Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The trouble with Thatch

Margaret Thatcher calls for withdrawal from the EU. Except that she doesn't. She calls for a withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy, etc,etc - and she actually says that we should hold withdrawal as a backstop. This is a couple of miles behind her private asides (and so semi-public asides, as is the nature of these things). This may be construed as effectively call for a withdrawal.

It is also exactly what Iain Duncan Smith was putting his name to when he was active in CAFE, "Conservatives Against a Federal Europe".

She's actually talking about withdrawal, something for which she should be commended. She also, rarely for an ex-politician, admits that she was wrong at the height of her career - something that supposedly less "arrogant" colleagues constantly refuse to do. Have Nigel Lawson or John Major apologised for their role into forcing us into the Exchange Rate Mechanism, which they both regret privately? Strike two for Mags.

And yet, and yet.

What is her alternative? Free trade must be protected by ... joining another free trade bloc. Or perhaps joining two. One marvels at the naivety. Free trade blocs are bad for free trade. Firstly they swap a national tariff for an international one. Progress of sorts, but the international tariff can itself become a block to further liberalisation. That is the least of the problems.

Simply put free trade areas morph into embryonic governments, and have from the beginning of time. The United States was partly sold as a free trade agreement. The zollverein (which translates along the lines of uniting the tolls - excuse my poor German) was the forerunner of the German Empire. Of course we also have the glorious European Union, which as anyone who remembers the 1975 referendum will tell you was sold as"just a free trade zone".

Just a free trade zone? No such thing.

There is simply no guarantee that NAFTA will not develop into the same type of monster as the EU. Of course it has had a standing start, but in fact there are fewer obstacles to unity than the EU faces, everyone - at least outside southern Mexico - speaks English - and a totally dominant power means that petty rivalries will have less potential to obstruct the grand projet.

And then there is America. She describes the relationship with America as the "essential" relationship for Britain. To an extent she's right, although Germany's relationship with America is pretty essential, as is South Korea's, as is even Iraq's. America is quite simply the temporary hegemon of the world, and so everyone has to be nice to it.

But a "special relationship"? Tell that to the Americans. I would hazard a guess that we are jostling with the Germans and Canadians for fourth place behind Japan, Israel and Mexico (not necesarily in that order). In the Olympic special relations event we can't even make it on the podium. When an American sees Israel on the news he will often see a Western country with its back against the wall and perhaps a vital tool for the second coming of Christ, when he sees Britain he sees a royal divorce or a particularly raucous Prime Minister's Question Time.

Of course an argument, to which I subscribe, is that we should play kissy-kissy with America because the British simply do not think that they can go it alone in the world - and so need some alternative form of enslavement to go to. Then we can leave America once we have left Europe.

However, there is no harm in helping the British see that they don't need to be tied into any permanent alliance, european or anglosphere.

Take to your tents, O Israel Albion.


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