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What Price Hope and Glory?

April 1st, 1990

An article, full title “What Price Hope and Glory as Europe’s Net Tightens”, published in The Field magazine in April 1990.

Listeners to the radio recently will have heard the vice president of the West German central bank, the Bundesbank, remark in the course of an interview about the unification of East and West Germany that ” . . . of course a country which merges its currency completely cannot remain independent politically”.  Thus, in the matter-of-fact tones of someone stating an incontestable fact, did Dr Walther demolish completely the claims of those Europeanists, including some prominent members of the Conservative Party, that European monetary union would not jeopardise our status as an independent country.

Later this year, Britain will be forced to attend an ‘EC Intergovernmental Conference’ at which the principles of a new Treaty will be drawn up to bind EC countries into a monetary union – a common monetary and economic regime controlled in practice by a united Germany.  If we were to acquiesce in this process, the disappearance of the Queen’s head from our currency and the substitution of a foreign currency, the Ecu, would remind us daily of the fact of our disappearance as an independent country.

The imminent approach of this Intergovernmental Conference, which the present Government has said repeatedly it does not want, is the crossroads at which we must decide if we wish to continue as an independent country or to be absorbed into a United States of Europe, governed nominally from Brussels, but in practice from Berlin.  We must have the simple courage as a people to say that, despite all the chorus about ‘missing buses’ and so forth we will not travel down that road.

The public approach of committed Europeans to this crossroads follows the classic tactic adopted (by much the same people) in another decisive transformation of our national life since 1945: immigration.  This tactic is to assert in the early years that the changes are small and beneficial and no threat; that to oppose them is to be a ‘Little Englander’ and xenophobic.  Later, as the problems become clear to almost everyone, we are assured that they are ‘transient’.  Then a decade later, we are told we must live with the problems, and more changes are proposed (or avoided) which ensure that we never solve the problem.

In 1973-’75 the British people were continually assured that the EC was essentially a free trade area or ‘Common Market’, the term by which it is still freely described in Britain, despite its single most important feature being the most highly-rigged agricultural market in the world (which is saying something).

Thus, seven years after accession to the EC (in1973), once the predictable budgetary problems were obvious, Britain was locked in battle month after month to reduce the absurdly high exaction placed on it, a battle in which the president of France, a country which received rather than paid, could haughtily describe our Prime Minister as une fille d’épicier – a grocer’s daughter.

Today, ten years on, the German government feeds the Europhile press in this country with a steady diet of remarks carefully designed to jangle the British establishment’s nerves – that if we do not enthuse over German unification, we risk staying ‘on the sidelines of history’, we shall be ‘marginalised in Europe’, our role will be ‘merely that of onlooker’ and so on, all of which sentiments are heartily endorsed it seems by Mr Edward Heath.

Europeanists frequently talk about Britain’s role, or lack of it, in Europe, of allegedly ‘missed’ opportunities of ‘leading’ Europe.  Their predecessors in the soft-centre of British politics in the ’20s and ’30s would wax lyrical about Britain’s role in the League of Nations, and about the moral leadership that we should give to a waiting world.

In fact, among nations it is influence, not leadership in the personal sense, which governs relationships – and influence follows power.  Today it is industrial power which counts.  Britain is acceding to a wholly unequal treaty with the EC because it has been, and still is, industrially weak by comparison with its principal European competitor, Germany, and to a lesser extent, France.

The causes of Britain’s decline since its pioneering of the Industrial Revolution have been extensively debated by economists; but perhaps two aspects stand out.  One is that the nadir of Britain’s industrial performance, in farming as well as in manufacturing, probably occurred in the years just before the First World War.  Over the 80 years since then we have slowly improved, with some slipping back and some spectacular successes.  Of course, all but a few saw Britain in 1910 as immensely powerful, but a huge trade deficit was disguised by interest on overseas investments made by earlier generations.

The second obvious fact about our weak industrial performance in the last 100 years is that it has depended entirely on ourselves.  We have not been ravaged by foreign conquest; we have not been denied access to vital new materials.  However, rather than give our industry, and above all manufacturing industry, the primacy it must have if we are to survive as a modern nation, each generation of political leaders this century, with few exceptions, has sought redress from our loss of influence in the quack remedies of ‘special relationships’, international conference attendance, EC membership and, recently, ‘services’.

Politics and politicians in Japan, Germany and even the USA are essentially in the entertainment category; only in Britain are they taken seriously.  With an industry led mainly by accountants and lawyers we have lost industrial battle after industrial battle because we have not really fought.  We have been like an army led, not by infantrymen and gunners, but by the Pay Corps and the Legal Branch with off-stage exhortation by Parliament.

Can anyone seriously believe that more of the same, this time from Europe in the shape of Mr Heseltine’s Euro-Senate pantomime, can do anything to help Britain pull itself up into the ranks of a fully-competitive industrial power?  Can anyone believe that Germany, dominating the EC, would lift a finger to allow Britain to become a serious competitor?  Even today West Germany, with an overwhelming balance of trade surplus (the largest single element of which, nearly £10 billion, comes from Britain), will not allow Britain a devaluation of the green pound to give our farmers the returns from the CAP which other EC farmers enjoy.  This is because Germany’s net EC budget contribution would rise in consequence.

The steady fall in the real price of manufactured and agricultural products since the Industrial Revolution has dramatically improved our standard of living.  Services show little, if any, productivity rise.  During six years of the last war, British agriculture changed from relative backwardness to being one of the most mechanised and productive in the world – yields rose by 50 per cent, output doubled, and labour productivity rose by 90 per cent.  This was brought about by a national act of will, the skill of farmers, the products of a new agricultural machinery industry (the number of tractors increased fourfold) and the application of synthetic nitrates made by our chemical industry.  This achievement continued up to 1973, with productivity gains averaging 7 per cent per annum in the 12 years before that, which compares with the average for industry as a whole of about 2.5 per cent.  Over the last 50 years, agriculture and chemicals, by commitment, skill and technology, have been our most successful major industries.

The same blend is urgently needed in the rest of our industry before it shrinks still further or passes into foreign hands.  To revive our manfacturing industry, on which all else depends, we need above all a national commitment to making it happen.  If we cease in any meaningful sense to be an independent nation, it cannot happen.

We need specific measures, such as the power to protect ourselves against foreign dumping of products – power which we have lost to the EC.  Above all, we need to convince our young people that we are still in business as a nation and that it is their duty, as well as in their interest, to help us survive.

Without this commitment to our independent future our most talented people will drift away to the industrial heartlands of Germany and the USA; already German firms are actively recruiting our engineering and science graduates, while the flow to the USA continues, as any visitors to the hi-tech industries of California will find.  Of course, free people have a right to move to other countries.  but it is folly then to give these countries the right to fashion your economic policy and determine your currency.

A suggestion three months ago by Mr Andriessen, the Dutch EC commissioner, that we and the Danes should resume membership of an enlarged European Free Trade Association (EFTA) linked to the EC in a wider European Economic System (EES), offers us everything we could possibly want, though derided by the Foreign Office.  This is clearly the way to accommodate our own deep desire to remain independent, the aspirations of the newly-independent nations of Eastern Europe, Denmark’s wish to rejoin Scandinavia, and the desire of the other ten EC countries to unite.

From this position we could trade freely with the rest of Europe and engage in sensible, non-bureaucratic, technical co-operation through the Eureka programme.  We could arrange our own trade agreements with the rest of the world, reduce food bills and balance of payments deficit and exploit our unique links of language and history with the Pacific basin – centre of more than half the world’s manufacture.