"Gentlemen, you are trying to negotiate something you will never be able to negotiate. If negotiated, it will not be ratified. and if ratified, it will not work"
Thus spoke the British civil servant, Russell Bretherton, who had been sent to represent Britain at the Messina conference in 1955. The other six countries represented at that conference: Belgium, France, (West) Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands had sent their foreign ministers. The UK sent this relatively minor civil servant who essentially boycotted the discussions. It was the beginning of a continuously fraught relationship between Britain and the rest of the European Union.
In the same way that the UK tried to ignore the reality of the early moves for European co-operation, so it has tried to ignore the reality of the treaty of Lisbon. At the signing ceremony, 26 European leaders celebrated with a formal signing ceremony followed by a formal dinner. One- Gordon Brown- arrived deliberately late and did not want to be photographed with the other leaders. In the face of the substantial reorganisation of the European Union that the treaty will now require neither Labour, nor -especially- the Conservatives have had the slightest positive thing to say. Indeed the majority of Conservatives profoundly oppose the very basis of the treaty. David Cameron demanded a referendum and publicly urged President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic to veto the treaty, irrespective of the Czech constitution, which was frankly outrageous.
Now the treaty has come into force and the -pretty unedifying- jockeying for position in the new set up will begin. Nevertheless, the time has come for the United Kingdom to grow up about our relations with the rest of the EU. This organisation, for all its faults, is being developed to allow the relatively smaller states of Europe to work together to avoid being pressured by the larger global states such as China, India, the United States, Russia, and increasingly even Brazil. It makes sense strategically and economically for relatively small powers- of which the UK is clearly one- to work closely with our neighbours and major economic partners to promote our common interests. Of course the great diversity of European societies especially with so many languages, ensures that there is a clear limit to the level of integration that can be achieved.
Nevertheless the benefits have been palpable and significant.
All of the European Union members have recognised that membership of the organisation has benefited their own national interests significantly. Britain, pretty much alone, continues to regard membership as a challenge to its national interest and even a threat to its identity. We lost an Empire and then found that the denominations of our money- L.s.d- our measurements system- Imperial and even the idea of the Pound Sterling itself, were hindrances to our economy. We have still not yet found a role and have become passive in the face of own decline.
Yet there is a role waiting for our country. It was after all Winston Churchill himself who first mooted the idea of a United States of Europe. Britain has been in the forefront of a far more fundamental integration: the integration of European defence forces both within and beyond NATO- and is recognised as a leader in this sphere because of this. By failing to lead Europe in other fields and be clinging to an increasingly one sided unilateral alliance with the United States, our country has forfited the respect of our allies, even including the US.
Lisbon, with all its faults, is ratified. This should not be seen as a threat to the United Kingdom, but now an opportunity. In the same way that British leadership, in the shape of the Cockfield plan, created the single market, so we should now take the opportunity to shape the European Union in a way that emphasises the value of free and open markets- including the financial markets.
The history of the British relationship with the EU is a litany of misunderstanding and failures by the British to recognise the values but also the agenda of our fellow members. The time has come for the British to reappraise their whole relationship with the EU: and to "reset" it as the current jargon has it.
If that requires a referendum to confirm our membership, then so be it. I am confident that people like Dan Hannan, whose world view so resembles that of Russell Bretherton, can be taken on and defeated.