“Very well, alone?”

Interesting to see how the future of the Union is gradually being linked to the future of the European Union and the UK’s relations with it. In a farewell interview in the Daily Telegraph, the retiring  Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell places it high among the “enormous challenges.”

Over the next few years, there will be enormous challenges, such as whether to keep our kingdom united and how to make the EU operate in the best interests of its citizens.

While the foreign affairs public intellectual Tim Garton Ash writing in the Guardian, laces it in his “nightmares”.

My nightmare – which I also think quite probable – is that the Westminster closed circuit of parliament, government and press will continue to muddle this country (or what’s left of it when Scotland has left) through to the margins of Europe. When the English discover, in five to 10 years’ time, that … when the country’s self-marginalisation is damaging its standing in Washington, its capacity to project its interests in China, India and Brazil, and the City of London; then it – now just England and possibly Wales – will come creeping back, saying “Please let us in”, as Britain did in the 1960s. And then the French, Croats and Scots will decide whether to say oui or non.

(As so often, Northern Ireland doesn’t rate a mention).

Why is it that, as the English political class start to puzzle over the phenomenon of the identity politics which so obsess the wee Celts, they are less interested in the future of the British Union than the European one?



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  • Mick Fealty


    I suspect that’s because whilst we triggered the mechanism for the crisis, we’re not likely to be the first, nor the most important escapee.

  • Harry Flashman

    Yes, England leaves the EU, along with several others, and the Scots choose to remain.

    That makes sense.

    The Scots always did have a self-destructive tendency.

  • Alanbrooke

    It’s somewhat bizarre the Guardian worrying about the UK’s standing in Washington. In case they haven’t noticed Obama has declared himself a Pacific president. Effectively he has turned his back on Europe except for when there’s a problem or when he needs someone to share the bodybags from faroff lands.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Tim Garton Ash has it right: the direction of Cameron’s European policy can only isolate us – and to be isolated internationally is to be weakened. I just don’t get the logic that says, who cares if we annoy our EU partners, what can they do to us? Well, quite a lot, because we depend on them quite a lot.

    The leaders of all three main parties have agreed up until now that being centrally involved in the EU brings big economic benefits to Britain. The EU, for reasons beyond our control, is now morphing into something different – a closer Eurozone club, plus a large group of other countries. What seems clear is that the benefits of being centrally involved in the EU will no longer accrue in the same way to those countries outside the Eurozone as before. But countries outside the Eurozone can still position themselves as supportive partners of the Eurozone rather than braying antagonists.

    The Eurozone countries are in their hour of need and are looking to see who is being helpful and supportive. Other EU countries will manage that piece of diplomacy, because they realise it’s just the political reality now. They will maintain the respect and goodwill of the Eurozone block. But when the Eurozone block – where the bulk of EU power will continue to reside – looks at Britain, it sees a country seeking to gain some political advantage from their misfortune. Quite naturally this will be remembered.

    Britain is now, needlessly, going to be fighting an uphill battle in every negotiation it enters into with the Eurozone block. This will surely mean British interests will suffer within the EU and therefore globally.

    I just don’t see what the Tories foreign policy vision for the UK is. I suspect the party is now under the influence of people who are fairly clueless on foreign policy generally. They are jeopardising British interests by paying too much heed to domestic public opinion on foreign policy. Pandering to domestic xenophobia might make you popular in the short term but damages the country.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Brian, in answer to your question about why the English care more about the EU than the Union, it’s because even if the rest of the country peeled off, England would still be a very substantial and still very diverse country of 50+ million. Indeed the proportion of non-white people would rise, without the very white ‘Celtic’ countries.

    As they see it (without thinking too hard), what they would be losing is mainly a load of liabilities. It’s only on prompting that a lot of English people come to recognise the wider British idea is actually one they like – I think it grows the more people think about it. I think white English people also underestimate the importance of the availability of a British rather than English identity for non-whites (I did a research project on this a few years back).

    But the English also recognise it is not their call whether the other parts of the UK secede or not. So they might as well not agonise over it too much and focus on what they can affect.

  • Alias

    A europhile has nightmares about the UK leaving the EU… and this is news?

    This is self-delusion of a high order. But let’s be honest. For every EU member state, there is a trade-off. You do lose some of your sovereignty and independence. In return, you gain influence, scale, clout – and therefore the ability to secure more effective freedom, security and prosperity for your own people. As David Lidington, the British minister for Europe, himself reminded the Commons last week: “One voice representing 500 million consumers is heard more loudly in Beijing, Delhi and Brasilia than 27 separate voices.”

    This myth incessantly proffered by europhiles that sovereignty is traded for influence is entirely bogus.

    While it is true that China will listen to “500 million consumers” is true, it is also true that it will listen to 70 million consumers (and indeed to any state wherein it can sell its exports). Unless Lidington is referring to a boycott, then it is untrue that any additional ‘influence’ is gained by larger numbers.

    However, the myth is this. The UK does not gain any influence in foreign policy if it transfers that sovereignty to the EU: it simply loses its sovereignty and its influence.

    It is not the UK’s foreign policy which the EU will promote: it is the EU’s foreign policy. The UK will no longer have any foreign policy to promote, and therefore will not have to influence any other party.

    To claim that you gain the influence to promote your foreign policy if you give up your foreign policy is the level of insanity that europhiles promote.