Watching one’s country become a laughing stock is an unsettling experience. Ask Stephen Wall, our man in Brussels. He is John Major’s personal choice as ambassador to the EU. Wall sums up British policy towards Europe. As in brick wall, stonewall, or wall flower. Take your pick: the image is one of obduracy, obstinacy, and ineffectiveness.
Wall arrived in Brussels nine months ago. He thought his job was to hold a mildly Eurosceptic line until a change in government. Suddenly, it’s all turned nasty. Now he’s under orders to block every EU decision until the Europeans lift their ban on British beef. It’s a work-to-rule which violates every diplomatic instinct, especially in Brussels where the accent is on collusion and deal-making.
Wall is the opposite of his pre-decessor John Kerr, a Scot addicted to political intrigue and Benson& Hedges cigarettes. Kerr has since moved to Washington, from where he might just see the funny side of the policy-like blocking the fight against Euro fraud which the British insist is a priority.
Wall is a more sensitive soul. Formerly British ambassador in Lisbon, he gained a reputation as intelligent, hard working and, well, a bit like Major. A guest at the official residence recalls Wall announcing late one evening that he and his wife would shortly be going to bed, but would anyone care to join them in eating a bowl of cornflakes?
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don’t be too hard on the ambassador. He’s just following his master’s voice. What about the poor British community in Brussels? We’re the ones constantly called upon to explain or apologise for the footling British government and the English press which has turned the beef war into the Battle of Britain.
As latecomers to Europe, we’ve never been trusted. Since Mrs T, we’ve never been liked. But until John Major’s beef war, we’ve usually been taken seriously. The idea that Major is playing Charles de Gaulle is ludicrous; he is at best a pale imitation of that other celebrated troublemaker: Andreas Papandreou.
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the beef dilemma for British exiles is acute. Apart from Bernard Connolly, the renegade European commission bureaucrat who published his anti-Emu polemic last year, most of us are fuzzy pro-Europeans. But we don’t want to be accused of going native, and we certainly don’t want our arguments to be dismis-sed as being knee-jerk anti-Conservatism. So what do we stand…