When I am asked for my view of Europe (which is not very often) I always answer that I can’t see it from here. Any deeper significance in my reply is usually lost; but then why should it not be? I, after all, represent a passing generation. I am not, it is generally thought, in a position to judge.
But I am, you see. I really am.
I was among millions of Britons who voted for The Common Market, who agreed to suffer the idiosyncrasies of French agriculture and the ingress of Spanish trawlers as the price of a trade agreement that benefited the strike-torn economy of nineteen-sixties Britain. For a while I was an enthusiastic European. After all, my Liege-Lords for the last three hundred years had been German, had they not? And it was all so inspiringly liberal and democratic! I felt certain of the Euro, too, had we joined the currency in the early days. Not now, of course.
Why? Well, gone are those democratic visions. The Euro has become a political tool of federalists who see Europe as one great nation (and for ‘federalists’ read ‘bankers’ and for ‘one great nation’ read ‘several component nations among which speculators may engage in uninhibited play’). Please, don’t misunderstand me: nationalism is dangerous, and there is nothing wrong with tearing down walls between nations: a common currency is a great way to start. But to the federalists the Euro-zone, and especially its outer fringes, is a chess board upon which to execute some particularly profitable moves. In short, even on a wet Sunday in a fog it would be difficult to find a bunch of more disparate nations to unite, and these people are simply not the ones to try it.
Their spores have spread like fungus in the decaying democracy of a group of member nations which not only have nothing in common, but do not share a common language, and in many cases are combatants in blood feuds centuries old. The pot of member states is now so large and political interests so diverse that conflicts are inevitable and insurmountable. No-one wins, nothing gets done.
The political engine of Europe is misfiring; its mechanisms are cumbersome and slow. It is going precisely nowhere fast.
Yet this is at a time when quick, decisive action is needed. Whether or not we are aware, a major migration is taking place, originating in Africa and sweeping across Europe. It is stimulated, maybe even motivated, by the ‘open borders’ policy said to be at the heart of Europeanism. And while that policy is in place we have Canute’s chance of holding it back.
Meanwhile, the engines of change in our own country have signally failed to leave the station. We still drive on the opposite side of the road to other member nations. We adhere stoutly to our Pound Sterling and yearn for all else that was Sterling. The mile, the yard, the ounce, the inch. Even after more than four decades of ‘Decimalization’ and ‘Metrication’ if I ask the Automobile Association’s route finder to calculate a distance for me it gives the answer in miles, with the kilometer distance in faint, small print underneath (for the foreigners, I assume). When I purchase wood from a wood yard, I am likely to be asked for my requirements in foot runs.
According to British law, road signs, speed limits and the speedometers that record those speeds must be quoted in miles or miles per hour.
Edicts from those very federalists who constitute the backbone of ‘Brussels Bureaucracy’ are deeply resented because they are measures conceived undemocratically, and by colleges of thought outside our own nation, who often calculate to satisfy interests that are of no benefit to ourselves.
At some point in the next year or so we will be asked to vote in a referendum – should we be in, or out, of Europe. But the decision will be taken long before then, as the spinners and grafters steer the argument. Our political engineers are masterful manipulators of public opinion and they will do their work. They have already scored some early points. There is much more to do and they have a lot of time to do it.
I am anti-Europe, though I may be open to persuasion. Our Prime Minister is seeking ‘concessions’ from the member states which may make continued membership practical. The trouble, if I may be frank, is my instinctive mistrust of our Prime Minister – well, no, it is more than instinctive. So far the promises he has broken outweigh the promises he has kept. He has far too many concessions to deal with: our over-run borders, our plundered fishing industry, and our disadvantaged agricultural interests to name but a few. Even if he told the nation he had resolved these issues I would have trouble believing him. But then, these are not the reasons why I am likely, on balance, to vote ‘no’.
I am British. I am a member of a fiercely independent nation which has few friends on the international stage, apart perhaps from the United States. Certainly we have no friends in Europe and make no mistake, were we ever to hazard the Euro as a currency we would be savaged by the same lupine pack that currently has its teeth buried in the neck of Greece, and will move on to Portugal or to Italy in their turn.
I believe our advantage and our future – our trading, our cultural and our political future – lies not within the turgid mire of European bureaucracy, but with the wide diversity of nations waiting outside our door. Nations ready to trade. My argument is that which applies to the majority of divorces: irreconcilable difference. We have tried to make it work, but we are an insular people whose relationships within Europe have always been adverse, perverse and sometimes downright abusive. English is our language in common with much of the free world, and very little of Europe. We are notoriously bad at learning other tongues, but, I’m sorry, that is something of which I refuse to be ashamed. As a couple we are fundamentally unsuited, and some things are impossible to change.
And we get to keep the kids! So, my child, though for a while you may be persuaded otherwise, rest assured you are not European, you are British. It was a nice idea while it lasted, this Europe thing, and maybe one day it will be so again, but in the meanwhile I hope and trust we will vote intelligently so your island can stay afloat in the storm to come. If we don’t, I’ll keep a place for you: third lifeboat on the left.