Tuesday 13 December 2011

Next challenge for the new giant of statesmanship

This column must begin with an unreserved apology to all my reader(s). In the past, I may occasionally have given the impression that I viewed David Cameron as a callow PR spiv who would not recognise a true Conservative principle if it transmogrified into a Border terrier and bit him smartly on the ankle.

However, I now realise that he is a genuine patriot and towering statesman worthy to rank alongside Wellington, Palmerston or Churchill. Unless, or more likely until, he reverts to the type of British politicians of all parties for the last 40 years, and rolls over to have his tummy tickled in return for conceding whatever the rest of the EU desires.

I found it immensely reassuring that one of the first people I heard on Radio 4 attacking Mr Cameron for his exercise of Britain’s veto was the editor of the Financial Times – a paper that is worth every penny of its £2.20 cover price because its editorial line is so consistently wrong. This makes it an invaluable contra-indicator, as I would have been in my days as an investment analyst if only I could have upped my game from being 80% to 100% mistaken.

The plain fact is that Friday’s moment had to come because the members of the EU are like passengers on a bus trip who have been lured aboard by wildly different prospectuses. There are 26 passengers who think they are off to Disneyworld, and one anticipating an agreeable ramble around the grounds of some National Trust property followed by a nice afternoon tea.

Everyone else has known all along that the final destination of the “ever closer union” of Europe was a United States reducing national governments to the status of county councils, and certainly with less freedom of manoeuvre than the constituent states of the USA. Only we British were conned into signing up for what we imagined was some sort of free trade area.

In the circumstances, exactly how much “influence” is the one passenger who wants to go somewhere else ever likely to be able to exercise over the rest?

And when the destination abruptly changes from Disneyworld to Beachy Head, surely the only sane course is to step off and let them get on with it? What exactly is the downside of isolation from an economic suicide pact?

The rise and fall of the euro: an allegory
I do not doubt for a moment the genuine idealism of many of those who support the European project. That old warhorse Lord Heseltine was another quick to the microphone to bang on about Churchill’s vision of a United States of Europe, and of it being the only way to save the continent from the ravages of recurring wars.

A noble aim, though the strains of imposing a fundamentally undemocratic supranational authority on ancient states seem much more likely to foment conflict than prevent it.

For other British politicians, the EU appears to fulfil a similar function to President Sarkozy’s platform heels, providing the chance to walk a little taller on the global stage than they would as representatives of a sometime great power experiencing the inevitability of relative decline. What is wrong with just governing Britain? If it is not enough for you, kindly step aside.

The solution must be to level with the people. Explain honestly just what subordination to a United States of Europe would mean for Britain; realistically outline the alternatives to that destination, then let the electorate decide. The referendum of 1975 cannot be held to have settled the issue forever because it was fought on fundamentally dishonest grounds.

For me, the right of a free people to govern themselves trumps all other considerations. Just as it did when Britain granted independence to its former colonies, regardless of whether they might have been more benevolently governed by us.

If the British people ever vote yes to European union in an open and honest referendum, I promise to shut up or leave the country. Quite possibly both. But, should the great day come, please do not let this be the decisive consideration in how you cast your vote.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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