In opposition the Tory party is a marvelous beast. All those principles which, when in power, we sacrificed in favour of what seemed like the \’sensible\’ policies required for governing, well see how we love them now. Adamantine we are in our defence of the Union, or against European encroachments on British sovereignty, or in support of a sound defence. A wonderful party it makes you glad to be right wing. That, in office, nine-tenths of the men spluttering against the proposed new European \’constitution\’ would of course go along with whatever the civil service suggests is neither here nor there. The point is, in an ideal world, most Conservative politicians would rather the world is as it isn\’t. That the eminently realistic men and women who make up the Foreign Office wouldn\’t recommend that our European policy entails that surrender, or this compromise, or these betrayals. Why do the diplomatic professionals in service to the state consistently remind ministers that our European policy entails things those politicians would very much rather it did not? They do this because they are well aware what our membership of the EU means, and what it is meant to mean. They appreciate, in contradistinction to Eurosceptic hysterics, what the profound limits of \’European power\’ actually are over the UK, but equally they know that, \’to be in is to agree, and to agree is to be in\’. This, in short, is the be all and end all of the fight over Giscard\’s convention: and as currently constituted, it is a fight over nothing.
Government ministers insist that signing up to this new \’constitution\’ will not change the UK\’s fundamental constitutional position vis-à-vis the Union, and other member states. This is entirely true. There will not be one whit more of sovereignty expended by signing up to these amended treaties. For that\’s what this misnamed \’constitution\’ really amounts to: the serried treaties that make up the various and inter-linked aspects of the EU will be again amended by their signatories, to alter, subtly or otherwise, the relationship between the states who adhere to them. Which means what anti-Marketeers (the original opponents of Britain\’s entry into to the then \’Common Market\’) like me always said it did. Being in the EEC, or EC, or EU, is the abandonment of sovereignty. Whether or not one believes this to be an unnecessary and indeed damaging loss is irrelevant to the fact that, it\’s being in that constitutes that transfer. And the only thing that would reverse it, if that\’s what one wants to do, is by getting out. This leaving the EU is not the policy of the Conservative party, nor, sadly, does it yet command majority popular support from the British people.
The tendentious manner in which (chiefly Conservative) opponents of our agreeing any new set of Rome Treaties have framed their opposition is that, \’do this and it\’s the end of Britain\’. This argument should be familiar to students of this debate for it is exactly the same one that (chiefly Conservative) opponents of our accession to all the previously amended Treaties of Rome used. Thus it was that to enter the Common Market was to mark the effective end of Britain as a nation state; and that to sign up to the 1986 Single European Act meant British independence was over; and that to allow John Major\’s government to pass Maastricht into law was the end of the island story, thousand years of history over, all that sort of thing. Now even the meanest intelligence will have spotted the logical flaw here: you can only come to a permanent stop once.
If Enoch had been right, and Britain had reached a national full stop in 1972, well for a start he\’d have left a pointless Parliament and stayed out, but more seriously, there wouldn\’t have been a \’Britain\’ left to be terminally endangered in 1986, or 1992/3, or whenever the Treaty of Amsterdam was signed (Michael Howard was the implausible Tory front-man against that I seem to remember). For there\’s the thing, which the Foreign Office knows, but most Eurosceptics don\’t: being in the EU hasn\’t meant, and doesn\’t mean, \’the end of Britain\’. They know this more acutely than anyone else because day in, day out they have to deal with the multi-lateral reality of us being a functional nation-state. In the institutional context of the EU, this involves their battling against our EU \’partners\’ every moment of British membership. It is in that environment that it has always appeared hyper unrealistic to contend that Britain as a nation-state has been dispensed with.
None of that is to say that entering the EU wasn\’t, and remaining in isn\’t, the wrong policy for Britain to follow, but it is to argue that merely being in means no more and no less than that. If we are in the EU, we simply by virtue of staying in, use British sovereignty to facilitate (that is to say, breath life into) a quasi-confederal political entity. Think through what this precisely means (and still will mean after this new \’constitution\’ is finally agreed upon): the EU only exists because its component member states bring it into being. It does not bring them into being; it could not have a life without them. The EU is the purest product of inter-governmentalism imaginable. Whereas the component states and sub-states of the old British empire, for instance, in terms of strict constitutional theory, flowed from one, common fountain of legitimacy (the Crown), and whilst today the UN, for example, affects pretensions to being able to determine whether states can legitimately be states, the EU neither endows statehood, nor could it hope to survive without its buttressing member states. By being one of those buttressing states we severely, in my opinion, retard Britain\’s political development, but we patently do not end Britain itself. The Giscard convention, however the Council of Ministers subsequently refashion its findings, will not change this state of affairs.
What Isn\’t Happening
What too many opponents (and I\’m one of them) of the probable Treaty of Rome, to be signed by our government, the other 14 governments currently in the EU, and those of the nine new entrant states, in Italy later this year, contend is that, this time it\’s it! It really, honestly, truly is the wolf this time. That, though it didn\’t happen in the past, what actually is going to come to pass is that the EU, far from being merely the collective creature of the nation states who sign up for it, is just about to mutate into being . . . what? A \’superstate\’ is the normal panicked cry, but whatever that means, the consequence is, as always, the same: it\’s the end of the nation state. It isn\’t, it wasn\’t, and it won\’t be. That, however, Britain though no other EU state might finally be about to stumble down a road that will take us out of the EU is a credible outcome to this process. It\’s still, regrettably, not the most likely one, but it is now, for the first time in a very long time, a genuine possibility. After this bout of theory I will try to show in my following article why the practical developments of the EU are now giving our rulers an unwanted way out.
Read more by Christopher Montgomery
- Blair’s Political Suicide – August 29th, 2003
- The Empire Stops Striking – July 17th, 2003
- The Ambassador from Alabama – June 11th, 2003
- On the Nature of Meaning (and Union Jack Tee-Shirts) – May 22nd, 2003
- How Iain Won\’t Save Britain – May 16th, 2003