Tony Blair has opened my eyes to the way the Good Lord God thinks.
I saw him (Tony Blair) give an impassioned speech this morning on why Britain should stay in the European Union.
Well, I suppose it was not actually impassioned because we are talking, here, about Tony Blair. But I suspect he would have had a chat with God before making the speech, so I guess what Mr Bliar – eh, Blair – was spouting was what he deemed to be the Word of God. And it clarified my thinking on the matter.
Before I listened to Tony Blair, my gut instinct was that Britain should get out of Europe, but there might be some slight economic reason for staying in. Now, after Mr Blair’s impassioned pro-European Union speech, I have no doubts.
I am old enough to remember the referendum which took us into what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). The politicians said the economic argument for being a part of – rather than outside – the European Economic Community was strong. There was no political angle. You could banish that thought from your mind. There would never be even any talk of political union. The clue was in the name – the European Economic Community. It was merely a free trade community like the existing smaller free trade community of which we were happily a part.
Pro-European politicians now seem to act as if the choice back then was – and still is – between little Britain being on its own or being part of Europe.
That is utter bollocks.
We were part of the European Free Trade Association – Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
The bigger EEC comprised Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
When we joined the EEC, so did Denmark and Ireland. (Portugal joined in 1986)
Soon after we joined the European Economic Community – “It’s only a free trade area, nothing to do with politics” – started calling itself the European Community and now it calls itself the European Union.
I always thought it was bizarre that we were joining an economic organisation with vaguely similar Western European economies and abandoning or weakening our Commonwealth trade ties with countries around the world who had complementary not competing economies – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, developing countries in Africa and lots of other complementary economies including the rising future superpower of India.
Culturally, Belgium and France – just 22 miles away – are far for more foreign than New Zealand – literally on the other side of the world. And our historical and cultural ties with India are – arguably – as close as any ties to continental Europe.
EFTA made sense. Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are far ‘closer’ and far more complementary to us than France, Germany and Italy. The Commonwealth makes sense.
My gut instinct is that we should get out of a pointless European Union of power-hungry politicians who want to control larger areas and get back to a trade-based economic association of countries. The Commonwealth is already ideal. EFTA was fine. And there is the interesting though embarrassingly acronymed NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico. Not ideal, but interesting.
Free Trade = good.
Power-crazed politicians trying to get control over ever-larger areas = bad.
I remember being in a hotel in Samarkand in Uzbekistan in the mid-1980s.
Opposite the hotel, a new multi-storey building was rising. Only the concrete skeleton was visible so far… and the concrete was already cracking.
One of the people I was with was an architect.
He explained: ‘The trouble is someone in Moscow is deciding which concrete they will use across the USSR but, in Siberia, it’s freezing – way-below zero – and, around Samarkand, it’s baking-hot desert.’
Centralised decision-making does not work.
The USSR fell apart – partly – because it shoved totally unconnected countries together which had nothing in common. The same thing happened, in a way, in Yugoslavia.
The European Union is a dog’s dinner of separate countries with little holding them together except politicians’ lust for greater power over more people. I mean – come on – is Denmark really a neat cultural and historical fit with Greece?
One of the few sensible ideas the appalling Tony Blair (the UN’s peacemaker in the Middle East) ever floated was for a Council of The Isles – but not just the British-Irish Council – one to encompass a possibly independent England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Economic links between countries with complementary economies or a clubbing-together of countries with cultural and/or historical similarities tends to work. Just shoving together incompatible entities into bigger and bigger units for the sake of increased political power has a tendency to lead to wars.