It is precisely because I love Europe and am happy to call myself a citizen of the European Union that I may vote Brexit on June 23. My vote will have nothing to do with all those Eurosceptic scare stories about the threat to freedom, democracy and sovereignty. The “EUSSR” holds no terrors for me. Never once have I been even slightly inconvenienced by the Gestapo in Brussels, and in return for my citizenship I have freedom of movement in all the countries of Europe I want to visit. That’s a good arrangement.
No, the reason I have been thinking of voting Leave is that David Cameron’s Euro-deal is embarrassing, demeaning, lowering. It might therefore be better to leave than to stay in on the terms he negotiated, the least appealing of which is the agreement that the UK will not be bound by the ever-closer union clause in the Treaty of Rome. The shame, the shame. It is no wonder that in many parts of the EU Britain is seen as the paranoid basket case of Europe, quick to resentment and abounding in malice and self-pity.
Happily, not all Continental Europeans fear or dislike us, and some of them do irony, or at least they did, not so very long ago. I recall a lunch at the Spectator with the then French ambassador, Daniel Bernard, some time in 2001, when British beef was banned from France (and the rest of the EU) on account of mad cow disease. Boris (then the Eurosceptic editor of the Spectator) decided to serve a big hunk of bloody British beef. Daniel Bernard did not baulk or blink. He took a good helping and ate it with relish. It was not very good beef, as I recall, but Bernard was a gentleman and went along with the joke.
As you will imagine, conversation touched on the European Union, and the many cruel injustices visited upon Britain as a result of her membership. There was, I seem to remember, talk of our traditions of independence and sovereignty and of the good old days when you could buy a toffee apple for a penny three-farthings without some Eurocrat requiring that its poisonous ingredients be listed on the wrapper.
Bernard smiled and looked thoughtful. “If I may say a word,” he said. “I quite understand your desire to treasure and make fast your own traditions, but I see no reasons why ze EU should threaten them. In France, we have our own traditions, too. Of course, zey are in no way as magnificent as English traditions, as demanding of respect, of awe even, but zey are our own” – a small, self-deprecating shrug – “and we cherish them. Zey are all we have, after all.” Another shrug. “Brussels does not threaten French traditions.”
It was a droll performance, and we all laughed. Alas, Bernard died at the age of 62 in 2004. I can’t imagine there are many of his sort in Europe right now. Certainly, there is no sense of adventure, or even purpose, in Brussels, what with terrorists having won the freedom of the city and so on.
If only those in the EU who believe in ever-closer union had done something tangible to bring the countries of Europe closer together, to create a federation of independent nation states, the migrants from the Middle East might be a lot easier to assimilate – or to expel. And we might never have had to contend with ISIS.
What Europe really needs, of course, is a common defence force and foreign policy – something with the flavour of Nato but without the Turks and the Americans. If such a thing had been in place in 2003, Britain would not have joined the US in the futile war against terror (because she would not have enjoyed sovereignty in military matters); indeed, if Europe had presented a united front in opposition to the whole post-9/11 hysteria, Bush might not have launched his global democratic revolution – and with it the chaos and terror it has brought to Syria, Iraq and Libya and, through ISIS, to the whole world.
If some Europhiles are in two minds about how to vote, so are some Eurosceptics. And some sceptics are so disgusted by what they consider the sham of the referendum that they have decided not to vote at all. The admirable Peter Hitchens is one such: “I don’t wish to endorse or in any way contribute to this futile exercise in fake people power, whose result will be used to proclaim, for years to come, that the issue is now closed.”
If Britain does vote to stay in Europe, Peter and I can perhaps forget our differences and campaign together for the re-nationalisation of Britain’s railways. I am pretty sure that if we went to see Boris in Downing Street, he would give us a sympathetic hearing.