Magazine article The Spectator

Why the Tory Eurosceptics Do Not Ring True

Magazine article The Spectator

Why the Tory Eurosceptics Do Not Ring True

Article excerpt

If the Tories had won a majority, it would have been made up of Europhobes dedicated to having Britain out of the European Union, or at best on its sidelines, in short order. From that fate at least Tony Blair's landslide victory has delivered us, which is very much more than a small mercy. Whether a chastened Tory party will take a deep breath and think again I do not know. But if they don't, it will be the Tory party, not a thousand years of British history, which will shortly be coming to an end.

What is required with great urgency is a recovery of common sense - the knack of looking at things with an unclouded eye. In the 1930s the Tory party put at risk its reputation in this respect by failing to see the obvious: that Nazi Germany's plans for Europe did indeed constitute a mortal threat to British independence. In the 1990s they are in danger of doing so again by failing to see something equally obvious: that democratic Germany's do not. Regulations emanating from Brussels are not at all the same as diktats emanating from Berlin; red tape not at all the same as barbed wire; sitting on Chancellor Kohl's knee not at all the same as being ground under Chancellor Hitler's foot. Sounding the tocsin as if it were otherwise, therefore, is inappropriate, indeed plain silly. Far from turning the British public against Europe, it only serves to turn them against Tories.

When will Eurosceptics recognise that their rhetoric about British independence and British sovereignty no longer rings quite true? On hearing them carry on in this way I feel the same kind of embarrassment as when hearing my old Stoic contemporaries talk about our old school as if we were still there. Just as I am amazed that these old school chums of yesteryear have not grown up and noticed that in the wider world of adulthood school affairs are no longer at the centre of the universe, so am I amazed that the Eurosceptics have not grown up and realised that national affairs are no longer so central either.

It is not that threats to British independence are unworthy of concern. Of course they are worthy of concern, but not of such obsessive concern as to blot out other developments, as much at home as abroad, which put these dangers, such as they are, in a less apocalyptic light, indeed sometimes in a positively rosy light. My fears, possibly imaginary, about what harm the European Union might do to Britain are kept in balance by my hope - which, of course, could also turn out imaginary about what good it might do, not only to Britain but to mankind in general. Apprehension tempered by enthusiasm; enthusiasm tempered by apprehension: a pragmatic patriot, it seems to me, can honourably adopt either approach to the European Union, depending on the nature of the breezes blowing from Brussels on any particular morning - but that is about as far as the bounds of common sense should allow him to waver.

I use the word apprehension advisedly, as the lawyers say. Fear would be far too strong. For once, that much quoted Franklin Roosevelt phrase about there being `nothing to fear but fear itself seems bang on. A senior French Gaullist once explained why France felt so relaxed about Europe. `Because we have the H-bomb and they [the Germans] do not,' he said, rather as white imperialists in the 19th century felt relaxed about the natives `because we have the Maxim gun and they do not'. In the final analysis, as Mao put it, `power grows out of the barrel of a gun'. So long as Britain and France maintain their independent nuclear deterrent, so long will these great historic nations maintain ultimate control over their own destinies. …

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