This realm of England
1st June 1996
I’ve been thinking recently about how embarrassing it must be for patriotic Eurosceptics-particularly those, like you, of an intellectual disposition-to see their cause descending into xenophobia. It cannot be enjoyable for you to witness the anti-European and anti-German primitivism which has overcome the Tories and their press.
Yet I can offer little sympathy. The fact is that you and your High Tory chums-in and around both the Redwood and Major camps-have over the last few years been engaged in a campaign to make the old nationalist nostrums respectable; so you shouldn’t be surprised that they are taken up with a vengeance by the populist press.
Isn’t it now time for you Euro-sceptics and Europhobes to ask whether the language of nationalism which you have unleashed is of any practical use to us?
Let’s take the centrepiece of your argument: the idea of British sovereignty. Day after day we hear the assertion that the EU represents a unique threat to our independence as a country.
Rarely do we hear the clear-eyed truth: that for some time now we in Britain, like most other countries, have had no “sovereignty” or “independence” left to defend. We lost our independence by stages after 1945. Where was our sovereignty at the time of Suez in 1956, when we were taught that we could no longer act independently in the world? Where was our sovereignty when we were defended by the “nuclear umbrella” of another country during the cold war, or when, beginning in the 1950s, large swathes of our culture became Americanised? Where was our sovereignty when, in 1972, our parliament enacted legislation formally entrenching European law as superior to British law? And where is our sovereignty now that global capital markets have made the old-fashioned nation state a bystander in the economic process?
Don’t get me wrong. Unlike your Eurosceptic friends, I’m not complaining about these trends. I merely wish to point out that the old codger you love so much, the UK, is increasingly redundant. The UK is simply the wrong size to survive. It is too small to play any part in resolving the big issues (of defence, trade, geo-politics), yet it is too big and centralised for the proper functioning of democracy.
The other great myth of our modern nationalists and Europhobes is the Euro-threat to “identity”-or rather to our “common…