How European are the British?

Daniel Johnson: The Lisbon Treaty is now a fact, although it hasn’t yet finally been ratified by the Czechs. President Vaclav Klaus says he doesn’t think he will be able to hold on long enough, alas, for the Conservatives to have the option of a referendum after the next election. David, what will you do if this treaty has been ratified by all the member states by the time you come to office? Will you have a referendum anyway? What alternative do you have? And if you do have a referendum, won’t it inevitably turn into a referendum on Europe, not just on Lisbon?

David Heathcoat-Amory: David Cameron says that he will not let matters rest there and he will have to colour that in, in due course. Myself, I believe that Lisbon is not the only issue. That is about the next step forward, which I regard as a further step away from self-government. But I don’t like much of what we’ve got already, so I would like to see a new relationship with the
European Union, which should be endorsed by referendum eventually. I think that would legitimise our relationship because we haven’t had a national vote since 1975, and you would have to now be over 52 years old to have had a say on how we are governed from Europe, and that is too long.

Piers Paul Read: Before we continue, your readers should know that David and I have been arguing about Europe for a very long time. We have known each other since we were children — we were close neighbours in Yorkshire. We had rather different life experiences in childhood. I enormously admired David and his parents, particularly his father, who was very patrician. He embodied all that was best about an English gentleman and the British Empire, which he served in the army. But we had rather different households, because theirs was a classic English household. Whereas, although my father was purely English, purely Yorkshire, my mother was partly German — she had Italian blood, Scottish blood, she didn’t have any English blood. We always had a Bavarian cook and at one time a German-Jewish nanny, who came from Italy before the war. So we had a more cosmopolitan household. And while David used to go on holiday shooting grouse in Scotland, we used to go off to Italy and Bavaria, so naturally I had greater affection for Europe or continental Europe than I think David did — or perhaps greater experience — and after university, I went to live in Berlin and Munich, becoming very attached particularly to Germany, but also to France and Italy.

The second thing I would say as an amateur historian is that the EU is the best thing that has happened in my lifetime, in terms of world history. I think that it is an absolutely fantastic achievement that these nations, particularly France and Germany, that have been fighting each other viciously for hundreds of years, should have been able completely to turn around the hatred and antagonism, the desire for revenge, and form a semi-sovereign combination of states. I always thought that Britain should join it, and luckily, in the end, Britain did. My objection to David is that he then says: we have signed the Treaty of Rome and we accept its ambitions and its intentions, but we want to change all that. It is like joining White’s and saying, I think that we should only admit working-class people. Do you see what I mean? He joins the club and then wants to change the rules of the game. Or does he want to leave the club altogether?

DH-A: Let me first say that I agree with Jay [PPR’s nickname] that background and family are very important. We are old friends, although from different families, and I think we share certain emotions. But certainly his family brought to rural Yorkshire an outlook of culture and art that was completely alien to us until then. We regarded Sir Herbert Read [Piers’s father] with a mixture of fascination and fear. But it certainly enriched our own family experience. Although mine wasn’t entirely rural Yorkshire: my father being a soldier meant that we travelled and indeed lived in places like Egypt and Germany during my very early life, which has given me an internationalism which is sometimes not believed.

It is true that the EU was set up after the war, and was an effective step towards a profound reconciliation that has succeeded. But you cannot go on justifying an organisation on events of more than 60 years ago — it has to be refreshed. Today, we are more demanding in our choices and our ideals about democracy, and the EU is, in my view, incredibly old-fashioned: it is large, it is centralising, it is obsessed with harmonisation and it can’t spend other people’s money properly. It simply has to change and come up to date. And so it is completely valid that we should criticise it. Indeed, the Convention on which I sat for two years, to draw up the European constitution, was avowedly reformist, but it failed. It did not hand more powers back to people, it created more powers in the same institution which created the disillusionment in the first place. That is why it was rejected in all these national referendums. So I don’t accept that we are trying to change the rules after we joined, it is time that the peoples of Europe were governed better, and more in accordance with their wishes.

PPR: I completely agree with you on that, and one of arguments in favour of the EU is — and you may not like to hear this as one of our MPs — is that Britain has been since the war a particularly badly governed country in almost any area you choose, whether it is education, health, energy or transport. The only things we are good at producing are unmarried mothers and broken families. In almost any other area we have done really badly. I would rather be well governed by a Dutch bureaucrat in Brussels than badly governed by a British civil servant.

DH-A: You would have been entirely at home in the British Empire then. I would have been on the side of the liberation movement, and you would have been this patrician imperialist. 

PPR: But you would agree, David, that we have been very badly governed?

DH-A: But we can do something about that, we can change government. And indeed I hope that we are about to change this one, and mistakes can be corrected, laws can be repealed. Tell me how many European laws have been repealed and how many decisive changes there have been in the EU because of the electors.

PPR: I am not a politician. I am not a lawyer. I don’t know the details. I will give you one example though. When we were young, we used to swim at Scarborough — you probably swam at Scarborough — and from the beach you could see a huge sewer spewing out raw sewage into the sea very close to the place where people were bathing. And that is something that continued in England until the EU said: you’ve got to clean up your beaches. They have got some programme that is called Blue Flag Beaches, and now thanks to the EU, Britain has been forced to clean up its beaches, and I think small things like that show how excellent the EU has been for the people of Britain.

DH-A: Self-governing countries make their own advances, and I’d like to think that we would have cleaned up the beaches anyway. I have a maritime constituency and I want clean beaches too or I won’t be re-elected. But the EU has become something different — it has become a law-making agency, the purveyor of rights, the spender of other people’s money, and eventually nation states will be reduced to paying the unemployed and burying the dead. That is not my idea of a democratic continent.

PPR: All governments spend other people’s money. The UN spends other people’s money — all those international organisations — Nato spends other people’s money. So you can’t just single out the EU for that. I think you would agree on the principle of subsidiarity. I would certainly agree that anything that can be done by a smaller unit of government should be done by a smaller unit of government. And only those things that can only be done by a larger unit of government should be done by the larger unit of government.

DH-A: I believe that is derived from Catholic theology.

PPR: Catholic social teaching, yes.

DH-A: I put it to you, Jay, as a good Catholic, that you are temperamentally suited to submitting to a foreign authority, while I, as an angular dissenting Protestant, have a greater instinct for self-determination.

PPR: We come back to discussions we have had before. I am a Thomas More man, and I think Charles V was a wonderful emperor who, if he’d had his way, would have done a great deal of good for England, if he had united Europe in the Holy Roman Empire. Whereas you are a Thomas Cromwell man. I remember you saying: “I can’t understand why everyone was so much in favour of Thomas More.” Thomas Cromwell was your hero.

DH-A: I would have fought for his cousin Oliver against arbitrary royal power. But in the wider context I believe that the terrible religious wars of the 17th century in Europe were only ended by the Treaty of Westphalia, which created the concept of self-governing nation states tolerant of other people’s religions. While the EU is an attempt to go back to a supranational system in which people feel no part.

PPR: Yes, that is what we want. The nation states led to endless wars, competition and slaughter. The nation state was a terrible idea, whereas Charles V’s concept of Christendom, of a European Holy Roman Empire, was a wonderful idea. And the EU is to some extent a re-embodiment of Charles V’s concept of how Europe should be governed. For example, I don’t think Spain and Austria have ever fought a war. Have they, the two Habsburg powers? I mean, if the Habsburgs had ruled the whole of Europe, we wouldn’t have had those religious wars. Protestantism would have been nipped in the bud by the Inquisition.

DJ: Jay, we might also not have had parliamentary democracy though.

PPR: The insistence that our system of adversarial parliamentary democracy is the best system of government, not just for us but for everyone else, is mistaken. It simply does not work in underdeveloped nations, such as Kenya or, I fear, Afghanistan. We bring democracy to Iraq at great loss, whereupon the Iraqis draw up a constitution that denies equal rights to women.

DJ: But we also to some extent exported it to Europe. Since the Second World War, Europe has been, on the whole, a group of democracies. And the British, the Americans and others did a lot to make that happen. But don’t you think that the way that the EU is run is not very democratic? The Germans  never had a vote on adopting the euro. David, does the euro story in Britain tell a different story?

DH-A: Most political parties, most sections of the media, the TUC, the CBI, all felt it was simply a matter of time [to adopt the euro]. But a few people — and I am glad I was one of them — never accepted that. Now who wants to join the euro? It’s even been dropped formally by the Liberal Democrats. It is simply not on the agenda, because it is seen that there are advantages in having your own monetary policy, in fighting recessions and organising national economies. So I think that the EU is the same — we are all prone to fashion, what looks inevitable at one time, like the Soviet Union used to be, a few years later looks absurd. And I think that many aspects of the EU that we now regard as completely inevitable, in time will be regarded as historical curiosities. 

PPR: Well, I wonder. The euro — what was it when it was launched against the pound?

DH-A: The exchange rate? It was fixed by bureaucrats, and of course the market takes a different view. This is the world in which I believe. It is people that set the value of currencies, not governments. 

PPR: The pound has sunk and there is a danger now that it will be almost worthless. 

DH-A: That may not suit you, Jay, with your foreign holidays, but for those trying to make a living in the UK, it will help very much if they are able to export their goods competitively to the rest of the world without the value of our exchange rate being settled by a bank over which we have no control. 

PPR: That is banana republic finances, when you have had to debase your currency to survive. It is pathetic for a great country like ours.

DH-A: The US has its own currency, and it would be against their constitution if they ever tried to give it up. It is the mark of a free country, and certainly one with self-respect that it can manage its own currency and has its own monetary policy. As the sixth biggest economy in the world, I think that we are allowed one. And indeed I am very glad that we retained it and didn’t hand over this aspect of our democracy to people we don’t elect and can’t remove. 

DJ: But didn’t the Irish vote “Yes” this time partly for economic reasons, because they needed to be bailed out? 

PPR: And Iceland is desperate to get into the euro.

DH-A: I think that we need a decider in Europe. There is one vote “No” and one vote “Yes”, I think that we now need a third one to decide it. It is really shameful the way that Europe bullies small countries. The Irish showed great character and independence in voting “No”. But it is asking a lot of a country to hold out against the full force of the EU, and all its money, for a second time. And they gave in. But it hasn’t settled the argument. 

PPR: I agree that Europe has become democratic since the war, and very much on the British pattern. The Germans in particular modelled themselves on the British system of democracy. The British helped draw up the constitution of the Federal Republic and that is one of my great disappointments in the Eurosceptic point of view. Since the end of the war, Britain has had a wonderful opportunity in Europe. English is the lingua franca, the English are admired by all the European countries. If we had risen to the occasion, we could have moulded Europe in our image, but we fell short because we were so preoccupied with the Commonwealth, all these little remnants of Empire. We got completely bogged down in our past.

DH-A: Jay, you are not only an imperialist but are betraying a slight arrogance here. It is not for us to tell other people how they should be governed. They must make these decisions themselves.

PPR: But we did tell the Germans how they should be governed.

DH-A: When people lose confidence in who makes their laws, who makes decisions for them and who spends their money, then you get apathy, hostility and even extremism. Because when people feel that it doesn’t make any difference how they vote, they will step outside the democratic tradition and you will see the rise of extremism and we are getting near that in Europe. We have seen this in the numerous “No” votes in referendums. It is a disgrace, and it means that the EU we have created is legally all-powerful. Its dictates and laws are superior to national laws.

But it’s a Europe without people. It’s empty. There is no European people. There is no European public opinion. There is no European demos. So this attempt to create a Europe-wide system is profoundly undemocratic. And when Europe has to make an important decision, it will find that there’s nobody there to follow or obey.

PPR: I’m not sure that’s true. I’ve just been looking at a survey taken by Gallup this year, or late last year, called the Flash Euro-barometer, about attitudes toward the EU in the UK, and it found that almost half of the people questioned are quite satisfied with the way the EU is functioning. And particularly the younger people and the better educated people are satisfied with the EU. The people who tend to be Eurosceptic are older, rural and the less well educated.

As for democracy: we must have a referendum, you say. But all the major changes that have happened in Britain have never been subjected to a referendum. Were people asked to vote on the question of immigration, of whether huge numbers of people from the West Indies or the Indian sub-continent should be allowed to settle in this country — were they asked that? Were they asked about capital punishment? Were they asked about amendments to our laws on divorce, or homosexuality? All those changes were imposed by the bien-pensant parliamentarians, often against the tide of public opinion. There were no referenda. The only referendum we’ve ever had, so far as I know, is on the EU, and it went in favour of the EU.

DH-A: Of course we don’t have referendums on policy matters: we have a parliamentary democracy and we elect people to make those decisions. But constitutional matters are different — that is when the rules of the game are altered. This was Tom Paine’s point in the 18th century. He believed that politicians must not write their own rules, because they always give themselves more power. The constitution must be an act of the people. And then within those rules the politicians can fight it out at elections, make the laws and make the choices.

The European Constitution is indisputably a constitutional development of great importance and it was therefore promised by all the political parties before the last election that the people would be given a vote. If what you say is true, that people are content, then why are they afraid to ask them? It’s a simple request — people must consent to how they’re governed. And so my challenge is, if you’re certain that it’s so good, why don’t you ask people?

PPR: We did ask and they wanted to stay.

DH-A: That was in 1975, when it was called the Common Market.

PPR: Yes, but if you sign up to the Treaty of Rome, which we did, then you sign up to “ongoing development towards increasing unity”. We signed up to that, it was ratified, and this is now an adjustment in the way the thing works.

DH-A: It has become unrecognisably different since 1975 — it’s now a political union, and the central dynamic is the coercive power of law-making. And it’s going into every policy area, and it’s time we were asked again. Can I put to you one other point? At that time, it was justified on the grounds that we were getting access to a single market. Since that time, tariffs all over the world have been reduced, so we’re moving towards global free trade. And another point: we were, at that time, weak and unsuccessful economically, and we needed the support of our neighbours in Europe. That again is now an old-fashioned view. Globalisation has overtaken these matters, and geography is less important. It doesn’t matter where you are located in the world — what matters is who you are and what language you speak. Since 1975, the
Anglosphere, which includes countries such as India, has become immeasurably more important. Meanwhile, our politics and our economics are tied to this small, rather uncompetitive union which, looked at from the outside, is losing its market share. But it is obsessed with its own powers to the detriment of our true global destiny in the UK. I regard myself as a true internationalist: you, Jay, are, despite all your humanity, the little European.

PPR: Well perhaps I am, but Europe’s quite big, it’s got half a billion people — I don’t think that’s very small. And also, particularly with the rise of India and China and the power of the United States, I think it’s very important that Europe, with its unique values and history should have a stronger presence in the world, and that we should be part of that stronger presence. As I said, I think we have a particularly strong contribution to make to the European civilisation of the future.

DJ: Can Europe continue to be an ever-closer union if the people of Europe are becoming much more various? We now have at least 40 million Muslims living in Europe, and we may soon have Turkey as a member. Won’t that change your vision, Jay, of the EU as a modern Christendom? And from David’s point of view, doesn’t that mean that you need these supranational institutions because the populations of Europe have become so much more diverse — that we’re not a pure, English nation state any more?

DH-A: No, it was, in my view, never possible to create a centralised Europe governed according to a single set of rules, because Europe is the most diverse and varied continent in the world — and that indeed is its glory. But that has become even more impossible with successive waves of enlargement. We’re now 27 countries, so it’s entirely impossible for us all to constantly submit to a single authority.

De Tocqueville, the French aristocrat, admired American democracy, and he identified important ingredients that led to its success, one of which was a common historical experience and another was a common language. English may be the de facto language of the European elite, but at a popular level a common language is the last thing the EU will promote. It’s one of the few things I agree with the French about: every self-respecting nation must have its own language. 

So it is entirely impossible for us to have a single constitution. It is an experiment that has failed.

PPR: You say it’s the most diverse and different: what about India? India is much more diverse than Europe. It’s got many different languages and English is spoken only by the elite — and that’s a very successful democracy.

DH-A: India had a common experience of attaining independence, and the experience of democracy there cannot be replicated in Europe with its far greater historical diversity, which is healthy. And this is even before Turkey is admitted with another 70 million Muslims, and yet that project is supported by most of the people in Brussels and most member states.

PPR: Turkey will never be admitted because the Germans and the French will keep them out. I think it would be an enormous mistake.

DJ: Is that one thing you agree on, by the way? Would you like Turkey in, David?

DH-A: Turkey cannot join the present EU — they’ll be vetoed. Turkey could join my idea of a Europe of nations. I could easily design an alternative to the EU based on national sovereignty and freely co-operating nation states coming together for common purposes. 

That sort of Europe could be joined by Turkey next week, and it’s a tragedy that we’re going to keep it out of the EU when it is knocking at our door, when it could so easily join a different club.

PPR: And you’d admit Algeria and Egypt? Where does it stop, if you start admitting Muslim states on the Mediterranean?

DH-A: At some point, these countries cease to be European in any real sense. But this is a much greater problem for the European integrationists, because they cannot tell us who is European.

PPR: It ends at the Bosphorus. That seems fairly clear to me.

DJ: Well it’s not so clear in Eastern Europe, is it? Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and all these countries — would you have them in?

PPR: I would have preferred myself to stick to Latin-Christian countries, but the fact is that Greece joined and now we’ve got Romania and Bulgaria, and I think there are political reasons for doing that.

I want to come back to two questions. The first is the question of sovereignty. The first element of sovereignty is defence — if you can’t defend yourself, then you can’t consider yourself a sovereign nation. And we have not been able to defend ourselves since the beginning of the Second World War. Since then, we have been totally dependent on America, and therefore we can in no sense say that we’ve got true sovereignty. Now even our posturing as a military power is crumbling. We can’t afford it. We can’t afford these Trident submarines, we can’t afford to send our army all over the world interfering in other people’s affairs. I think that idea that you have, of Britain as a self-standing nation state, can’t continue.

DH-A: We are a considerable military power, but we’ve never pretended we can defend ourselves without alliances. Nato is a successful defence pact — signed in the month I was born, so I know exactly how old it is. But the EU doesn’t like that: it likes a monopoly of international relations among its members. So we’re witnessing the growth of a militarised EU, which is obnoxious for previously neutral countries such as Ireland, and also threatens to hand decisions about defence and security to a decision-making process of which we’re only a part. So we’ll end up with a situation whereby we provide the army and they provide the decisions.

The difference between EU and Nato is that the latter is not a law-making body and cannot force us to fight or defend anyone. There is an obligation to help, but we are not obliged to go to war. That is not yet the case in the EU either, but that is the trend. It’s a trend in the wrong direction, and also threatens to separate ourselves from our relationship with the US.

PPR: Aha, this becomes the nub of it!

DH-A: That separation I also object to on a number of grounds. Not only have we had several annihilating wars in Europe, and attempts to create gas-chamber civilisations, and it’s usually been the Americans who’ve come to our aid. But even ignoring that, there is no way that we can create a peaceful world along democratic values without America’s engagement in Europe, and I think that is threatened by the rise of a military capacity in the EU.

DJ: Is it a problem for Eurosceptics that the Americans have tended to support the EU? They rather like having only one person to telephone in Europe.

DH-A: It’s perfectly true that America, being a federal republic, is drawn to the idea of a similar one in Europe, and they initially supported that as a bulwark against communism. But thoughtful Americans know quite well that their real allies in Europe would have less influence when it’s not the friend from the Foreign Office in London that is making the decisions, but the bureaucrat and the commissioner in Brussels, on behalf of a great many other countries, some of whom have a desire to reduce the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

DJ: Jay, do you think anybody is actually prepared to die for Europe? I mean, when we talk about defence, you obviously think it’s a great thing that Europe is now becoming sovereign in that way, but are young men and women really prepared to fight for Europe — has it yet become that powerful an ideal, or a loyalty?

PPR: I would have thought as much as they’re prepared to fight and die for Nato, quite honestly, our soldiers in Afghanistan…

DJ: But our soldiers die for Queen and country, don’t they?

PPR: I would be very surprised if the soldiers in Afghanistan, although they are told they are fighting for British interests, are feeling, as in the war in Iraq, that they are really fighting for their country. They’re fighting because they’re professional soldiers in the army, and if that’s what they’re told to do they’ll do it. As General Sir John Hackett once told me, “A soldier’s first loyalty is to his regiment.”

DH-A: Jay, let me ask you a question; does Europe to you live as a political, social and cultural entity, of which you feel part?

PPR: Yes.

DH-A: Because I think that young people regard themselves as part of a much wider world and I think that language is a great determinant here. You are a novelist, your mode of thought is Continental, it certainly is in your books, but you write mostly in the English language — do you not feel part of a cultural and linguistic sphere that is non-European? I certainly feel that, at that popular cultural level, America still means more to people here than any attempt to create an equivalent in Europe. Listen to pop music: when you and I were children, there were actually a few French singers — do you remember Françoise Hardy and Johnny Halliday? Where are they now?

PPR: Still going strong!

DH-A: I think he lives in Switzerland, actually, and is against the Lisbon Treaty. But America, at the popular level, is still dominant, and I put that down to history, culture, and above all language, because since the EU was founded, that — what might be called maritime — magnetic pull on the United Kingdom has got stronger, and meanwhile the Continental pull, which obsesses politicians, has actually got weaker.

PPR: It’s funny you should say that. I have always preferred Continental literature to English literature. I’ve always preferred Stendhal, Flaubert, Maupassant and indeed Russian novelists, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chelhov, Dostoyevsky, to Dickens, for example, or Hardy, those rather heavy English novelists. I’ve always felt as a writer a great kinship with European writers, but also the wider Europe, South American writing. It’s interesting about America, because we do have the same language, but I find that I feel more at home in Europe, despite the language difference, than I do in America. I remember when we were on a fellowship in America feeling increasingly disaffected, because of a lack of common humour, a lack of a common sense of irony. Then I ran into the German writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who was also there on a fellowship, and who felt desperate, because he was so completely isolated. I immediately felt a sort of kinship with him that I hadn’t felt with any Americans.

DH-A: But I think most English people would feel more at home in America, Canada, Australia, India, than they would in, say, Hungary or Romania.

PPR: Well, Hungary or Romania, perhaps.

DH-A: And yet, because of the rules, we have to let in an unlimited number of people from Eastern Europe, even if they have no historical connection with this country, and don’t speak our language. Meanwhile, those coming from Commonwealth countries have to join a long queue, and try and get a work permit, and try and get permission to live and work here. I think that is objectionable, and it is criticised by most voters in this country, but they feel they can do nothing about it.

PPR: I think that’s the older voters. I don’t think the younger voters feel that. I live in Hammersmith, where there’s a huge Polish population, you feel that almost one in four people in Hammersmith is Polish. They’re hard-working, they’re courteous, they’re kind. To replace those, whatever it is, 50,000 Poles with 50,000 Australians or New Zealanders — well, much as I like Australians and New Zealanders, I’m happy to keep the Poles.

DJ: Let’s look at the future. What do we think is going to happen, Jay? Are you optimistic about Europe? You presumably look forward to the idea of an ever-closer union and stronger central institutions in Brussels.

PPR: Yes, but I don’t want a Fourth Reich, I don’t want a tyrannical regime. But I’m confused, because David keeps talking about these laws that have been foisted upon us and I can’t think of a single law that I object to.

DJ: You mentioned the Holy Roman Empire. That was a very loose system. You would be quite comfortable with that?

PPR: Very comfortable, yes.

DJ: But David, what about you? This doesn’t attract you at all — but on the other hand, is there anything to be done about it?

DH-A: I think the EU is an agent for over-government. It is instinctively regulatory, it believes in high taxes, it believes in big government and it’s not an efficient government — look at all the money it wastes. Even in a recession our net contribution is more than £6 billion a year and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s also becoming increasingly uncompetitive. Europe is obsessed by its own internal differences, but the real question is not one country’s competitiveness against another in Europe, it’s whether Europe is competitive in the wider world, and increasingly it’s not — the formula is not working, but we cannot repeal these regulations. Our spokesman at Manchester promised to repeal unnecessary red tape, but most of these regulations are embedded in EU directives, so we can’t do it. So the outcome of a general election will not be reflected in these promises being fulfilled, if we’re not careful. 

Also Europe has demographic problems: of ageing and in some cases shrinking population. It’s simply being outmanoeuvred by other countries in the world. The future belongs to nimble countries able to change their rules and regulations and make alliances with other countries to suit conditions. All this is anathema to the mindset of the technocratic elite in Brussels. So to that extent I’m gloomy, and I’m also pessimistic about whether they will ever relinquish any of this power. No bureaucracy ever disarms, and we saw the ruthlessness with which they pursued integration and centralisation during the recent supposed years of reform. So an incoming Conservative government must do it, particularly if Cameron wants to be a great prime minister. He must realise that we cannot go on being governed in a way that most people in this country are unhappy with, it needs reform, it needs change, and it needs a new popular endorsement.

PPR: Napoleon said we were a nation of shopkeepers, so it’s quite proper that a British MP should look at the balance sheet when it comes to the European ideal. You know about these things much more than I do, but I’m not sure you’re completely right. Germany has a huge balance of payments surplus. So I don’t think Europe is going to go down in the face of the East. I think it’s very good that Europe stands together in the face of these great powers, I think little England alone wouldn’t have a chance. I think you should be pessimistic, because I think you know in your heart that if there was a referendum in Britain about whether we should stay in or leave the EU, people would vote to stay in.

DH-A: We’re always going to have a relationship with the EU.

PPR: You’re not answering my question.

DH-A: I don’t believe in an in-out referendum.

PPR: Because you know that people would vote to stay in.

DH-A: No, it ignores the point that we will always have at least a trade-plus relationship with the EU. These are friendly countries, which I want to co-operate with at every level, I want to engage with our European allies — so I’m not anti-European, but I am against the way that the EU has developed. It’s unsatisfactory, it’s unpopular and we cannot forever go on with a system which is not only becoming the cornerstone of our international relations, but is also affecting our domestic politics and making it very difficult for choices at a general election to be translated into policy changes. So we are hollowing out our own democracy, without creating one in the EU. 

Finally, the freehold I inherited when I became an MP was of a free parliamentary democracy and I do not want to leave parliament having given this away. And it is extraordinary that a free parliament is even contemplating voluntarily giving away powers, which normally happens after a country has lost a war, and we’re doing this without even asking the people. I regard that as intolerable, and it’s part of the reason I’m staying in politics, just to try and ensure that something’s done about it.

PPR: I’m afraid, David, you’re swimming against the tide of history, and I’m sad, because I admire you in so many ways. I’m sad you can’t see the advantage of the European ideal, and the advantage to our country.

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