Maastricht: the Prophecy that came True
QR’s Stuart Millson argues that the Eurosceptic “fringe” has now been vindicated
From 1991-92, a major ideological battle was fought in Britain, the reverberations of which are still pulsing through our political life. That magus of British statesmanship and identity, Enoch Powell – who emerged from retirement to engage in that confrontation – was in no doubt as to its significance; arguing (as he had done during Britain’s 1972 accession to the then Common Market, and at the time of the Single European Act, 1986) that our Kingdom faced a challenge to its existence, every bit as dangerous as the threat before us in the dark days of 1940.
Limping from disaster to disaster, and eventually swept into oblivion by the Tony Blair-New Labour landslide of 1997, the Government of John Major had decided to harness Britain to a number of binding supranational arrangements: the “shadowing of the Deutschmark” (a preamble to the Euro – or Ecu, as it was then known), the “Exchange Rate Mechanism” or ERM, and that ultimate monument to post-war decline and loss of self-confidence, the Maastricht Treaty. Contributing to higher-than-usual interest rates, and causing most of those trusting, Tory-inclined voters who (under Margaret Thatcher) had started their own businesses or bought their council houses to face bankruptcy, the economic policy of surrendering to continental economic trends proved the undoing of the Conservative Party – leading to the birth of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party and then, the UK Independence Party, today’s legacy of that Tory haemorrhage.
The Maastricht Treaty, meanwhile, further ruptured the Tory Party, with its intent of “irrevocable European Union” and creation of the concept of a “citizen of the European Union”. In the drive to impose the Treaty, it seemed as though the Heathite, Butskellite establishment had never really gone away; that the years of Margaret Thatcher and her “no, no, No!” to Jacques Delors had never happened – so determined was the Tory establishment to take us to the next stage in the quest for (as John Major put it) “the heart of Europe”. The Eurosceptics of the Parliamentary Party were denounced as “bastards” – and those backbenchers who exhibited any opposition to the Treaty, based upon – heaven forbid – conservative doctrine, common-sense, reason, or a romantic echo of Tory nationalism, were declared insane. Fortunately, brave men such as Norman Tebbit (tested by such crises as the Falklands War) refused to be intimidated by the establishment’s dreary ranks of bureaucrats and time-servers – Tebbit clearly laying the blame for the Maastricht crisis at the door of Number 10, and describing the Treaty as “a timebomb”.
And in that phrase, Tebbit reached the very heart of the matter: seeing Maastricht for exactly what it was, not a “high-water mark” of Euro-federalism as some short-sighted commentators put it, but as a further shift in the direction of the abolition of the nation-state in Europe. Enoch Powell went further, questioning the choice of terminology employed by his own side; pointing out that the EU did not even intend to become a “federal Union”, but a single state – its entire aim being, not the “safeguarding” of Britain’s opt-outs, or the return of powers previously surrendered to the centre from the member-states, but the constant drawing of power and sovereignty away from parliaments and countries. Powell saw the hollowness of Europe’s concessions and “reforms”, and the unworldly nature of the British politicians who seem to make a habit of accepting what powerful European figures tell them.
Today, as we survey the ruins of the Greek economy (not to mention our own fishing and steel industry), the inflexible Euro-policy and inscrutable face of Angela Merkel (to whom our Prime Minister must now apply for concessions) and the blue and yellow-starred flag of Brussels fluttering over most of the continent, the renegades and rebels of 1992 appear as prophets; warning us of the overwhelming political and economic entanglements that would come, and which would probably result in a Britain as ill at ease with Europe as it was when sterling crashed out of the ERM some quarter of a century ago. The EU is a state in all but name – its court of justice, its Commission, its labyrinth of controllers, law-makers and “senior figures” working year by year for the final attainment of a United States of Europe, from the Atlantic coast to the borders of Russia. And yet, curiously, this European utopia seems as far from European-ness as it is possible to be. Europe seems to be politically-correct, obsessed with the shibboleths of the age – such as multiculturalism and the left’s version of human rights – and unable, or unwilling, to protect us demographically – as can be seen from events on the Macedonian border and in the so-called “Jungle” at Calais.
Perhaps, by voting for Britain to leave the EU in the June referendum – we can restore something of Britain’s former pride and independence, and in the process, offer our fellow Europeans the notion of a new Europe of sovereign nations.
By STUART MILLSON