Thursday, June 04, 2015

Sad, Myopic and wrong - Tim Montgomerie on Britain and Europe.

The above are the first three paragraphs in Tim Montgomerie's deeply sad article in The Times today. The rest of it carries on in the same vein. It is sad in so many ways. First a personal observation. I know and like Tim. I strongly relate to and have sympathy for his "The Good Right" initiative. I am no Conservative but I have respect for the post war One Nation Tory era to which it strongly relates. What is forgotten by Tim is that this era was also internationalist and European. Macmillan knew, in part because Churchill and Eden had taught him, that Britain's only future was as an active and wholehearted participant in Europe. The baton passed to Heath who to his great credit overcome the obstacles that De Gaulle had put in Macmillan's way and took Britain formally and rightly into the European Community. After Harold Wilson with characteristic political skill arranged and won a referendum the deal was done. Margaret Thatcher in her Prime Ministerial years sorted out some anomalies of this membership and post Maastricht, and certainly during the Blair/Brown years, the Thatcher outcome was consolidated. That's the history, and it's one that we can all be proud of.

If this first sadness is Tim ignoring history and achievement the next is the myopia that his arguments have to the realities of the modern world. Every European nation, even Germany, cannot expect to compete and have influence on its own. The power blocks of the U.S., China, Russia,  ASEAN etc. will have respect for and have self-interest in dealing with a strong United Europe. Britain alone would be just another player. Large yes, but cast adrift from Europe without bargaining power or even an automatic right to be at the table. We'd be like some embarrassing old Uncle clutching gamely on to the nobility of our history and our once achievements but in reality mumbling on impotently on the sidelines whilst the younger, brighter more forward looking members of our once family get on with managing today and tomorrow.

The next sadness is the lack of robust logic that Brexit has. Tim has a fine mind so I'm certain that he sees the flaws in his own arguments. But, of course and here's the heart of it, he is playing dangerous games with the soul of the Conservative Party. Tim wants a Party largely modelled on the U.S. Republicans. "The Good Right" is clever and decent, but it is in part window dressing for a very different Conservative Party than the present Cameroon one. Tim these days hides that fact that he is a "NeoCon" - something he used to be more open about. But Republican NeoCons, Free Enterprse worshippers, proud Nationalists - all with an underpinning of Christian values is precisely the group with which Tim has most in common - on all counts. This Nationalism is deeply sceptical of all international groupings - the UN and international courts (etc.) among them. Wrong though it would be the U.S. could be more separatist if it wanted to - it's big enough. The UK is emphatically not.

The area where the Europhobes are most exposed is the undeniable fact that peace in Europe since 1945 did not happen by chance. In 1918 the European nations said "Never Again". In 1945 they said the same - and did something about it.  I'm actually in Croatia as I write this and not one Croatian I've spoken to would argue that their membership of the EU was not strongly predicated on the peace dividend it brings. When I visit Mostar in a day's time I will see the rebuilt bridge which replaced the one destroyed by conflict a few short decades ago. That bridge is a handy metaphor for the wider cooperative benefits of cooperation - Jaw Jaw rather than War War. Churchill was right.

Yes the EU has its problems and yes twenty plus years after Maastricht it's right that the precise basis of individual nations' membership (not just Britain) should be reviewed. But in my lifetime - precisely coinciding (so far!) with the post war era of cooperation not conflict - nothing has been as uplifting as the removal of barriers across Europe. The free movement of labour and capital, the elimination of tariff and other barriers. The common currency. But above all the recognition that in return for a modest surrender of sovereignty you can be part of strong, credible, multinational Union and you can add to the pride you feel for your own nation a parallel pride in being a European. We must, as Britons, never give up this privilege.


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