Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Whether or Not Britain Enters EMU, We Must Reassert a Postwar Idealism That Saw the European Union as a Bulwark against War and a Protector of Its Members

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Whether or Not Britain Enters EMU, We Must Reassert a Postwar Idealism That Saw the European Union as a Bulwark against War and a Protector of Its Members

Article excerpt

It seemed clear enough. "The policy, that we are keeping an open mind on European Monetary Union, is absolutely unchanged (but we want to tell you that the policy might be changed, or we would like you to think that it might be changed) while of course it will remain entirely unchanged."

It was clear enough to Kenneth Clarke, who said he had complete confidence that the Prime Minister would never change the policy, but if the senseless (expletive deleted) did change it then he would tell him to stick his job, but until that day, the dawning of which is wholly inconceivable, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had not a scintilla of difference between them and the policy is wholly unchanged.

Europe. Cut off from us in a fog of our and its making, it does not yet rouse much interest in the voters. What interest we do have in it is increasingly hostile: the polls and the focus groups show an antipathy to the Continentals (except among the young). That this is so makes John Major's point. To rule out entry into the European Monetary Union would be popular, would put greasy brown water between the Tories and Labour.

"Everyone knows that we would not go in [to EMU] if elected for a fifth term," said "one of Major's most trusted colleagues" to the Financial Times on Tuesday. The Prime Minister wants to make more sure that everybody does know this. At the same time, however, he does not want to lose a Chancellor with a certain following, even less Michael Heseltine, who has a large following. Major must make the finest of calculations as to how far he can go without tipping one or both of these over.

The trusted colleague is probably right: a new Tory government would not take the UK into EMU at its starting date of January 1999. This may be a good deed done for bad reasons, since it is currently as uncertain as it has ever been if the project will go ahead successfully in the timescale planned. There are uncertainties: over popular support, especially in Germany; over popular protest, especially in France; over governmental ability to observe the criteria, especially in Italy; over willingness to take part at all, especially in Sweden and Denmark. All of these make Britain's convulsions look rather less disruptive than once they did. …

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