British entry into the EU in 1975 was driven by the negative feeling of economic failure: the three-day week, the oil crisis, a 25% inflation rate and growing unemployment. We got off to a bad start and have never developed a positive feeling towards the EU as a result.
But now it seems, to a Brit returning frequently to Britain from the United States, the mood is altogether different. The country is doing well, confidence abounds and, in comparison to an America deeply divided both culturally and politically, there are no real pressing issues in British politics, which seem dull and parish-pump compared with the United States. We have made strides as a nation and expunged the feelings of failure produced by loss of empire, even if the results of that empire persist in so many ways. We seem to have reached some sort of social consensus.
The EU is working. It could work better and no doubt will do so over time. We know how to operate the system, how to bargain and to protect our most important interests. We have lost no important battles for years. The accession of so many new countries will effectively temper the ambitions of the dreamers and the EU will subtly return to being less a super-state and more the liberal free trade area. This is what the British people have wanted for years. Two big issues loom for the EH: security and defense, both areas where the British presence at the table is crucial.
So why throw it all away?
Opposition to the EU is negative, ill thought-out and concentrates on the superficialities of EU symbols and regulation. The fact is that Britain has protected its interests better in the EU than it has in its parallel relationship with the United States. Regrettably, U.S political interests, most notably (but by no means exclusively) the Murdoch media, have campaigned effectively for a backward-looking anti-EU policy which splits the Union and keeps it divided, all in the interests of American hegemony. Hoist with our own petard, the British have succumbed to "divide and rule", and without even seeming to realize it.
If the Little Englanders would spend as much time on examining the UK's pusillanimous policy towards America as it does expostulating on EU baked bean regulation we might have more respect in the world. To outsiders the British foreign policy establishment seems to have been behaving like deer caught in the headlights, careless, lazy-minded and showing no understanding of the drift of US shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy. The hard-headed U.S-first approach expects one hundred per cent loyalty from its satraps and gives nothing in exchange. This is the real threat to British interests. The trouble is, the threat worsens and lessens according to the complexion of the Administration. The British are poorly informed about the ideology of the current one, and still persist in regarding it as benign. But even a Democrat Administration will only be marginally more cooperative; there is a general agreement in Washington on the future drift of American policy.
I don't suggest we scrapping the Atlantic Alliance. That would be as stupid as removing ourselves from the EU. But I do believe the British Government has lost sight of its real national interests. The emerging powers are China, India and Brazil, and Britain should be leading the charge establish good relations with all three, but also to build up its economic and military power so that it can speak to them from a position of strength. The United States still has military power, but Bush and the Republicans have damaged its financial strength, maybe beyond recall. They lead a country that is a busted flush but doesn't yet know it, and the problem has been self-induced.