Some people just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that a relationship is over. Finished. Unsalvageable. David Cameron, for instance. His long awaited speech on Europe has been one big exercise in denial. Yes, we should stay married to Europe, he says, because we can now renegotiate our wedding vows and get the EU to do things our way. Who is he kidding? If it were so easy to pick ‘n mix what we want from Brussels, wolfing down all the soft-centred goodies and rejecting the nutty ones, wouldn’t every member state do the same? That would be a certain recipe for a 27-speed Europe and why on earth would Brussels agree to that? After the euro crisis, Brussels is hell-bent on tightening the rules not loosening them. So once you discard the new wrapper Cameron is trying to put around a thorny old problem, the reality re-emerges in all its starkness: we can’t live under the old rules – Cameron himself is clear about that – and the new rules will entail an even greater loss of sovereignty. So time for divorce.
But do we really want to throw away all we have achieved in the post-war decades – years of painstaking negotiations which have led to a peaceful and prosperous Europe? Not only has the EU enhanced trade between its members – to Britain’s benefit as much as the others – it has also provided Europe with a real voice in the world. Of course it’s far from perfect. That’s why it needs to be reformed not rejected. And of course it involves some loss of sovereignty: in a globalised world that’s inevitable. But only political juveniles hanker after a lost world of unfettered sovereignty. Time to be grown up and accept that the EU is our future, warts and all.
So which side of the argument should we heed? This is the biggest national issue of our time: Britain’s destiny is at stake.