Matthew d’Ancona is that splendid chap who writes for the Sunday Telegraph, and whose weekly column is compulsory reading. I (almost) always agree with him. But I was struck by a recent Tweet from him (thoughtfully re-Tweeted by Tim Montgomerie, whom I follow). In a reference to our intervention in Libya, he writes “Shows that US has to be there, but not necessarily in the lead — Anglo-French leadership the key. Isolationists of Left and Right need new arguments!”. (More or less verbatim, but I have extended the abbreviations, for clarity).
Now one should be very cautious about applying an extended exegesis to the few words of a Tweet, which necessarily lacks background, context and explanation (as I have occasionally found to my cost). Yet Matthew seems to argue that because a primarily Anglo-French initiative has succeeded, we can cope without the Yanks, and he suggests that this undermines the position of those he dubs “isolationists”. I should have thought that undervaluing the Transatlantic Alliance, and assuming that a few European powers could face global security threats without the support of the USA, was the worst kind of isolationism, but we’ll let that pass.
Who are these isolationists of whom Matthew speaks? Indeed are there any isolationists at all in our web-enabled, interconnected world? I have a horrible feeling that he is referring to Eurosceptics. I should like to be disabused of this notion, but let’s pursue the idea.
It is of course a main plank of the Brussels propaganda platform to assert that anyone opposed to European integration is an old-fashioned, backward-looking, nationalistic, isolationist Little Englander, (and probably a fascist hyena as well). And it is an idea which is patently nonsense, although constantly rehearsed (and implicitly assumed) by the BBC and other Brussels fellow-travellers.
Yes, there may be one or two eccentrics on the fringes of the eurosceptic movement who’d like to blow up the Channel Tunnel, build a wall at Dover, and isolate the UK from the world. They belong in asylums. On the contrary, almost all eurosceptics tend to be globally engaged. My good friend and colleague Dan Hannan frequently points out that euro-sceptics are often far more engaged with European languages and culture than Europhiles. Dan speaks several European languages fluently, and has used them to good effect in the Hemicycle in Strasbourg. That arch anti-integrationist Nigel Farage is actually married to a German.
There is a good case to be made that it is Brussels and the Europhiles who are isolationist. Inward-looking, self-referential, protectionist, they are far more interested in the minutiae of administrative and bureaucratic detail in the EU than in the problems and opportunities presented by the global economy.
Eurosceptics, on the other hand, know that Britain’s history, and place in the world, and destiny, can only be as a global trading nation, and that by linking ourselves exclusively, or preferentially, to an inward-looking protectionist European Customs Union in long-term economic decline, we jeopardise that role and that future.
As long ago as January 2006 I wrote a piece for the European Journal entitled “EU trade policy is biased against Britain”. For a range of historical, cultural and linguistic reasons, the UK’s trade in goods — and even more in services — is biased towards the Commonwealth and former colonies — the Anglosphere. Yet the focus of EU trade policy and FTAs has been towards the former colonies of continental powers. This is a clear bias against Britain and Britain’s trade interests within the EU. Again and again we find EU policies which at first glance are even-handed between member-states — the famous level playing field. Yet when we look in more detail, and see how they work in practice, they are strongly biased against the UK. (Current proposals for EU financial regulation, and for a financial transaction tax, are a case in point).
So Eurosceptics are not isolationist. On the contrary, we are the internationalists, in contrast to the Little Europeans with their impossible dreams, their introspection and their fractured currency.
And Libya? As I write, the position in Tripoli is by no means clear. Even if the rebels prevail, and if Gaddafi is killed or captured, the prognosis for the post-Gaddafi era is, at best, uncertain. In this case, maybe President Obama was smart (for once) to decline to take the lead in the Libyan adventure. I am not sure we can yet claim this as a clear victory for Anglo-French cooperation. But even if it is (and let’s hope so), we must not conflate a successful cooperation between two separate states with a success for the EU. Eurosceptics are (mostly) in favour of global trade and international cooperation. But we want to see cooperation between willing partners, between independent, democratic nation states. We don’t want to be ruled by unaccountable, anti-democratic supra-national bureaucracies. Our position is not pro-isolation. It is pro-freedom and democracy.