Where are today’s EU enthusiasts?
I’m afraid I’m old enough to remember a time when the battle between “europhiles” and “eurosceptics” raged across parties.
Some of the most high-profile believers in the European dream were Tories such as Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke and John Patten.
And while many things contributed to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall, not least the poll tax, the final straw was her refusal to consider joining the European Single Currency – which led to a rebellion from her own Tory colleagues. Her fate was sealed when Sir Geoffrey Howe, the (Tory) Deputy Prime Minister, resigned in disgust.
Who now argues that Britain should join the euro – in the Conservative Party, the Labour Party or even the supposedly pro-EU Lib Dems?
Of course, the euro is in chaos today. But a consensus that the UK must retain sterling has been in place for years.
When Gordon Brown as Chancellor announced in 2003 that four of his “five tests” for joining the euro had been failed, effectively ruling out British entry, there were few complaints.
The euro is not the same thing as the EU, although it beats me how anyone thinks the UK can be “at the heart of Europe” or a “leading player in Europe” while we refuse to join our partners in fiscal and monetary union.
How could the 17 euro countries be led by us when we aren’t going to the same place?
But discussion of the Treaty of Nice in 2001 and the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 (also known as the European Constitution) was also overwhelmingly negative – on both sides of the debate.
The best the “pro-EU” or europhile lobby could manage was a series of warnings about the dangers of saying “no” – that the UK would be isolated, or that our partners would get revenge by somehow kicking us out of the single market, the one aspect of the EU that everyone likes.
The same arguments we hear now, in fact.
What we don’t hear are positive arguments about how ever-closer union is actually a good thing for the UK.
But if we no longer believe in the European dream – or never did – might we not be better off, and annoy our French and German friends less, if we just admitted it, to ourselves and to them?