Britain’s island story keeps ‘Europe’ at bay –

The Juncker affair has reminded everyone just how different we are from the
rest of the EU. Indeed, there is one inescapable point. We have never really
joined. In the early Seventies, legislation was passed to insert a new
European organ in the British body politic. This was assisted by large doses
of immuno-suppressant drugs. Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine and others
assumed that with every passing year, they would be less and less necessary.
The British public would start to take Europe for granted. As on the
Continent, it would become an integral part of domestic politics. But that
has not happened. On the contrary, in the final phase of their political
careers, Ken and Hezza find themselves among the last of the Eu-hicans,
striving desperately to prevent the Euro-organ from being rejected. Both
would like to think that their cause is the victim of the Eurosceptic
tabloids. Neither seems to understand that their real enemies are history,
geography and political culture.

When Hugh Gaitskell came out against Europe in the early Sixties, to the
dismay of most of his supporters, he said that joining Europe would break
faith with a thousand years of British history. If anything, that was an
underestimate. It was many thousands of years ago that Britain was sundered
from Europe by the creation of the English Channel. That has shaped our
entire history. After the past thousand years on a war-torn Continent, the
others have lost faith in the nation state, and who can blame them? Think of
the Rhine and its contrasts. North to South, the greatest of all rivers for
the flow of trade, wealth and culture, it has been one of the headwaters of
European civilisation. East to West, no river has seen more war, as
contending armies looted the art and plundered the prosperity.

This continued until the day before yesterday. In the course of the last 100
years, almost all the member states of the EU have invaded their neighbours,
or been invaded, or had a revolution: in some cases, multiple horrors. They
can hardly be blamed for concluding that nationalism comes in jackboots, or
for losing faith in the power of domestic laws to protect them.

Our experience is different. To us, the greatest threats have come from
attempts to create a European super-state: Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon,
Hitler… the EU. We may grumble about our judges’ deplorable propensity to
lenient sentencing, and the genius of the English common law is
insufficiently appreciated by the public. But we would rather trust our
judges than some foreign court, which forbids us to deport a terrorist
because he has acquired a pussy-cat and is entitled to a private life.

David Cameron would still like us to stay in Europe. Europe would like us to
stay. Although some of the French official class still has bouts of
nostalgia for the days when Europe was a French jockey on a German horse,
realism usually prevails. They regard us as a counter-weight to Germany.

One might therefore conclude that the problem is soluble. That could be
foolish. For more than 20 years, there has been a consensus about the
ingredients of an Israel/Palestine peace plan. Yet realisation seems further
away than ever. Sometimes, events have a momentum that is beyond
politicians’ control. This might be one such occasion.

In 1975, when the previous referendum was held, Britain was suffering from a
collapse of national self-confidence. That is unlikely to be the case this
time. It might seem absurd that a former prime minister of Luxembourg should
provoke Britain into leaving Europe. Then again, the EU often resembles a
performance in the Theatre of the Absurd.

Britain’s island story keeps ‘Europe’ at bay –

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