The Little Englanders seem set to get their Little England.
Three factors push powerfully towards this outcome. The dynamic towards deeper integration south of the Channel; towards separatism north of the border. And towards growing isolationism in English opinion.
Of course the move towards deeper integration of the Euro Seventeen is far from certain. There are big hurdles to overcome; the agreement of their peoples and the scepticism of the markets to mention but two. It could all still easily fail. If it does then the following, does not follow – but the collapse of the Euro and perhaps the European Union as we know it, probably does. With incalculable damage from which semi-detached Britain will not be excluded.
If however the Seventeen can make it work – and that is the Government’s assumption – then the Seventeen will have their own President, their own bureaucracy and their own interests to pursue.
Then there will be a two speed Europe with Britain in the outer ring, heading fast for the exit.
Then the Seventeen will inevitably caucus to advantage their own interests and disadvantage others – why should they not? How far they will go we do not know, but it would be surprising if they did not, for instance prefer to promote Frankfurt over the City of London. Mr Cameron assures us he will not let this happen; but would he please tell us how?
How, too will he “repatriate substantial powers” from the EU if, as seems very likely, the rest (or most of them) say No? What will he do then? He can talk the talk today, but how will he walk the walk tomorrow? And even if some crumbs are allowed to fall his way, these will never be enough to satisfy the ravenous Eurosceptic beast on his back benches, whose might has now increased enormously and whose stomach is rumbling for more. They and UKIP are the clear winners of the last few weeks.
Unless the Prime Minister can face them down – and I am not convinced he has either the will or means to do so – then we are firmly launched on a dynamic which moves the Tory Party from grumbling about the EU to a permanent state of anger at being “ignored” by it.
Future EU summits will not help the process. The night before the Seventeen did their deal, Mr Cameron dined with the Poles and the Swedes. I hope he enjoyed it – there will be lots more dinner parties like that in the future. More brave words before summits about “fighting Britain’s corner”; more disappointment afterwards when we realise that, apart from perhaps one or two from the outer ring, almost the only person in Britain’s corner, is Britain.
But the difference is that most of those on the periphery would like to get into the core. Tory England wants to get as far away from it as possible.
I say England because this is not true north of the border. There, another dynamic is now gathering pace – and its running strongly towards separation. If Mr Salmond can hold his referendum on his terms and time-scale, there is a good chance he will win it unless we are careful. Then it will be firmly in Scotland’s interest, as a small independent nation to accept what Britain has rejected. Full engagement in the EU and joining Ireland as a full member of the Euro.
Euro to the west of us; Euro to the east of us; Euro to north of us; Euro to the south; England splendidly isolated, splendidly alone and, as always of course, splendidly right!
Switzerland, with nuclear weapons
None of this is inevitable. None of it is planned. None of it will be intended. But all of it becomes more and more likely if we do not act to reverse the dynamic in our country. It is not just the future of the Coalition which is at stake. As Nick Clegg has said, it’s the whole country.
No-one is saying that the EU does not need deep reform. But the best way to achieve that is to be engaged and positive, not semi-detached and shouting insults. There are things that need to be done to ensure the EU interferes less and concentrates more on the things that matter to give us a larger voice in an increasingly inhospitable world. But these will not be achieved by a smash and grab raid to “repatriate powers” that is bound to fail.
Those who fight against the growing mood of isolationism in England are fighting against the odds, I grant. But to remain silent at this moment is to accept isolation by default. And for this country, whose history has been engagement, that would not just be a disaster, it would also be a tragedy.