So says 1066 and All That (Sellar and Yateman – a prewar forerunner of ‘Horrible Histories’) when summarising the Reformation.
It’s a good line and we can smile at the vanities of sixteenth century isolationism, knowing that today’s politicians, and people, are much more sophisticated. Nor do we regard the continent as cut off if there is fog in the English Channel.
During the early hours of 9th December (mark that date) David Cameron, we are told, played a blinder and ensured that 26 out of 27 countries in the EU were rescued from their fiscal and financial folly by a British veto. We are not told whether he sent spitfires, but who knows?
Had he hoped that the UK media would universally adopt the Sellar and Yateman position he was likely to be disappointed. The BBC looped Sarkozy, Merkel and damning commentators, alongside Cameron physically isolated at a Brussels desk, anxiously sipping water. An obscure Tory MP said he had done a good thing.
Sharon Bowles, and later Chris Davies, piled in with the reality check.
Cameron and the eurosceptics might have thought that the euro-zone counties would go off and form a necessary fiscal union to correct the structural weaknesses of the euro. That would follow logically from the direction of travel of the EU in the past decade.
What was shocking is that non-eurozone countries, including sober Sweden and Hungary, would go the same way.
26 European nations will now meet regularly to discuss economic matters of interest to them. They will take decisions which will have a massive impact on the UK economy and – as one commentator put – if 2you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”.
It is impossible meaningfully to distinguish this state of affairs from not being a member at all. The argument against leaving the EU was that we would offend out allies and trading partners and sacrifice our ability to influence events. That is precisely where we are now. All we retain is minority representation in the European Parliament (very minority if you are a Tory, already isolated in an obscure right wing blok) and access to a few grants.
But we are hardly Switzerland, although what we have in common with Switzerland is a large financial services sector. Events over the past 48 hours have shown that when push comes to shove it is this sector which calls the shots.
Cameron’s position is not entirely without merit: the City is such a disproportionate part of our post-manufacturing economy that we can’t scare it away.
But many of us would have preferred a UK challenge on the issue of centralisation – the troubling proposal that the EU would have to give prior scrutiny to national budgets – than the need to protect the bankers from their own folly.