HISTORY TELLS US ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CONTINENT.
the Daily Mail on Saturday the 15th June, 1996 –eight
years ago an article appeared
written by Paul Johnson the respected great historian and journalist with
the heading as we show above.
The tale of our successful opposition is told by some of
the greatest episodes in our history-the defeat of the Spanish Armada; the
great victory at Blenheim; Trafalgar and the battle of Waterloo; the trench war
in Flanders; the Battle of Britain and D-day in 1944-all these were efforts
by Britain not just to protect its interests but to act on behalf of the
long -term concerns of all the people in Europe.
Prime Minister William Pitt
the Younger leading the struggle against Napoleon, summed up our role in one
‘Britain has saved herself by her exertions and will, I
trust, save Europe by her example.’
In most of these battles,
Britain was obliged to begin by acting alone. When I read about Britain’s
difficulties with the EU, I am worried unduly by such headlines as ‘Britain
isolated’; ‘Britain in
minority of one’; and ‘Fourteen –to –one against Britain’.
I recall as a boy of 11 in
1940 [The present person word
processing this Essay for this web-site was 8 in 1940 and a war evacuee] that after the fall of
France and the surrender of all our Allies, Britain was completely alone in
Europe. But we were not daunted. [Not
likely] We continued to act in the interests of Europe and its many peoples
and we ended the war against Hitler’s New Order at the head of a mighty army of
more than 60 nations, all of whom had joined us in our campaign.
We have thus always been at
the heart of Europe- indeed, often in moral and emotional terms-we have
constituted the heart of Europe and its spirit too.
Throughout 500 years of
struggles, Britain has always stood for four principles:
Common Sense as opposed to doctrinaire
The Freedom of Nations based
on the consent of their people;
The Freedom of Commerce, Trade and Industry;
And the need to keep Europe free
from the dominance of one Master power.
[Now you can see why the
New European Constitution is not for us in 2004]
For half a millennium we
have upheld these principles, usually with success. At one time or another,
we have been instrumental in preserving the territorial integrity of almost
every nation in Europe, not excluding France and Germany but also sometimes on
more than one occasion), Spain and Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands,
Denmark and Norway, Italy and Greece, Switzerland and Austria.
Some of the greatest poems in our language, by [Shakespeare – is the only great
dramatist who has placed on the stage a large part of the authentic history of
his country -when England was England] Milton, Byron and Wordsworth,
Have been written in the cause always dear to British hearts- the freedom of the peoples
At one time or another, we
have given refuge to political exiles and freedom fighters from
throughout Europe-Garibaldi of Italy, Kossuth of Hungary, Victor Hugo and
Zola of France, for example, Wartime London was full of
little courts and governments-in –exile from all over our continent. When it comes to preserving freedom
Britain has always been the longstop of Europe.
There is nothing
fundamentally different in the role Britain is playing in the present
unification process. The European Union is an attempt to do, by persuasion and
agreement, what earlier unifiers failed to achieve by force . . .
And it does inspire
idealism, especially among young people. The young are immensely attracted by
the idea of free movement of goods and people across frontiers and the
replacement of a lot of fiddly bits of national paper currency by a single
system, valid from Edinburgh to Athens and Gibraltar to Stockholm. [This
could be achieved without a European Superstate by all nations that wish to
Older people are more suspicious of the risks- more aware
of them, perhaps.
Old have a case. It is right that Britain, in accordance with our role in the past,
should insist that a unified Europe remains voluntary; that it is
created and sustained with popular consent; that it should not resort to
bullying, blackmail or the tyranny of the majority; that it should be a
Europe of peoples, not of bureaucrats, elites and pressure groups.
is also right that we should look carefully at all the legal implications of
this colossal jurisprudential construct to ensure that they act in the common
interest and actually produce the results they are supposed to bring about: the
security and prosperity of all European men and women.
It is at this point in the argument that some people in
Britain-a growing number, actually feel impelled to point out that the
mighty European Union may be an Emperor without any clothes. What presents itself as the pattern of the
future-the road to the 21st century and beyond [Just to remind you this was
written in 1996 before our supposed ‘Servant of the People’ Tony Blair
arrived] -may, in fact be a product of outmoded thinking, a
bit of a dinosaur.