Res Publica Si­mon Carr

We’ve been bad union­ists. As we leave, the Euro­pean project ex­pands

The Oldie - - NEWS - si­mon carr

Ob­vi­ously, our ne­go­tia­tors and ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners are go­ing to be­have in a sen­si­ble, fair-minded way. Or so we think be­cause we think, be­cause we are sen­si­ble, fair-minded cit­i­zens.

Ul­ti­mately, rea­son will pre­vail. The grown-ups will make sure we come to a mu­tu­ally prof­itable agree­ment. None of us will cut off our nose to spite our face. Ger­man car man­u­fac­tur­ers won’t al­low them­selves to be de­nied our large, prof­itable mar­ket. Eco­nomics will in­evitably pre­vail over pol­i­tics.

But, then again, the prece­dents point the other way.

Af­ter Napoleon con­quered Europe, he in­sti­tuted the Con­ti­nen­tal Sys­tem – for­bid­ding his al­lies and de­pen­dants from trad­ing with Bri­tain. Af­ter he had ru­ined us eco­nom­i­cally, he rea­soned, he could in­vade, con­quer, be­come Prime Min­is­ter and pos­si­bly King.

Both Europhiles and scep­tics may see in this some­thing of our cur­rent re­la­tions with the Euro­pean Union. Back in the day, when Rus­sia in­ter­rupted his strat­egy by trad­ing with Bri­tain, Napoleon de­cided she had to be taught a les­son. She had dis­obeyed the Em­peror; she had de­fied France; she had to be pun­ished. Napoleon marched on Moscow. The only rea­son he got any of his troops back alive was be­cause the Rus­sians let them get away to fight the Bri­tish (whom they hated more than they hated the French).

Pol­i­tics is in­vari­ably more im­por­tant than eco­nomics when it comes to war (pol­i­tics by an­other means). The Sec­ond World War bankrupted Bri­tain, but we fought it, in spite of se­duc­tive of­fers from Hitler. We fought in Europe at the be­gin­ning of the eigh­teenth, nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­turies for po­lit­i­cal more than eco­nomic rea­sons – and here we are again, at the be­gin­ning of the twen­ty­first, en­gaged in an­other ex­is­ten­tial Euro­pean strug­gle.

As a bit of a Leaver my­self, and one who loves the Con­ti­nent, I do have to ad­mit we have been rot­ten union­ists. We begged for years to get in; once in, we con­stantly com­plained, and fi­nally tried to wreck the union by pulling out at a cru­cial mo­ment of Euro­pean in­sta­bil­ity. You can for­give – or at least un­der­stand – Michel Barnier, the Com­mis­sion, the Par­lia­ment and the twenty-seven states for want­ing to pun­ish us. Even at ter­ri­ble cost to them­selves, to us, to world trade.

Then again, their side hasn’t en­tirely distin­guished it­self, ei­ther. It’s clear now that ev­ery­thing the scep­tics warned about, and were mocked for warn­ing about, was in the pipe­line. The fed­eral su­per­state is now emerg­ing by the Com­mis­sion’s com­mand from out the azure main. The euro is be­com­ing com­pul­sory for new mem­bers. The pro­posal for an EU army is in the open. No one is mak­ing de­nials any more along the old lines – ‘It’s just a tidy­ing-up ex­er­cise’; ‘It’s a doc­u­ment with no more le­gal sig­nif­i­cance than the Beano’. Nick Clegg said peo­ple were cre­at­ing ‘a danger­ous fan­tasy’ when they talked about a Euro­pean army; in fact, they were point­ing out what was planned.

The Com­mis­sion is get­ting on with it, ful­fill­ing the orig­i­nal blue­print laid out by Jean Mon­net all those years ago. His bril­liant con­spir­acy, ex­e­cuted with daz­zling French flair, has brought about the great­est po­lit­i­cal achieve­ment of its cen­tury. And now, at its mo­ment of great­est dan­ger, they are to fol­low Gen­eral Foch’s heroic (and, let us not for­get, suc­cess­ful) dic­tum: ‘My cen­tre is giv­ing way, my right is in re­treat, sit­u­a­tion ex­cel­lent. I at­tack.’

They know bet­ter than we do that speed is es­sen­tial to their project. Greek debt is worse than ever, youth un­em­ploy­ment across the south is a crime against eco­nomics, Ital­ian banks are kept sol­vent by some trick that would amaze Der­ren Brown, and both Tur­key and Rus­sia are paw­ing the ground like fight­ing bulls look­ing for a tore­ador.

It’s go­ing to take val­our, vi­sion and ge­nius to save this union.

But how­ever bad medium-term prospects are, some things are bet­ter than they were. The pop­ulist wave seems to have lost en­ergy. Young, bor­der­less en­thu­si­asts are start­ing to vote. The Re­main move­ment is vo­cal and vis­i­ble. It’s not that Brexit won’t hap­pen; it’s that the most puni­tive terms will be pop­u­lar among large sec­tions of the polity.

Pre­serv­ing a union is the most pow­er­ful im­pulse be­hind any rul­ing power. It is their rai­son d’être. They have no higher value.

Bri­tain might be pre­pared to walk away with­out a deal, in­flict­ing, as we think, a great blow on the Com­mis­sion. But this is im­pe­rial, an­cien régime pol­i­tics: ben­e­fi­cial out­comes are not the driv­ing mo­ti­va­tions. The ‘glo­ri­ous suc­cess’ of a Boris Brexit is the only thing that will in­flict a blow on the Com­mis­sion – and glo­ri­ous suc­cess is the sin­gle thing they will be tak­ing steps to pre­vent.

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