A referendum on the UK’s EU membership? Please not yet!

In an eloquent article on Our Kingdom, David Marquand, the academic, former Labour MP and later chief adviser (1977-78) to Roy Jenkins as President of the European Commission, laments that the Britain he’s proud of, the Britain that “stood alone against Nazi Germany for twelve long months”, that welcomed foreign exiles and was a beacon of free speech and peaceful protest, no longer exists.  Despite having consistently supported UK membership of the European Union, Mr Marquand is —

now getting more and more favourable to a referendum – not on the Lisbon Treaty, which is a side issue, but on the one question that really matters: in or out? I’m pretty sure that the Europhobes would lose, just as they did in 1975, but even if they won there would be a silver lining. British secession from the EU would be a disaster for Britain, but it would be a good thing for Europe. Its progress towards federalism would still be slow and halting, but at least the UK would no longer be there, throwing spanners in the works at every opportunity. And – a bigger bonus – the UK would probably break up. Scotland and (probably) Wales would not want to leave their continent, even if England did. I’ve always been against the break-up of Britain, championed so brilliantly by Tom Nairn, but I’m increasingly coming to feel that it offers Wales, where I was born, and Scotland, where both my grandmothers were born, their best hope of escape from the deadly UK mixture of authoritarian illiberalism, gross inequality and small-minded insularity.

It’s a tempting idea, but the temptation needs to be resisted:  unless it’s a rhetorical trope, it’s a death wish.  I have posted this comment on David Marquand’s article:

“I’m proud to be European as well as British and English and a Londoner.  It’s obvious to me that Britain’s future lies either in Europe or else in rapid decline and obscurity.  The ravings of the Europhobes are incomprehensible: why should anyone take seriously the paranoid xenophobic lies of the Sun, the Murdoch press and the Conservative party?  The prospect of at least five and possibly ten years of a Tory government under Cameron and Hague, oscillating between Europhobia and Euroscepticism, constantly dragging its feet in Brussels, constantly whingeing about wanting to claw back its ‘right’ to treat British workers worse than anyone else in Europe, constantly trying to extract petty chauvinist advantage by blackmailing our European partners with the threat of an obstructive veto, constantly blaming every national failure on Europe, constantly undermining our standing in Washington and the rest of the world by puerile displays of vindictiveness and disloyalty in Brussels — doesn’t that prospect depress you?

“If it does, then I can see how the idea of an In/Out referendum, almost certainly in my view resulting in the UK’s withdrawal (or expulsion) from the European Union (“It was The Sun Wot Won It“), might have a kind of masochistic attraction.  As Marquand rightly says, it would be a disaster for Britain.  If it led to the disintegration of the United Kingdom, with Scotland and perhaps Wales seceding and rejoining the EU, (and Northern Ireland probably joining the Republic of Ireland), leaving England to sink without trace, it would be not just a disaster but a catastrophe.  But the luxury of being able to tell the swivel-eyed Europhobes and Eurosceptics that it served them right, and would teach them a salutary lesson, would be pitifully small compensation for seeing our once proud country swirl relentlessly down the drain.

“If we must have a referendum on UK membership of the EU, let it be preceded by a period of several years in which an enlightened British government awakens from its torpor and starts to play an active and constructive role in Europe, not fatuously claiming a “leadership” role (who else in Europe these days accepts Britain as a leader?) but engaging seriously and whole-heartedly with the French and the Germans and the Poles and Spanish to put yet more flesh on the bones of the great European idea, to develop its benign identity in world affairs and to help it to play as effective a role in tackling the world’s horrendous problems as the United States, Russia, India, China and Brazil.  Before we hold this referendum, let’s have a government that shouts from the rooftops that as partners in Europe we’re part of an exciting and imaginative enterprise of a kind never seen before, a new kind of partnership among sovereign states which transcends nationality yet preserves and safeguards all that’s best in national identity.  Before that referendum, let’s have a government that recites five times every day before breakfast the enormous benefits that flow to our economy, our culture and our way of life from our European membership card.  Let’s see a great national crusade to expose and kill with ridicule the tawdry lies and psychotic scaremongering and Europhobic ranting of the tabloids and their Eurosceptic groupies.  Only then, when national awareness of what’s at stake has been raised to a moderately mature and adult level, can we dare to risk that referendum.  Until then, it would be a form of national suicide, a victory for ignorance, prejudice, chauvinism, xenophobia, cowardice and a shameful failure of vision.  For all our shortcomings and failures of courage and optimism, we surely don’t deserve that.  It’s far too early for us Europeans to surrender to defeatism.

“And, by the way, what is this plucky little Britain that “stood alone against Nazi Germany for twelve long months”?  Better ask the Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, the South Africans, the Free Poles, the Indians, the East and West Africans and the West Indians, the Free French, and a host of other tough and welcome allies.  I bet their memories won’t be as short and flaky as ours seem to be.  It’s fashionable and politically correct now to sneer at the Empire.  I’m old enought to remember, though, that we weren’t sneering at the Empire in 1940.  How shaming that it’s now their turn to sneer at us!”


12 Responses

  1. Oliver Miles says:

    … and don’t forget the Greeks , whether or not Churchill really said in 1940 “Until now, we knew that Greeks were fighting like heroes; from now on we shall say that the heroes fight like Greeks.”

    Brian writes: Many thanks for that timely reminder. I’m sure I’m guilty of other significant omissions as well.

  2. Also, let’s not forget the Spaniards. While Franco certainly provided assistance to Hitler, many Spanish refugees in France worked with the Resistance and in the Second French Armoured Division (Leclerc Division). The first allied troops to enter Paris in August 1944 were former members of the Spanish Republican Army.

    Brian writes: Absolutely! Anyone else that I have left out, please?

  3. Julian Nundy says:

    I read all of this, from my bolthole in Paris, with very mixed feelings. If I have learnt one thing about government in my adult life, it is that you fiddle around with the institutions at your peril. The Blair government did this with Scotland and Wales and we are certainly only at the beginning of the consequences. And countries, like people we know, change with time. I was transiting through Gatwick a couple of years ago in mid-morning and watched in some amazement as my compatriots staggered off their charter flights and lined up for the passport checks. Those that weren’t obese and/or drunk were musclebound, tattooed, shaven-headed and, yes, drunk too. They guffawed, effed and  blinded and exchanged all manner of profanities as they waited to be readmitted to their green and pleasant land. I too like to think I am proud of being British, English and a Londoner, but I find I really have very little in common (or at least I hope not) with many of my contemporary compatriots. How different from my vision as a postwar child when, if you wanted to know the time, you would ask a policeman and when, nine times out of ten, if you needed help or directions, the average citizen would be more than pleased to oblige. Since then, a distinct new narrowmindedness has developed, whipped up and encouraged by some of the aforementioned media, about many things, but particularly about Europe and things European. While I have always been a supporter of Britain in Europe, I have found myself thinking along the same lines as David Marquand in recent months. Since Britain is simply not, under any government (and even less under the next one), prepared to engage with Europe and play a full part, preferring instead to throw spanners in the works, might it not be better for all concerned, for it not to be there? Few continental leaders are ready to say so, but I am sure many of them would welcome this in private. Unlike David Marquand, if there were a referendum on the issue, I am not sure the Europhobes would lose. In the meantime, if anyone has the key to the `enlightened’ government that might prevent all this, speak up now please!

    Brian writes: Julian, I’m sorry to say that I share many of your feelings about some of our compatriots in contemporary Britain and about the dismal performances in Europe (as well as in other matters) of Britain’s recent and prospective governments. I also agree with you, and not with David Marquand, that a referendum on EU membership held in Britain any time soon is very likely to go against our continued membership, although a lot would depend on the persuasiveness of the campaign in favour of EU membership in the run-up to the vote and the stance that would be taken by the government of the day: even the strongly Eurosceptic Cameron and Hague claim that they want Britain to retain its EU membership. But an option to renegotiate the terms of our membership would probably succeed, although it would probably have only negligible practical results apart from heralding years of tedious argument within the EU. But despite all these gloomy factors, I can’t persuade myself that it can be in either Britain’s or Europe’s interests for us to risk a referendum on questions likely to lead to the UK’s exit from the EU. Nor do I despair completely of seeing a renewed and reinvigorated Labour government coming to office in or about 2014 or 2015 under a new, much younger leadership that might be much bolder in its commitment to Europe. It’s a highly optimistic hope, but not necessarily an unrealistic one. It’s also just possible that Cameron, Hague and co. will find, if and when they become the government next year, that the responsibilities of government and the day-to-day practical decisions they will have to take in the numerous councils and committees of the EU will force them to adopt a more prgmatic and less ideologically driven approach to Europe than they have been able to indulge in while luxuriating in opposition. Some first signs of this were apparent in Cameron’s U-turn statement reneging on his 2007 “cast-iron guarantee” of a referendum on any treaty that came out of the discussions of the Giscard constitution. It would be reckless folly, and a kind of masochistic self-indulgence, to throw away all those faint hopes of better times ahead by risking everything now in a referendum which could exclude our country, perhaps permanently, from the best thing that’s happened in Europe for centuries.

  4. Brian,
    Even if the in/out referendum was won by the “inners”-as I suspect it would be- the idea that the “outers” would pull up the guy ropes, take their  tents away and admit they had been in error all along, is plain fanciful. The 1975 referendum was supposed to end the debate! Why should we think  the next one would be any more successful?

    Brian writes: Thanks, Tony. I suppose that if the pro-EU side were to win a referendum on membership, it would seriously undermine the arguments of the Europhobes and Eurosceptics, at any rate for a few years. The 1975 referendum did in fact “end the debate” for the immediate future, it avoided a damaging split in the Labour Party by enabling the anti-EEC faction in the Labour leadership to “accept the will of the electorate” and abandon hostilities (at least until the defection of the Gang of Four in 1981, resulting in a sharp tilt to Michael Foot’s anti-EEC views), and it took the issue out of party politics for a while. If we could be confident of a similar result in a referendum held now, I would be in favour of it since it would have a similar effect, at least for some time, in hobbling the Europhobic obstructionists and give a shot in the arm to Britain’s standing in the EU. But I don’t have enough confidence that it would have that result to make the appalling risks acceptable, at least until there had been prolonged preparation and public education led by a basically pro-EU government and opposition.

  5. Julian Nundy has already said much of what I would say. ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ The country that I was brought up in no longer exists; and in some respects it never did, a formative discovery that I was to make in my late teens.

    Europe has a British problem. El País’ equivalent of the Guardian’s Comment is Free notice board has comments along the lines of ‘Why do we have to put up with the UK, Ireland, and the Czech Republic?’ or ‘If the UK doesn’t want to be in the European Union, why doesn’t it just leave and join the USA?’ There is a new factor here: for the first time the Lisbon Treaty provides a clear mechanism for a member state to leave (up to now it would have meant renegotiating every treaty individually). So when the first spanner is seen flying around near the works, the UK will be reminded of this option; the exit door is no longer locked. Renegotiation of terms is not an option. The terms have been negotiated and after ten gruelling years of constitutional introspection the EU now wishes to get away from that process and act on other pressing matters such as climate change and external relations. Any British application for renegotiation of anything will meet with the simple response: Take it or leave it.

    I would not like to predict which way a referendum would go – although I am sure that if a referendum on British membership were to be extended to the EU as a whole, the result would be a foregone conclusion. I am sure, though, that the process would be horribly divisive – or rather, it would blow wide open the social and political chasms that already exist in the UK but that have been papered over. As in all referendums the actual issue at stake would be blurred by general social questions with the result (and I say this very carefully) that the latent civil war that exists in British society could become even more bitter than it already is. Unless the result were a landslide for one side, which I doubt, the consequences either way would be terrible. I have no doubt that many companies would relocate to the continental countries if the UK were to leave in order to preserve their European markets against possible tariffs and a crashing pound, and that many individuals would see their future in the EU. There is no reason to suppose a priori that a departing UK could negotiate membership of the EEA, or indeed that a deeply Europhobic country would wish to remain subject to regulations from Brussels. That is without the perfectly realistic possibility of English people having to show passports and change money to visit Wales or Scotland or Ireland, or (dare one suggest it?) Cornwall or other parts of England. Scotland would not wish to be a nuclear power, so where would the submarines go? But if the result were to stay in the EU, there would be an irredentist group of diehard nationalists that would never give up the struggle, quite possibly using violent means.

    England standing alone would be a return to the sixteenth century when, depending on how you look at it, England stood for freedom against Catholic Europe or England was a rogue state sponsoring terrorism on the high seas and elsewhere to such an extent that the European superpower Spain felt obliged to take matters in hand after England beheaded the legitimate monarch of another country. European leaders will have mixed feelings about losing the UK/England for precisely that reason. English/British foreign policy has always intended to prevent the emergence of any single hegemonic continental power and the country’s engagement in European affairs has always been for that end; to have the country outside the Union could prove counterproductive. Unfortunately, it has not proved possible (or should I say desirable?) even in today’s world to turn British policy round and accept a voluntary association of European states as a good thing. The UK could play a major role in the EU, but only if it engages properly and enthusiastically; present talk about being at the heart of Europe is mere pissing in the wind.

    And there, most definitely, is the rub. Neither Labour nor Conservatives has shown the slightest inclination to take a constructive, enthusiastic attitude towards Europe. Both parties have in their time been pro, anti, and split down the middle. Labour’s record on European affairs since 1997 has been dismal; I see no reason at all to believe that it will change. The Tories can be written off for the foreseeable future. The LibDems offer the best hope but how, in a hung parliament, can they support the Europe policy of either of the other parties?

    Brian writes: I can’t really quarrel with any of that, apart from a suspicion (possibly born of wishful thinking) that the Labour Party is nowadays more cautiously positive about Europe than you recognise, however feeble the Labour government’s effort in Europe may have been; and a conviction that a referendum resulting in confirmation of UK membership of the EU would bring genuine benefits, far outweighing its problems — if only we could be sure that that would be the result! I also believe that the enormous changes in British society since I was a child, i.e. in my case during the last 60 years or so, have in some important respects been for the better, although the decline in ordinary civility, the death of deference, and the side effects of multiculturalism have all unquestionably had a steep down-side.

  6. The 1975 referendum … enabl[ed] the anti-EEC faction in the Labour leadership to “accept the will of the electorate”
    But it didn’t in 1983, when the Labour manifesto called for British withdrawal from the EEC.

    Brian writes: But the referendum saw Harold Wilson through the immediate threat of splits both nationally and within the party. It was the losses of support for the Labour government of members who went over to Scottish Labour, the end of the Lib-Lab pact, and then the SNP’s withdrawal of support, and most significantly the defections of the Gang of Four and their formation of the Social Democratic Party in 1981 which led to a haemorrhage of pro-Europe leaders, MPs and party members (including most notably Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams), which eventually caused the party to tilt into the hands of Michael Foot and Tony Benn who had opposed UK membership of the EEC at the 1975 referendum but had accepted its verdict at the time. Left in control of the field after the 1981 split, Foot and the party’s left naturally reverted to a policy of leaving the EEC in the 1983 manifesto, although if you re-read the actual wording of the relevant paragraph you may be struck by how apologetic and half-hearted it was. In fact, read as a whole, that 1983 manifesto, famously described by Gerald Kaufman as the longest suicide note in history, was actually quite prescient — see e.g.
    — apart from the crazy pledge to take Britain out of the EEC.

    However, you’re right to point out that the benign effects of the 1975 referendum didn’t last as long as I had suggested.

  7. Musclebound men with shaven heads are not a new type in English history. We are seeing the return of the Roundheads after 350 years, and they are no less Repulsive and no more Right than they were then.

  8. David Ratford says:

    Of course a UK referendum on membership would produce a majority in favour of our leaving the EU. How could it be otherwise? As we have lately seen, referendums frequently produce contrary results, even when there is a strong and united political campaign for a particular outcome. As a method of taking important national decisions they are, frankly, on a par with Russian roulette. In 1955 there was even a referendum majority of 82.9 per cent against the proposal by the Swedish Government that Sweden should switch to driving on the right-hand side of the road, a perverse and highly damaging outcome that it took the Riksdag years to correct. In any UK referendum on EU membership, with the leadership of both major British parties divided, the pro-EU campaign would at best be half-hearted and would stand no chance in the face of now long-entrenched attitudes and the onslaught from Murdoch and co. We can thus take its result for granted and turn our attention to what would inevitably follow.

    In the negotiations about the terms of our withdrawal the British Government would be in an extremely weak position. Our industry would be desperate to protect the more than 50 per cent of our exports that go to other EU countries and, while EU exporters would likewise wish to safeguard their market in the UK, the threat to them would be proportionately much less significant. In this situation the Commission and Council would be bound to reach for a tried and tested existing model for EU ‘refuseniks’, i.e. the European Economic Area arrangements, as extended to the Norwegians and others. Also, some of the more gullible anti-Europeans in the UK have long hankered after the ‘Norway option’. On both counts it is therefore perhaps as well to remind ourselves what it entails.

    In very brief outline, Norway is outside the CAP and the CFP, but pays handsomely into the EU budget while receiving nothing from it. It has full reciprocal access to the Single European Market, on the basis that 99 per cent of all Single Market legislation existing at the inception of the EEA applied to Norway from the outset, as does all subsequent such legislation. So far, so good, some British anti-Europeans seem to imagine – a purely trade arrangement without nasty political extras and overtones. But the truth is that it comes at a huge political and sovereignty price, a fact that they somehow conveniently overlook. Norway is without a voice in the EU Council of Ministers and has no representation in the European Parliament, yet is treaty-bound to accept, without amendment, all new Single Market measures emerging from the political processes in the Council and Parliament. As these come forward the Norwegian Storting has the option either to rubber-stamp them exactly as they stand or to withdraw altogether from the EEA. In 2001 Jens Stoltenberg then, as again now, Prime Minister of Norway is reported to have described this as ‘a fax democracy’, in which Norway awaits instructions from Brussels.

    I leave on one side the fact that the EEA is concerned only with some of the tangible, bread-and-butter, trade issues involved in leaving the EU and would therefore take no account of the huge array of broader problems and concerns in world affairs on which we would cease to have an influential voice mediated through our membership.

    One can see the attractions of the EEA solution for the rest of the EU. They would rid themselves of a tiresome maverick and guarantee, on a virtually take-it or leave-it basis, their own continuing access to our market. Can Westminster now be so debased that it would find such arrangements acceptable? And, if not, where would that leave us?

    The irresponsibility of embarking on a referendum in such conditions is stupefying and the fact that it is now a looming possibility is proof, if further proof were needed, of the utter bankruptcy of our political and parliamentary institutions. Generations of Labour and Tory party-political tribalists, intoxicated with the powers of FPTP-engendered single-party majority control of the House of Commons, have pursued one dominant objective on assuming office after an election, namely to dish the Opposition and to ensure their survival in office after the next election, no matter the damage to national interest. Any ideas of “an enlightened British government [that] awakens from its torpor and starts to play an active and constructive role in Europe”, or of “seeing a renewed and reinvigorated Labour government coming to office in or about 2014 or 2015 under a new, much younger leadership that might be much bolder in its commitment to Europe”, are the stuff of pure fantasy. We have already seen how, after the ravages of the Thatcher years and the subsequent political sleaze and drift, all hopes that the 1997 election might prove just such a new beginning were cruelly disappointed. Blair’s fair words on Europe at the outset were soon conveniently forgotten, swept away by his pact with Murdoch and the lures of the Special Relationship. On the European issue the two major parties have since excelled themselves merely in leap-frogging one another to the bottom of the hill.

    The only hope of escape from this pit would be long-term institutional, above all electoral, reform that would break the present control of Parliament by the two major parties and give other, saner, voices a part in the decision-making processes. The outlook is indeed grim.

    Brian writes: Thank you for an invaluable and informed analysis of the implications for Britain of leaving the EU and joining the European Economic Area instead. I entirely agree that this would give us the very worst of all possible worlds. Indeed it’s hard to see how anyone in possession of the facts could possibly believe that it would be a better option than what we have now, whatever jaundiced view might be taken of the present position. I agree that a referendum on UK membership held now would almost certainly result in our withdrawal, for the reasons you give, but I don’t think that either the Conservative or the Labour leaderships are at all likely to hold such a referendum in the foreseeable future: they all know very well what appalling problems would be created if the outcome forced us out of the EU. AFAIK the only pro-European party that advocates a referendum on membership is the LibDems, intellectual curiosity and a kind of Cartesian logic having apparently superseded their practical commonsense. David Marquand’s article explaining why he is coming round to the idea of an In/Out referendum is the subject of my post here. For the reasons I have set out, it seems to me either mischievous or perverse; possibly both.

    Obviously I take a rather less pessimistic view than yourself of the possibilities of a marginally braver new world down the road, after a likely Cameron government has inherited (and probably failed) the challenge of managing recovery from the recession and restoring the national finances. And you’ll remember from earlier debates that I don’t share your view of the likely merits of a change in the electoral system designed to bring us permanent multi-party government. But that’s another story, for another day.

    The level of argument and understanding of the issues by the Europhobes and Eurosceptics is well illustrated by the comments on my post above as reproduced in LabourList: if you have a strong constitution, see http://j.mp/1aUwMs!

  9. John Miles says:

    Two significant omissions:
    It seems churlish not to mention the South Africans.
    Sailor Malan, for example, probably did more for us in the Battle of Britain than than any other individual.
    And what about the Rhodesians?
    Love him or loathe him, Butcher Harris had a biggish  hand in the conduct of the war.
    And don’t forget Ian Smith.

    Brian writes: But I included the South Africans in my original list! (You are right to remind me of the Rhodesians, though: I should have included Central Africans alongside the East and West Africans. I’m sure there are still more omissions, though.)

    Marshal of the Royal Air Force “Bomber” Harris (I think he’s more often called “Bomber” than “Butcher” although the latter is preferred by some) was born in Cheltenham and went to Rhodesia only at the age of 16. He did indeed serve in the Rhodesia Regiment at the start of the first world war. However he returned to England in 1915 and joined the Royal Flying Corps, forerunner of the RAF. So his career as a Rhodesian military person was brief. His contribution to the second worls war was certainly huge, whatever we might think now about the bombing of civilian targets, but it was an entirely British contribution from within the upper ranks of the RAF, not Rhodesia.

  10. Laughing Gravy says:

    Although I voted ‘no’ in the 1975 referendum, and retain a strong streak of scepticism aginst the present structures of the EU, I am reconciled to the indisputable fact that it would do huge damage to try to leave now. So I agree with many of the comments on this topic. However, there is a real problem and I do not know how to solve it or how to suggest that it might be solved. I believe there is a widespread disillusionment with the EU – it is much wider than the ranting lunatics who post on other blogs. The disillusionment arises from two things: first, the British Government has been dishonest about the EU. I blame all of them going back to Ted Heath. He signed the first treaty without ‘the full-hearted consent’ of the British people; which he had promised to obtain. They have been dishonest on small things – Keith Vaz describing the Charter of Fundamental Rights as no more than The Beano. They have been dishonest on large things – a manifesto commitment to have a referendum on the Constitution is dumped when it renamed a treaty. The people were not fooled by that. They resented it. Such dishonesty has been rife. Second, the EU is not democratic. It is not possible to ‘kick the buggers out’. People get cynical and resentful when they see the Irish voting in a second referendum because they did not get the ‘right’ answer first time. In addition, there is a malodour of corruption in the air of the EU. All of these feelings that ‘something isn’t right’ run deep and have not been tackled by any government. Unless they are tackled I do foresee trouble ahead.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this thoughtful and cogent analysis of the main ingredients in popular disillusionment with the EU. I think there are honourable answers to all the points you make, but I recognise that few if any of them would be convincing to the sceptics. In some ways I think the most persuasive of the indictments is that the Europe which we originally joined, and membership of which was confirmed in the 1975 referendum, has changed radically into today’s EU with a political as much as a trade and economic personality, and this development has happened without anyone ever having been given a chance to pronounce on whether we still want it. But I also think that referendums are profoundly unsuitable instruments for decisions on such intricate and arcane subjects as the Lisbon treaty. Tony Blair should never have promised a referendum even on the Giscard draft constitution, which was less far-reaching than many previous European treaties on which nobody called for referendums. Decisions like this should be taken by the people we elect to take them for us, who have the huge resources of research, information and expert advice available to them which the rest of us inevitably lack. Of course we can and should make up our own minds about great issues and do everything possible to make our ministers and legislators listen to us: but after that, it’s for them to decide, not us. If we think their decisions have been wrong, we can kick them out every four or five years and try the other lot. In the case of EU membership, all three of the major parties expressly favour staying in, so to register a vote for withdrawal from the EU one would have to vote (e.g.) UKIP, which for many would go against the grain on other policy issues. But the fact that the three biggest parties (and the SNP) all favour membership of the EU, reflecting a very broad political consensus from left to right, does suggest that on any informed judgement Britain’s interests are best served by remaining inside the EU, with all its shortcomings. Anyway, we’re certainly not going to be able to join with other EU partners in trying to remedy those shortcomings if we opt out of it; and if we stay in, it’s obviously in our and Europe’s interest for us to play a full, enthusiastic, constructive part in it, not constantly whingeing, trying to drive hard chauvinist bargains based on blackmail, or repeatedly opting out of arrangements that almost everyone else has accepted.

  11. Laughing Gravy says:

    Dear Brian, you and I and many others of the chattering classes understand that no government has done anything illegal, unconstitutional, or in that sense wrong. BUT, there are a great many people – not true eurosceptics – who have deep feeling of unease. My three grown up children show this to me. They are well educated, travel widely, are moderately fluent in French or Spanish or German, but are worried about the EU. Not in a swiveled eyed lunatic way, but in a ‘ something isn’t quite right’ way. Until my three children can be whole heartedly convinced, the chance of convincing the more extreme sceptics is zero. I also find the way the debate gets polarised is unhelpful. I have problems with the EU, but I resent being classified as a crazy right winger.

    Brian writes: I wouldn’t dream of identifying you as a crazy right winger, or indeed a crazy anything else. One of the damaging things about the polarisation of our society and of the debate over the EU is that it’s difficult to acknowledge its defects without the acknowledgement being seized on by the Europhobes as support for their campaign to get Britain out. It should be perfectly possible to agree that there are things requiring reform in the EU while at the same time feeling strongly that Britain’s place is in Europe and that getting out, or being forced out, would be an utter disaster. I blame the Blair and Brown governments for having been so half-hearted about the EU and for running so scared of the Eurosceptic press that they lost their golden opportunity to demonstrate the great potential of our EU membership for good. Whenever there was a crisis, Blair’s instinct was to fly at once to Washington, instead of going first to Paris and Berlin (and perhaps to Rome and Madrid) to try to help construct a united European position that might have carried weight with the White House. (I take it as a given that Cameron and, especially, Hague are beyond redemption over Europe.)

    In short, I entirely accept that very many people in Britain, young and old — and not only in Britain, by the way — are deeply uneasy about the EU and the way that it has become what it is. Unfortunately I suspect that very many people conclude from this that we should leave the EU altogether. That seems to me utterly wrong. Such people are encouraged in error by the far-right, swivel-eyed crazies for whom all the ills that flesh is heir to are attributable to UK membership of the EU, and every problem will be solved for ever when we get out of it. It’s therefopre important, it seems to me, to take every opportuinity to expose their paranoid fantasies for what they are. At the same time it’s vital to try to kindle a sense of excitement and pride about the European enterprise of the kind that exists to greater or lesser degree elsewhere in Europe.

  12. Chris Vine says:


    I share your views on the lunacy of the euro-sceptic wing of the Tory party (actually, more like the main building rather than a wing), but like those condemned to die without faith I do not have your vision of a left-wing Jerusalem arising from the bowels of the Labour party to comfort me.

    Indeed I view the present government (by which I mean “since 1997”) as one of the chief architects of “the most spied-upon nation in Europe, and one of the most spied-upon in the world”, one where “our Government has almost certainly been complicit in torture; our right to live our lives as we like is threatened by the remorseless advance of the data-base state”. While people like Damian McBride can continue to find not only their home in the Labour party, but also (as he did) encouragement from ministers at the highest level and where he was special adviser to the Prime Minister, and someone like Ed Balls has a good shot at becoming leader of the Labour party when Gordon Brown steps down, I think you are whistling in the wind. The present Labour leadership are directive centralists to the core and sadly Malcolm Tucker only seems to be a mild caricature of the real thing.

    Iain Duncan Smith actually has some quite interesting social ideas, but I am not sure I have the stomach to tolerate the Tories’ policies on the European Union. Neither do I think I have the stomach to tolerate the cynicism and increasing tribalism of the present government.

    Were the UK to withdraw from the EU, which almost certainly won’t happen – the Tories are eurosceptic but not stupid and won’t hold a referendum on continued membership, I do not believe the UK will break up. I can live with the mild anti-Englishness of David Marquand’s article, but I am not aware that UKIP support is a great deal less in Wales (it is though I think a bit less in Scotland because of the nationalist element). As an aside (and acknowledging that a sample of one is no sample at all), a Scot who lives a little down the road and who I count as a friend is the most extreme Europhobe I have met, to the point that it is the only issue on which we have nearly fallen out.

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