development is desperately needed. Ask the Europeans, many of whom share our view of the fatuities emanating from Brussels and Strasbourg. And one day, we will even have to contemplate the unthinkable: joining the Euro.
Shock! Horror! But the government would be well advised to start preparing us for it.