For a long time now the British have been asking one another: ‘When and how are we going to get back our pride and our confidence in ourselves?’ Perhaps the answer is beginning to appear and, as is often the case when questions of that sort are answered, at an unexpected moment and from an unexpected direction. It is too soon to be sure; but what cannot be denied is that something very big and very deep has been happening in the minds of the people of this country in recent months. It is also something very characteristic; for notoriously we are late starters and slow to come to a conclusion and a purpose. Ten years ago, while politicians debated the question of Britain and the newly formed European Economic Community, while Mr Heath and Mr Soames negotiated at Brussels, people in general watched and listened with detachment or disinterest; and when de Gaulle gave Macmillan his comeuppance, the British shrugged their shoulders, with relief or irritation according to taste, and turned to other matters. Then four years ago, when Harold Wilson and George Brown, without warning or apology, stood upon their heads and made the European grand tour in that undignified and uncomfortable posture, the public opened one eye, as it were, gave a little chuckle of ironical surprise, and went to sleep again: ‘nothing will come of it,’ they thought; and nothing did.
Now at once everything is different. In the last twelve months, like a heavy sleeper roused at last by an insistent alarm bell, the British have woken up and got to their feet. They have rubbed their eyes and cleared their throat and got ready to speak, to give their answer. It is as though, with one accord, they had said to one another: ‘This is not a little thing, but a great business: we will decide it – no one else.’ There is something almost uncanny, something which makes the pulse beat a little quicker, in watching a whole nation instinctively cut through and thrust aside details, pretences, trivialities, and go to the heart of the matter. Untutored, uninvited, and indeed unwelcomed, they have insisted upon discerning the one simple, overwhelmingly important question: to be or not to be, to be ourselves or not to be ourselves. In these last months and weeks a national instinct and resolution has stirred and visibly grown and taken shape and strength, until the onlooker is tempted to think or say: ‘Perhaps, after all, they are the same nation which so many times before has risen late, but not too late, to assert itself in the face of the world.’
The European Economic Community, despite its name, is political; and the question of British membership is a political question, purely a political question. Moreover, it is a great political question: not one to which the answer will make little or no difference, but a parting of ways which must diverge ever further and faster.
At this moment the great service any politician can render is to make these two facts clear – that the decision is political, and that the decision is fundamental. In doing this, whatever his own opinion and his own political allegiances, he serves all and injures none.
During the coming weeks there will be a deluge of figures and economic propositions. Estimates will be offered of Britain’s balance of trade and balance of payments under all kinds of assumptions. Attempts will be made to forecast how the flow of different components of Britain’s exports and imports would be affected if she were part of the Community. Then there will be argument about future movement of prices, to what extent food prices in the Community will be higher than world prices, and at what net cost the British taxpayer would be contributing to the benefit of continental farmers. Most imponderable of all, perhaps, will be the assertions about economic ‘growth’, and the air will be thick with international comparisons of ‘growth rates’ to prove anything and everything.
In all this flurry there is one fact to keep hold of, like an Ariadne thread through the labyrinth. It is this. There is not a shred of evidence to show that a large economy thrives better or progresses faster on that account than a small one, or that the economic fortunes of countries amalgamated into a larger unit are brighter than they would have been otherwise. The assumption that Britain would ‘grow’ faster or fare better economically as part of the Community has as little basis as the contrary assumption that it would ‘grow’ slower or fare worse. Belief in the so-called ‘dynamic effect’ of membership and the theory of growth-by-infection are pure superstitions, which people hold because for other reasons they wish to hold them and not because they have any basis in evidence or experience. I would warn in particular against the common fallacy of averaging groups of countries together and then comparing one average with another, and against the cruder kindred fallacy of taking EFTA, which includes Britain as much its largest element, and then saying, ‘Look, the EEC without Britain grows faster than EFTA with Britain; therefore Britain would grow faster if it were in the EEC.’ I repeat: the experience of individual countries, inside the EEC and outside the EEC, before the EEC was formed and after, affords not the slightest ground for the belief that Britain would do, or would have done, better economically as a member of the Community. The alleged benefit of the ‘large domestic market of 300 million people’ is sheer mythology, with no foundation in history or fact. So we need not be surprised that even those who claim to believe in long-term economic advantage for Britain through membership of the EEC are now, in contrast with earlier years, giving priority and overriding importance to political considerations.
Whatever reasons there are for British entry they must be not economic, but political, and if the decision to enter is right on political grounds, we must accept the economic consequences, whatever they may be. It is by a right instinct that public opinion has fastened preponderantly and increasingly upon the political issue. All the more, since the negotiations were concerned not just; with purely economic matters but with purely transitional economic matters, was it a right instinct to regard the precise outcome of these negotiations as having no bearing upon the essential decision.
‘Unity’ and ‘union’ are words which trip lightly off tongues when something called ‘Europe’ is discussed. The old jingle says that ‘one is one, and all alone, and evermore shall be so’; but there is already and soon will be still more, a tremendous quantity of double talk about political unity and the Common Market. We shall hear protestations that nobody will notice any difference at all; that, as the existing members of the Community each go their own sweet way – vide Germany recently, when she floated the mark in the teeth of the Community’s rules and politics – so Britain would be just as free as before to do what she thinks best in her own interest; that no majority decisions will be binding on minorities, if they do not like them; and that France, Germany and Italy remain as proud and independent as ever.
These statements may, or may not, be true; but they are not arguments which can be urged, without self-destruction, by the advocates of British membership. That advocacy is based upon the advantage of a ‘united Europe’ or of ‘greater unity in Europe’, or of a ‘Europe which speaks with one voice’, But unity presupposes unitary decisions, which, when taken, are binding upon all and are understood in advance as binding all. The move to unity in any given sphere or area may well be taken only unanimously, so that unification proceeds, as it were, at the pace of the slowest; but whenever and wherever there is unification, from that moment onwards there must be unitary – that is, binding majority – decision. Otherwise there is no meaning in words and no sense in the case for unification.
Let me illustrate this at three ascending levels, one existing already, the other two prospective. The Community already has a common agricultural policy, a common external tariff and a common labour market. In all these matters the same decisions are binding upon all, and the national governments and parliaments have renounced the power and right to take their own decisions. Thus, the British Parliament is just in course of passing a new Immigration Bill, to control entry into the United Kingdom, and under it the rules and principles governing the administration of that control have to be approved by Parliament. As a member of the Community, Britain would be obliged to make major changes in those rules. When I say ‘obliged’, I mean ‘obliged’. Parliament would be told: ‘This is what you must approve: you may discuss it, if you like; but you cannot decide otherwise.’ The common budget, by which the agricultural policy, and presently other policies, are financed, is fed by levies and taxes: the British Parliament would have to impose just those levies and those taxes, and no others – for instance, it would have to enact not simply a Value Added Tax, but precisely that Value Added Tax which the Community decided. There could be debate, but the debate could not end in a division. Finally, the tariffs imposed on goods from outside would be mandatory upon the British Parliament. This is not the same as accepting general agreements (such as GATT) or making a tariff change in concert with other countries (like the Kennedy round): it is an advance acceptance of whatever tariff changes are decided by the Community in future.
Now let us look at two prospective forms of unity; and first, at unification of money and exchange rates. When the European Commission speak of achieving these during the 1970’s, they are not day-dreaming; they are irrefutably logical, for otherwise there can be no common economic policies and no progress in unification generally. There has to be in effect one currency for the whole Community, whether it is a new common currency or whether the existing currencies become automatically interchangeable at permanently fixed rates. Money, however, carries with it in the modern world a great part of the decisions of government. What a hole there would be in politics here if we could not discuss prices and inflation, or hold the Government responsible for them! This is what would actually happen as soon as the currencies were aligned: no parliamentary or political debates then about devaluation or revaluation, the ‘pound in your pocket’ or floating the pound, nothing about ‘prices and incomes policy’, nothing about credit squeezes and freezes, inflation and reflation. All that would be settled elsewhere, for the Community as a whole: it would have to be – that is what monetary unification means. There is no exaggeration in saying that practically the whole of economic decision would have been removed from Westminster – and from the United Kingdom.
The other future form of unity, which constitutes the staple of the political case for British membership, is military unification. This, it is rightly argued, would make the Community as a whole stronger militarily than the sum of the individual countries, even as members of the North Atlantic Alliance. It would; but the condition is that the Community should have a single defence policy and a single foreign policy, It is no good ‘speaking with one voice’, whether to Russia or to Israel, unless the other fellow assumes that you mean what you say. The supreme decisions, when to fight and when not to fight, and therefore when to get into a position where it is necessary to fight or to back down, must not be decisions of the individual countries; they must be common decisions which are as automatically binding as the decisions of Her Majesty’s Government are for the United Kingdom. Otherwise the unity is a facade with nothing more behind it than alliance; and that, of course, we have already in NATO and can have in the future. The same applies to military preparation – what forces to raise, of what sort and number, where to station them and where to use them. Soon or late, the proposition is to remove these decisions from the national governments and parliaments and replace them with common decisions taken in one place, by one authority, on behalf of all. If that is not the meaning, then all the talk of European unity, of the increase of security and influence which it will give, is empty twaddle, words used by those who mean nothing by them.
Opinion has been right to fasten upon sovereignty as the central issue. Either British entry is a declaration of intent to surrender this country’s sovereignty, stage by stage, in all that matters to a nation and makes a nation, or else it is an empty gesture, disgraceful in its hollowness alike to those who proffer and to those who accept it. The superior people laugh at those who talk about losing our Queen and our monarchy. Of course, formally, those who talk so are mistaken: the British monarch would continue to reign like the monarchs of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and, for all I know, Denmark and Norway. But the reality is not in the trappings; the reality is in the sovereign national independence. If there is no intent to part with that, then there is no intent at all. The Queen is the Queen in Parliament, as truly today as when her predecessor Tudor Henry observed that ‘we are nowhere so high in our estate royal as in this our High Court of Parliament’. The question which the people of this country will have proposed to them is: will you or will you not, continue to be governed by the Queen in Parliament? It is no less than that, and they have understood it.