When I was a young man the question which dominated my beloved Tory party was Britain’s place in Europe. Indeed the first general election I can remember saw the then party leader William Hague run on a “save the pound” ticket. Now with much talked about the “rise” of UKIP and the rampant stagnation of the Euro zone Britain’s relationship with Europe is centre stage once more.
The title for this piece comes from an international diplomacy lecture I had some years ago. In this lecture the professor argued that Britain had, had one single foreign policy ever since Elizabeth the first. It was to ensure there was never a single power in Europe and to be separate from Europe. This policy he called in Europe but not of it.
Britain has since this time bled on every European battle field. From the; war of the Spanish succession, to the wars against Napoleon, even against Russia over Crimea and finally the first and second world wars. Britain’s eyes and soul was never focused on the continent but to the sea and trade, Britain stood always alone (which is untrue) and always involved with Europe but looking elsewhere. The fall of empire and the rise of the EU has, however, forced Britain to come to terms in some way with an end to the old idea of Europe and Britain place within.
Here dear reader I must confess a slight schizophrenia towards the current incarnation of Europe. I both hate (and hate is the right word) the idea of becoming a province within a single European nation (a national nightmare since old Liz 1) and cannot really say I believe Britain could survive as well as we do outside of Europe. So I really believe we must be part of Europe but apart from it and I want to tell you why.
Frist Britain is not European, thanks to our seaward gaze, are involvement with Europe since the fall of the Plantagenet’s has been one of suspicion not brotherly co-operation. Our culture and history is not wholly tied to the continent, even the dominate Anglo-American political thought is opposed to the more corporatist European model. Simply being in the EU will not change this, our gaze remains more to the Atlantic then it does the channel.
Secondly the European Union is a fowl undemocratic, unfriendly, badly run, technocracy. Even if it is reformed without being burned down and stared from scratch again, we British know that the organisation will retain some of these feature. I have serious reservations that democracy can practically function at the transnational level and if it can be aggregated to majority votes amongst national leaders and still be called democratic.
I could go on for far longer about why I loath the EU so but I do not wish this piece to degenerate into a rant because whilst my heart screams an anti EU message my brain whispers another. You see I recognise that the nature of Europe has changed, whether the British like it or not a single power has emerged and that power cannot be ignored or denied. Indeed, look at aura the vast majority of our clients come from this power and we are but a microcosm of British commerce the vast majority of whom are focused upon the new Europe.
So why love the EU, well for one it does guarantee the free movement of trade and the British do love us some trade and freedom. The EU and the free trade it offers has been good for post war Britain. As I said the Empire is dead and we need someone to trade with. We tried in the 70’s turning to the common wealth but are trade links are far weaker and the governance of trade within far weaker, so we are left with the EU.
The EU is many thing but it is not the national sovereign eating monsters popular in the British nightmare. We have to accept that Europe is not trying to concur us, despite how the media portray the EU. Yes the EU is not perfect but a great deal of her harmful effects are due to British interventions. Yes dear reader it was the UK who pushed for eastern European nations to join and for membership to expand (in an ill advise attempt to weaken the union) and now we complain that their citizens are coming over here and largely doing jobs we don’t want to do.
So where are we now, well right back where we started? In the 70’s Britain undermined the commonwealth by ending the free movement of people’s within but I don’t think we can pull that rabbit this time and even if we do we are still left with the paradox of Britain’s, nay the world’s oldest continual policy. That of Britain’s foreign policy towards Europe, we cannot remain both in it but not of it. We have to reconcile are hearts with our head, we have to be British and pragmatic about it, the empire has gone, globalisation is here and the EU is a fact; whether we like it or are a member of it or not.