Magazine article The Spectator

Just Say No

Magazine article The Spectator

Just Say No

Article excerpt

It was encouraging to hear Lord Owen on Today on Monday morning articulating the thoughts of millions on the opposition to the single currency. Owen, of course, is heading a group that is taking on the government in the run-up to the referendum, whenever that might be, and he seems the ideal non-party politician to assume this role. He sounded as if he will be very effective indeed, as he voiced his dismay at the experiment to create a United States of Europe.

On Saturday night I had been listening to Radio Four's The Archive Hour. A United States of Europe?, presented by the historian Professor Christopher Andrew and produced in Manchester by Fiona Bailey, with mounting apprehension at the struggle ahead to convince British public opinion that the single currency would be a democratic catastrophe, 'ending', as the late Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell put it, 'a thousand years of history'. We heard archive clips of Gaitskell addressing a Labour party conference on the issue and shadow cabinet members Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins expressing bewilderment at their hero's anti-EEC line. Jenkins, typically, decided that lunching Gaitskell at the Garrick was the answer. As he watched Gaitskell pacing the back dining-room and referring to the thousand years of British history, Jenkins thought, `Oh Christ! It's even worse than I thought.' The tragedy was that Gaitskell died prematurely.

Andrew took us through, in masterly fashion, the history of Britain's relationship with the EU, starting from Winston Churchill's speech promoting European unity at Zrich in 1946. Euro-fanatics are fond of using Churchill as a passionate advocate of a federal Europe but the opposite, at least as far as Britain was concerned, was the case. As Andrew pointed out, Churchill had written: `We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not comprised.' Churchill thought unity was for Continental Europe not Britain which needed to maintain its close links with the Commonwealth and the United States. We even heard Margaret Thatcher during the 1975 referendum campaign on whether or not to stay in using Churchill to buttress her then argument that Britain should remain part of the EEC.

Later though, in 1988, as prime minister, she made her famous and brilliant Bruges speech: `We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain only to see them reimposed at a European level . . . ' She is not alone in changing her mind over Europe. In 1983 the Euro-sceptic Tony Blair told his constituents, `The EEC takes away Britain's freedom to follow the economic policies we need. …

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