19 June 2012

With no particular place to go

So near and yet so far: Goering and German top brass regard the
White Cliffs of England from the French coast on 1 July 1940
Max Hastings could never fairly be accused of over-optimism. Writing in today’s Daily Mail he contrasts his family’s recent enjoyable day on a Devon beach with Europe’s being, as he sees it:
… in the early stages of what will probably prove its gravest and most frightening tumult of our lifetimes. Our political leaders have not mentioned this, not told us Europe is up the creek without a paddle, because half of them are in denial about what is going on, and not one has a sensible idea what to do about it.
Turning to where it leaves Britain, he concludes that:
I seldom pity politicians, but ours deserve some sympathy, as almost impotent spectators of unfolding disaster. Since we are not eurozone members, there is little a British Government can usefully do or say.  
… My own strong hunch — and I say this without any pleasure — is that within a decade Britain will find itself outside the European Union. … The bust-up could come quite swiftly if Chancellor Merkel persists with her determination to impose a Europe-wide financial transaction tax to fund the next stage towards eurozone integration. This, in turn, would devastate the City of London.  
… Though our separation from Europe looks increasingly plausible, I do not share the enthusiasm of those of UKIP’s persuasion, who see this as a glorious liberation. The Germans at the conference I attended in April warned repeatedly that we would find life alone, out in mid- Atlantic, remarkably chilly. On this they are probably right. In a world of giant economic blocs, and especially up against China, Britain looks ill-fitted to compete on its own. But what else can we do if a statist, over-regulated, undemocratic and unaccountable Europe remains bent on economic and political suicide in a mindless, obsessive pursuit of the euro-ideal?
An alternative to the metaphorical mid-Atlantic might be to move even closer to the US East Coast; in the extreme, as David Aaronovitch suggested at the end of 2011, “the nations of the United Kingdom become the 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th states of what might be known as the United States of America and the East Atlantic.” Though I doubt whether Hastings would find that prospect particularly attractive. In a previous Mail columnTurning our backs on Britain's fallen: How a new generation believes it was just U.S. troops that won World War Two thanks to Hollywood” (as much a précis as a header), he clearly approved of how on the anniversary of D-day:
François Hollande made a gesture of reconciliation with ‘Perfidious Albion’. He became the first ever French president to visit a British cemetery in Normandy.
He concluded that article:
We should learn to value our heritage, as French governments cherish theirs. The Continent today is threatened not by war, but by greater turmoil and dissension than it has known for half a century. Only by knowing and understanding its past history, and our part in it, can we hope to come to terms with its present and future.
A debate on the viability of a “mid-Atlantic” United Kingdom (with or without Scotland) is probably overdue. Are we trapped in the invidious position, primarily in population terms, of being too large to occupy a niche, but too small to be a player? Or are there ways in which the UK could make itself too big to ignore? Perhaps this would be by leveraging our time zone and language advantages. We could also adopt a ‘smart’ and selective policy for immigration which would allow entry to talented and skilled people from anywhere, but particularly Europe if the train wreck anticipated by Hastings actually happens. This could in the short to medium term help overcome the deficiencies of our educational system. The UK could also take advantage of its status as a (relatively) ‘safe haven’ and sell gilts to fund infrastructure such as very high speed broadband and develop the regions to compensate for the over-development of the South East.

20 JULY 2012 - An update to this post is here.

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