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January 27, 2005

Stumbling towards the EU door marked exit

Posted by Hector Boffey

Comments by both the outgoing EU Commission President Romano Prodi and Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy suggest that Britain might be forced out of the European Union if the British referendum on the Constitution results in a 'no' vote. Under the terms of the deal worked out by member states the Treaty will be dead in the water if it is rejected by any one of the 25 members. But no one expects this to happen any more than anyone expects major EU member states to adhere to the terms of Stability and Growth Pact or the Commission to produce honest accounts. In the EU politics trumps legalities.

The reality is that if a small country, like Denmark, says no Brussels will follow the time-honoured practise of asking it to think again and not to be so silly. But if Britain does so, as is widely expected – in Brussels, if not in Downing Street – then there could be a parting of the ways and Britain's thirty year membership of the European Community/EU could come to an end. This thought fills British europhiles – not least those like Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner whose job security would be gravely jeopardised by such a development – with abject terror. Their entreaties to colleagues to take account of British sensibilities and to do something that would miraculously win British affection for the EU are numerous, moving and heartfelt. But lunching at the Comme Chez Soi, their favourite restaurant, our friends Maurice and Gerhard could find no words of comfort or consolation for their desperate British colleagues:

I suppose, Gerhard the situation in the UK is as hopeless as Romano says it is.

I am afraid so Maurice. The opinion tides show two things clearly: a consistent majority for rejecting the constitution and a growing tide of anti-EU sentiment.

Tell me the worst, Gerhard.

Well, most polls show that around 70 per cent are against the Constitution. The Labour Party and the BBC remain on side - but business support is ebbing away because of growing distaste for regulation. It also needs to be borne in mind that around 50 per cent of the British are in favour of outright withdrawal. The situation might be recoverable if the sense of disaffection was not so deeply rooted, but hostility to all things to do with Europe seems to be born in the bone.

I dare say you are right - le grand Charles - said as much when he vetoed the British application back in 1963. But are there no signs at all that membership has softened this remarkable sense of British exceptionalism?

I am afraid not, Maurice if anything the reverse is true. For example a recent poll carried out by YouGov, a British polling organisation showed how foreign the British still think we continental Europeans actually are. Asked to the name the country in which they would most like to live half listed their own country - which is understandable. But Continental Europe didn't even get a look in: the runners up were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US in that order. Asked to name to the most democratic nations in the world they named Britain, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand. When asked to say which countries they thought had the most friendly people they named …yes, you guessed, they named these same Anglosphere countries. And when they were asked for their views about which country had the least friendly people on earth they said France and Germany! It seems that even where aesthetics are concerned, British affections lie elsewhere. If you or I were asked to name the most beautiful country in the world, in common with most people of taste and discrimination, we would say France or Italy. Most British people said New Zealand! What can you do with such a race!

You confirm my deep suspicion that the Britain's European adventure is coming to a close and the British are stumbling towards the door marked exit. There is no point in trying to humour them, to pretend that the Franco-German alliance can be modified to allow Britain a share in decision-making. They have finally seen through all that.

Well, there it is then. I am afraid that as far the UK is concerned, the EU has failed.

Au contraire, my dear Gerhard! British membership has proved a colossal success. Of course, it was inevitable that the poor boobies would wake up to the realities of the European project in the end; the wonder is that it has taken them so long! But think of the benefits that their membership has conferred. Not only have they handed over their fish and even most of their fishing boats with scarcely a word of demur, but they have also handed over bucket loads of cash without any perceivable benefit in return. EU membership has cost Britain around £100 bn a year – but what, if anything, have they got out of it? Name one single thing! Further they have been forced to dismantle a system of law and politics which they claimed to be the best in the world without acquiring a smidgen of influence. On top of that, by ensnaring the vain and guileless Blair in various half-baked defence projects we have successfully neutered NATO and limited US influence in Europe and the wider world. We must now make sure that we screw the Brits as effectively when they are outside the EU as we did when they were on the inside! Since they run a big trade deficit with the rest of us they have huge potential leverage in negotiations – but I frankly doubt whether they have the wit to take advantage of this fact.

Well, I must confess that I hadn't quite viewed matters in that light. But, as always, Maurice, I bow to your superior powers of analysis.

Thank you Gerhard, I had intended to conclude lunch with a toast to your health and success in 2005, but in the circumstances, I think I would have to couple your name with that of Edward Heath, without whom none of these things would have been possible!

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Greenland voted to leave the European Community in 1982. Withdrawal was complete in 1985. Since then, it has achieved public sector surpluses and low inflation.

Posted by: Ronnie Horesh at January 28, 2005 09:20 AM

Isn't it remarkable how seeing that name in the penultimate line still has the propensity to make the blood run cold, even after so many years!

Posted by: s masty at January 28, 2005 11:29 AM

Oh, if only the outcome was as positive as is suggested in this posting!

Posted by: Henry Kaye at January 28, 2005 07:12 PM

Henry Kaye

Have faith Henry! If you haven't already discovered it, log on to:,org/home/home.aspx

where Dominick Cummings and his very competent crew are working with great vigour towards the positive end that you desire but, like me, may not live to see. Too late for our generation to do much about it; we're the ones who have latterly screwed up by default, but he and his generation could. He even breathes life back into my optimistic genes and you know that takes some doing. Good to see you posting again, thought you had given up.

Posted by: Frank Pulley at January 29, 2005 01:43 PM

Curiously I wrote something related on my blog yesterday.

I should read this one mroe often

Posted by: Francis at January 31, 2005 11:58 AM
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