Monday, 14 May 2012

What Made Me A Lifelong Eurosceptic?

As the euro nears its ignominious collapse, and opposition to the EU evidently becomes more mainstream in the UK, I find it interesting to look back on the fact that I have been a lifelong and unrepentant Anti, however much of a nonconformist and a maverick this would have labelled someone with overall centre right sympathies in years gone by.

Being one of the many who were too young to vote in the 1975 referendum on what had only just become the European Economic Community in place of the Common Market, I can still cast my mind back to my teens and recall that my own political instinct even then was to believe it wrong that foreign institutions and judges should make law that the UK did not want and still had to obey, and that we should contribute billions of pounds to EEC coffers and only get a fraction back after redistribution to other members and the cut for bureaucrats’ upkeep. And in those days there were the tales of the scandalous waste of the EEC butter mountains and wine lakes.

Yet it was still a mantra of the Conservatives, even under Margaret Thatcher, that EEC membership was good, and that only the Bennite Left and a few other eccentrics from the right wanted the UK out. Of course they glossed over the distinction between the socialist siege economy of the former and the worldwide free market thinking of the latter, and peddled this great myth that British “influence” in the EEC would bring those wayward continentals into line.

What of the eighties, as the EEC became the EC? Well, we had the Falklands War, where UK support from our so-called European partners was at best lukewarm and at worst undermined by French Exocet sales to Galtieri. We had the increasing awareness that the liberalising instincts of Maggie were being undermined by the torrent of EC regulation, as Brussels institutions steadily increased their power grabs. The great Lord Denning was moved to confirm that his earlier description of European law as an incoming tide flowing up the estuaries was now like a tidal wave bringing down our sea walls and flowing inland over our fields and houses, to the dismay of all. Had he lived beyond 100, he would probably have referred to it as a burning oil slick. And then Maggie was deposed…

Curiously, as Tory enthusiasm for what was soon to become the EU began to dampen (not that they did anything about it), Labour repudiated the anti-European stance of the Benn-Foot era. Possibly because they realised, thanks to the infamous Jacques Delors proclamation that in time to come virtually all new law and regulation would be made in Brussels, this would be a far more effective vehicle for stealth socialism than heavy direct taxation and nationalisation.

None of it affected me, though. I was just as opposed to UK membership of the EU as its predecessor acronyms, on broadly the same grounds throughout. And now I begin to wonder whether this is soon to become mainstream thought rather than the mark of a nonconformist, maverick or free thinker.

Let’s close with an ironic note that the customary labels Europhile and Europhobe owe their origin to ancient Greek – “love” and “fear” respectively. How annoying it is, though, that this time honoured ancient language should not quite be capable of providing a decent label for dislike or distrust of the EU. I have used “Eurosceptic” in the title of this article but the word is, frankly, the bastard offspring of ancient and modern and does not adequately convey the state of mind of an all out EU opponent. The prefix “mis” – think misanthrope – would be ideal but “miseury/miseurist” are not likely to catch on. There is always the thought of the suffix “apistia”, meaning mistrust, but this leads unfortunately to the noun “Eurapist”, which looks too much like a Freudian description of a Brussels squanderer to anyone unaware that the first syllable is to be emphasised. Perhaps we should have a competition for a suitable term, to run in parallel with the next Europe Day?

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