I’ve watched with a sort of detached amusement as Dave Cameron scuttled around Europe trying to get leaders of other countries to give him enough leeway to prevent his resignation on June 24th. I’ve been watching with even more detached amusement as politicians from the Party of the Blue Rosettes seem to have come to their decisions based on the toss of a coin.
For instance, my own MP says he has been a Eurosceptic all his life, and continues to be so, but has come to the reluctant decision to remain in the EU. Unfortunately, like many, his scepticism seems to stem from the misguided view that the EU is a “trade-zone” gone wrong, in need of a bit of tinkering here and there, rather than the political integration project that it so obviously is, always has been, and always will be while it lasts.
On the other side, Boris Johnson appears to have decided to hokey-cokey his way to a decision, firstly declaring in January that he is not an “outer”, then declaring in February that he is an “outer”, then appearing to suggest that despite being an “outer” he might still be an “inner”, before finally coming down as a fully-fledged “outer”. Or did he? His statement that “I don’t think a second referendum would be necessary” does not appear to me to be terribly unequivocal. In fact, it sounds like the sort of thing that might have been uttered by one of those “Great Supine Protoplasmic Invertebrate Jellies” that Mr Johnson once spoke of.
One of Mr Johnson’s fellow wearers of the Blue Rosette, Michael Howard, did an even better impression of the GSPI Jellies in his article for The Telegraph explaining why he will vote to leave. The one thing that he seemed to be really anxious to leave was the door – wide open for another go:
“There is only one thing that just might shake Europe’s leaders out of their complacency: the shock of a vote by the British people to leave…If the UK voted to leave, there would be a significant chance that they would ask us to think again. When Ireland and Denmark voted to reject EU proposals, the EU offered them more concessions and, second time round, got the result they wanted.”
The reason for my detached amusement is that they make what is a startlingly simple choice into something far more convoluted, wrapping it in a thousand layers of obfuscation to protect us from seeing what is the central, and basic issue at stake. And that issue is simply this: Is Britain still actually a nation-state, capable of governing its own affairs, its own economy, its own judicial system, and its own foreign policy for the benefit of its own citizens, or is it not? In other words, the only question that really matters has nothing to do with bureaucracy, or immigration, or vacuum cleaners, but simply whether we are – or even can be – a sovereign, independent nation again, or whether we just want to carry on pretending we are, while in reality being absorbed as a region into a larger power to which we are essentially subservient.
Subservient? Is that fair? How else to describe the spectacle of Dave Cameron’s scuttling act, in which he stayed up late begging other European leaders to help him out of a hole? No matter how much he wishes to present it as some sort of victory, the very fact that he had to engage in such shenanigans shows unmistakably that he is not in charge of the affairs of the country he purports to govern. That sounds like subservience, does it not?
But the relationship of Britain to the EU is not the only issue that needs to be discussed, and I want to turn your attention to a couple of things that conservatives rarely seem to consider. Firstly, the relationship of the EU to the US, and secondly, the relationship of Britain to the US.
Many conservatives who loathe the EU and lean towards the US, tend to set them against one another, contrasting them, while failing to notice the real nature of the relationship of the one to the other. Not so long ago, it was still possible for individual EU members to have something like an independent foreign policy. For instance, President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany very publicly opposed the war to regime change Iraq. Thirteen years on and the foreign policy of EU member states now mysteriously lines up almost unequivocally with that of Washington, and where it doesn’t, it generally ends up falling into line.
Two examples will suffice. Last year the French “decided” to cancel the sale of two Mistral ships which had been commissioned by the Russian Federation, and sell them on to Egypt instead. However, this was not actually a “French” decision by any means. Rather, it was the result of enormous pressure applied from Washington, and watching the French President floundering about in ever-decreasing circles, postponing and postponing the decision until the last minute, was a pretty good indication that he was put under huge pressure to do something that he knew was against his country’s national interests.
Another example is the sanctions programme against the Russian Federation, the lifting of which has been tied inextricably to the fulfilment of the Minsk II treaty. This is doubly odd, firstly because the Russian Federation is not actually mentioned as one of the parties in the treaty – like France and Germany, it is a guarantor – and secondly because the terms of the document make it watertight clear that the party failing to fulfil the terms is the Ukrainian Government (read it here if you’re not convinced). This was absurdly, if unwittingly, admitted by the Danish Foreign Minister, Kristian Jensen, who said recently, “If Ukraine doesn’t come through with the reforms linked to the Minsk peace process, it will be very difficult for Europe to continue united in support for sanctions against Russia.” Absurd because there he is rightly identifying Kiev as the party not fulfilling the terms – something which is apparently enough to get you sanctioned – yet the sanction he threatens them with for non-compliance is the lifting of sanctions on a country that isn’t even named in the terms of the document. Go figure!
It is no big secret that many European countries are very unhappy with the continuance of the sanctions policy. German industrialists, who are suffering hugely as a result, are increasingly vocal about this, and so too are leaders such as Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi and the Czech President, Milos Zeman. But despite their protestations, the sanctions remain. Why? Simply because the EU is effectively under control of the US and doesn’t dare oppose Washington, even though the sanctions are clearly against the economic interests of many EU states. There’s a rather touching video of Vice President Joe Biden, freely admitting that Europe didn’t actually want to impose sanctions at all, but did so after Barack Obama “insisted” and “embarrassed” them into it.
This is prelude to saying that those conservatives that think we’d be better off out of the EU, but who see our future as steadfastly committed to our “special relationship” with the US are kidding themselves. The news is that Washington is determined to do all it can to keep us in the EU, Barack Obama saying this last year:
“The UK must stay in the European Union to continue to have influence on the world stage … UK’s EU membership gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union”.
And more recently John Kerry saying this:
“Now obviously, the United States has a profound interest in your success, as we do in a very strong United Kingdom staying in a strong EU.”
In fact, so determined is the US to keep Britain in the EU that, according to the US Senate foreign relations committee, Mr Obama is planning to make “a big, public reach-out” to persuade British voters to vote to stay in. I look forward to his Europe Minister Victoria Nuland coming to hand out her little cookies at “Staying in” rallies!
Those British conservatives who wish to pull out of the EU, and who put much store by our “special relationship” with the US, thus find themselves in the curious position of actually opposing official US policy. And if you think that this will change with a Republican President you are likely to be very much disappointed. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served in the Bush administration, recently made the US position very clear in some hugely revealing comments:
“One reason why the US values its ties to the UK as much as it does is the UK’s role in Europe. Britain is important not just as a bilateral partner, but because more often than not it can be counted on to argue for and support positions in Brussels consistent with, or at least not far from, those of the US.
“Britain has become – and is widely perceived to be – a less dependable and less capable ally, and reality and perception would intensify if the UK were to take a step that would marginalise its role on the Continent. It is hard to envision Brexit resulting in anything other than a more parochial and less influential UK.”
“Even worse, it is highly probable that Americans advocating for a reduced US role in the world would seize on Brexit as further evidence that traditional allies were not doing their fair share, and that a US facing growing deficits and massive domestic needs should not be expected to make up the difference.”
In other words, the US needs Britain in the EU simply to act as a tool of US foreign policy, and the “special relationship” will continue for as long as it is prepared to play this role. Mr Haass, who referred to the EU as “The European integration project”, went on to make it very clear that this will be the US position, regardless of whether the Blue or the Red Rosettes win in November.
To those of us who have come to view US foreign policy with increasing horror over the last couple of decades, and British subservience to it, this presents no problem. In fact, we can kill two birds with one stone. A no vote will not only give us the opportunity to forge a path as a proper nation-state once more, but it will also give us the potential of actually saying no to the Neo-Trotskyist ideologues who have been running US foreign policy of late.
Does this mean isolationism? Why should it? The choice isn’t between being tied to the EU or becoming twinned with North Korea. The choice is between being subservient to both the EU and the US, or having the freedom to pursue our own political, economic and foreign policy where we are free to trade with who we like, and ally with who we like. That day is a long way off, even with an out vote, but I hope we might live to see the day when we can get back to being a proper country, without craven subservience or being used as a convenient tool in the hands of another country.