To the West Ham North and South Conservative Association

13th September, 1971

The first and most important thing to say about British entry into the European Economic Community is that it is not going to happen. I cannot undertake to tell you precisely how or, at what stage or date that will become self-evident, nor when the statement I have just made will pass across the boundary between the realm of bold and speculative prophecy and the region of what everybody knew all along. Of the fact however, I have no doubt. Without the ‘full-hearted consent of her Parliament and people’ Britain cannot be made to undertake the permanent and binding merger of herself into a new political amalgam. That is not a condition which I or anyone else snatched out of the air. It is a condition which everyone knows to be valid and necessary; and the words in which I have just recalled it are those of the Prime Minister himself. That condition manifestly is not, and will not be, fulfilled; and from that the consequence follows as the day the night.

Nevertheless, the debate will run its course, short or long, and it is a fine thing that it should happen; for it provides the British people with the opportunity and the necessity of a stock-taking – of themselves, of the rest of the world, and of their relations with it – on a scale and at a depth which have not been possible during the quarter of a century since the Second World War ended. I believe we can gain from it a newer, truer and more rational perspective from which to face the next quarter of a century. That will be a great gain. We can say, as upon a mountain with wide views, ‘It is good for us to be here.’

I want to leave on this occasion the economic and commercial side of the debate. It is important enough and its implications are not limited to the physical and material; but there is time for it, and to spare. I want to address myself here and now to the most fundamental, the most elemental of all considerations, peace and war; for I find that many people, for whom the economic arguments have no conviction or even interest, find that for them the heart of the whole matter lies in the hope of peace, and I know those whose whole instinct and reasoning say no to British entry but who in the end conclude ‘but if it means peace in my children’s and my children’s children’s time, I will acquiesce in it’, This is not an ignoble sentiment, and those who hold it or appeal to it have the right to be seriously heard and answered.

To do so the proposition must be taken in its practical form. It ought not to be dismissed as the exercise in unrealism of those who observed, with equal truth and irrelevance, that if men and nations in 1914 or 1939 had not been as they were, the two world wars would not have happened, at those times and in those ways. Nor can the argument be treated simply as a new phase of man’s age-old search after a formula for perpetual peace. The proposition to which we must address ourselves is something more modest and more seemingly rational. It is that by Britain being part of a community increasingly united politically and embracing all Western Europe the likelihood of a war involving Britain would be diminished. If that could be demonstrated or even shown to be probable, then many might reasonably think it a gain worth purchasing, even if a high price had to be paid for it. Alas, the proposition is not only not demonstrable or probable: it can without much difficulty be shown to be improbable and even absurd.

May I take as typical of the proposition the form in which it was recently put by an English bishop to his diocese. ‘If we are to avoid a third conflict,’ he wrote, ‘we must turn Europe into a family. In the past Europe has been a group of independent warring states at the cost of thousands of lives. Had there been a genuine fraternity of nations, these terrible tragedies might have been avoided. Thank God, Germany and France, together with four other countries, are now within a single community. They may not have achieved complete reconciliation but at least the chances of war are infinitely less. If Britain joins they will be even better.’

Obviously there is a certain element of special pleading here. If nations are ‘genuinely fraternal’ or ‘completely reconciled’, they don’t go to war. Of course when there is no hostility, there is no war; but this is merely begging the question. The question is whether the chance of hostility and thus of war is diminished by political unification, either in general or in the particular case of Western Europe. This is the question we have to answer. We will begin with general reasoning and experience and then go on to look at Europe.

The first fact which confronts us is that civil war – war within a political unit – is not only not unknown, but frequently as terrible as international war. The first great war of modern times happens to have been a civil war; and America suffered more casualties in it than in the First and Second World Wars put together. In the history of mankind’s sanguinary conflicts as many wars have been fought to break existing political units up as to settle scores between independent nations or to produce political units by force. The second fact is that large or composite political units have not proved more pacific or immune from wars than small ones. On the contrary, it would be much easier to argue that the larger and more powerful a political unit is, the more likely it is to be involved in major warfare. The only general conclusion we can draw is that the existence of a large political unit affords no special protection or guarantee against war, internal or external, but rather the contrary. So, if there is any virtue such as is claimed in the political unification of Western Europe, that virtue must lie in circumstances special to Western Europe. It is not a consequence of large size or political unification as such.

We cannot therefore rely on any general principle, but must address ourselves to Europe as it is, if we are to come to a rational conclusion. Perhaps, however, in passing to Europe, present and future, it would not be out of place to take a glance at its past. The conventional picture of ‘independent warring states’ is ail very well; but I would like to ask whether Europe’s most ‘terrible tragedies’ occurred when Europe was most split up into small independent states, or rather when political unification had created a few great powers out of many small ones. Perhaps the most pacific units that Europe has ever known were the multitude of small German states and cities – which, incidentally, is why the allies after the Second World War tried to recreate small units artificially as a guarantee of peace.

Well then, let us take a look at Europe as it is today. Fear of war there is and has been, but – we rub our eyes with astonishment! With whom was war feared? With whom is war feared to this moment? Not with Germany: not between Germany and France, though they ‘have not achieved complete reconciliation’. No; with a power outside Western Europe altogether. With Russia. So what has political unification to do with that, the most eminent fear and danger of war?

We shall not, I presume, be told that the EEC is the transitional stage towards a political unit which would include Russia. I confess to insurmountable personal difficulty in imagining a political unit – ‘family’, the bishop called it – from the North Cape to Sicily, from the Shannon to the Elbe; but only a lunatic could imagine a political unit from the Shannon to Vladivostock. No; the answer we receive is that a politically united Western Europe will be more capable of waging war successfully with Russia and her allies and therefore arguably is less likely to be involved in it.

By now we are a long way from banishing war by ‘turning Europe into a family’. We are back in the old familiar world of force; but even in that world the answer carries little conviction, because for twenty-five years we have been protesting that the only defence against Russian attack is the American nuclear armoury. So our European ‘family of nations’ would have to be furnished with its nuclear arsenal on an American scale; and I wonder whether anyone thinks that would enable them or their children or their children’s children to sleep more soundly in their beds. No doubt a Western Europe politically united, with a single policy and a single will, could be a great military power. What is improbable, to put it mildly, is that the creation and existence of such a military power would maximize the hope of peace. I have referred to Russia because it is upon Russia that the current apprehensions of Europe have centred and centre still; but it would be unrealistic therefore to overlook the fact that the last two great conflicts involving Britain have sprung from the characteristics and position of Germany, a great nation without natural frontiers, situated in the middle of the European land mass.

No doubt our experience overpersuades us to look in the same direction again – for all we know, the next danger of war may rise from outside Europe altogether – but when people think of the European Community and peace, it is most likely to be Germany that they have in mind. We speak loosely – you remember that the bishop did – of ‘Germany’ as a present member of the EEC. This is not so, It is only part of Germany, the German Federal Republic, or West Germany, to be precise. If the characteristics and position of Germany constitute a future danger to peace, it is not because of the prospect of a frontier clash between West Germany and France over Alsace-Lorraine. It is because of the apprehended consequences of the reunification, attempted or achieved, of West Germany and East Germany.

There are here two alternative views: one is that the reunification is ultimately inevitable and therefore ought to be contrived, when it does come, with the least possible danger, disturbance and alarm. The other is that reunification ought for ever to be prevented.

I confess it seems to me that this second view is unsustainable, and the currents of history are already flowing against it. A European Economic Community as a means of preventing German reunification, and British membership as an added guarantee of that prevention, have little substance or probability. On the other hand, if Germany is to be reunified, the most dangerous form of that reunification would be the addition, if it could be imagined, of East Germany to a politically unified Western Europe, presenting to the East the spectacle and prospect of a huge power confronting and threatening it. This would be all the more so, if that politically united Western Europe already included the British Isles. It follows that, if Germany’s future is the apprehended danger to the peace of Europe, that danger is not diminished but enhanced by the Community as an instrument of political unification, and that British entry would increase and not reduce the problem.
So the golden dream dissolves. Subjected to serious analysis, the claim that political unification of Britain with Western Europe – let alone anything short of political unification – would purchase peace or a better chance of peace is not only not demonstrable; it is not probable. In fact, on balance, the opposite thesis would be easier to sustain. The argument for British entry, if it can be made out at all, must be made on other grounds. The advocates who seek to enlist upon their side the memory of past wars and the dread of future ones are, wittingly or unwittingly, trading upon a sentiment which is widespread and worthy but has ‘nothing to do with the case’.