Opinion: “The Pope…seceded with all his followers from the Church of England”

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.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Simon McGrath 11th Dec '11 - 9:18am

    Cameron should never have signed up to this profoundly undemocratic arrangement under which the voters in the 26 can elect whatever national government they like – as long as they stick to a pre determined set of fiscal policies and get their national budgets approved by Brussels.

    let’s suppose Cameron did agree to it – does anyone think he would have had any chance of getting this through the Commons – let alone a referendum?

  • Alan Smithee 11th Dec '11 - 9:28am

    The liberals are looking increasingly silly about this – not so much the actual decision but the desperate spin – you can’t leak a story to the press on sunday, saying Clegg is very angry and knew nothing about it, and on saturday afternoon have senior liberals briefing the press that it was decided jointly. It can’t be both.

  • @Chris White

    Sorry, is this the same Sharon Bowles that was dismissive of French and Dutch democracy when they voted against the Constitution? Or perhaps it is the same one who thinks we should give up the rebate (without much in return)? Or perhaps the same Sharon Bowles that now thinks that she will take up Irish citizenship so that she can live in a Euro Country? Personally, if I need a reality check on the EU, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to listen to her.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of LD Party members who seem to have a better grasp of the situation than the (large?) Europhile element in the Party. Perhaps you should read the first 3 comments to get a reality check, France was doing what it does best in the EU, it was protecting Her own interests to prevent huge losses in their banking sectors, it’s unlikely that the Treaty change would have got through various parliaments (not just the UK one) and the whole thing just continues a course of “tried before”.

    You may also wonder why the ECB hasn’t been allowed to step in (which would have protected a lot of countries from the markets) , perhaps it was something to do with Germany fighting for it’s own interest as it may have ended up footing the bill.

    In truth, most of what is being agreed now was either agreed at the outset of the Euro or should have been agreed then, but for political reasons a blind eye was turned to enforcement and the obvious ramifications. A lot of the stuff won’t be implemented/effective for years (I’ve seen commentators mention 10 years) so it doesn’t solve the immediate problem. It’s also very much a navel gazing exercise, I haven’t seen much yet on how to make the EU more competitive in a global environment, or perhaps I’ve missed that bit?

  • Switzerland also has significant manufacturing, technology, and scientific research sectors. Those sectors do all right in the EFTA but outside the EU. It would be idiotic to rid ourselves of the financial services sector in order to rebalance our economy without having some other large revenue generator to replace it.

  • @Charles
    “Switzerland also has significant manufacturing, technology, and scientific research sectors. Those sectors do all right in the EFTA but outside the EU.”

    This is all true.

    Switzerland also obeys all the European rules, regulations and laws, yet has zero say in how they are formed and formulated and pays billions each year in fees. The Swiss currency, while still nominally the Swiss Frank is pegged as of August 6th 2011 to the Euro; making them in essence equivalent. Cash machines give out Euro notes on request, and ticket machines and shops accept the currency (generally just notes at the machines). It is also a signatory to the Shengen agreement.

    Despite the lack of official membership, all in all Switzerland is much more a member of the EU than Britain is; and has a lot less say. If this fiasco makes the UK more like Switzerland it can only be a good thing.

  • Mark – True, but Clegg’s initial statement in the early hours of the morning does seem at odds with his Sunday position…

  • @Stephen W

    I’m pretty sure it won’t happen, certainly not the way it does for Switzerland. The Europhobes always argue about the surrender of sovereignty. Switzerland has surrendered more sovereignty than Britain to get it’s economic benefits.

    We already have to obey the laws made in Brussels and pay fees to the EU; just like the Swiss. Unlike them though, we get a say in shaping those laws. Leaving the EU is a loss of sovereignty, not a gain. That may well work for the UK, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what the Tory right and UKIP had in mind.

    Of course, if we don’t want to obey the EU laws and regulations, we can just stop trading with them.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Dec '11 - 7:21pm

    Mark, as you know well, leaders live in bunkers. They have no choice. There is so much to do and too little time. They are therefore judged not so much on their own direct judgement, as on their judgement in choosing their advisers.

    Clegg’s judgement (and therefore that of his advisers) has proved faulty in:
    1) the run-up to the negotiations. In a coalition you can’t just say, “We are agreed on the position, David, I know it will be a fluid situation, but I’ll trust you to agree the detail and respond.” Who in Clegg’s team was there to ring him during the night? “Oh, and I suppose you have invited all those Europhobes you Chequers to give them the bad news?”
    2) the aftermath when initially defending Cameron and before the old guard were on the phone reading the riot act to him.
    3) but especially, therefore, in choosing people who didn’t foresee the dangers and who didn’t give him the right advice on Friday morning.

    Would Powell (maj) and Ingham have allowed Thatcher (until 1990), or would Powell (min) and Campbell have allowed Blair to make such mistakes?

    Clegg has many attributes but he is actually a very inexperienced politician – and it continues to show.

  • As I understand it, Cameron was proposing a rather complex legalistic way to reform the EU without having to go through all the potential chaos and delay of treaty change. Given what we now know of Cameron’s European ‘expertise’, I think its not beyond the realm of possibility that it was Clegg’s idea to propose this legal solution.

    Thus, jointly decided.

    But then it seems Cameron wasn’t willing to take any of Britain’s requests off the table in return for evading the need to push treaty change through the Commons. There, I guess, is where Clegg differs and what has caused all the anger.

  • Sid Cumberland 12th Dec '11 - 8:38am

    Sion McGrath – no, not voters in the 26, voters in the 17. Voters outside the eurozone would not have to take any note of eurozone structures – or at least, not necessarily.

  • Steve Bowes-Phipps 12th Dec '11 - 10:07am

    Chris: This is a triumph of wishful thinking over reality. I’m afraid that this article merely shows up your ignorance of how the Euro agreement was put together in the first place.

    DC was right to get us out of this sham of an agreement as, in concordance with chris_sh above, most of the “new ideas” that have come out of the Franco-Germanic party last Friday were nothing more than a re-emphasis of old rules. With an attendant undemocratic strait-jacket for future generations of EU Citizens. Lib Dem acceptance of this would be ludicrously ironic, given your democratic zeal for proportional representation! Incidentally, I believe that the French were the first to break the GDP to debt ratios last time around along with Portugal. The rest of the EZ were too scared to act and so that set a precedent for what followed. When the EZ crashes into chaos, we, at least, can help to rebuild the European Union with whatever survives.

  • How is Britain now excluded from all the official organs of the EU? Council and Commision will still sit and decide EU business with British participants, at least for as long as these official structures have any meaning.

    The press and media miss the real story. Will this “agreement” (which will probably not be supported foir very long by all 17+9 once their Parliaments get their teeth into it) save the Euro? If not, and likely not (it is not so different from the previous three or four failed agreements) then things will look very different.

    The press and the media also very largely missed the fact that Cameron was set up by Sarkozy currently setting out his “Perfidious Albion” stall for re-election. What was he saying about making the City of London pay the costs of the Euro mess? I notice Clegg didn’t miss this fact. And really the French are the last to complain that some other country has had regard to its national interests and vetoed EU proposals. De Gaulle (and his sucessors) did this all the time.

    Finally – why as a party are we so wedded to this bureaucratic monstrosity of an organisation? Why are we not louder about the democratic defecit? How can we be enthusiastic about any arrangement whereby elected governments are supervised fined and corrected by unelected administrators?

    The Lib Dems should re-evaluate their position on the EU. I am not talking about withdrawal (but the whole concept of “withdrawal” may become irrelevant if the Euro Zone and supporters effectively “withdraws” from us). We must address the reality that (1) that British membership of a Federal fiscal Union even if thought desirable by some, is politically impossible, (2) that to make the Euro work in any meaningful sense effectively requires Federal fiscal union. (3) The EU as we have known it may become moribund whilst the 17 plus any of the 9 who want to be in the Euro create their own alternative Federal Fiscal structures.

    Realistically we have the “Inner” and “Outer” Parties already. Britain is a member of the Outer Party. How do we deal with that?

  • “Sharon Bowles, and later Chris Davies, piled in with the reality check.”

    As opposed to Sarah Ludford?

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Dec '11 - 2:10pm


    Switzerland also has significant manufacturing, technology, and scientific research sectors.

    Indeed. Despite its chocolate box image, it surprising how heavily industrial it is. Even the more rural cantons pack in a lot of small industry, of the sort we in Britain let get smashed up in the 1980s. As we’ve seen, relying on the financial sector actual means placing this country in the hands of people who don’t give tuppence for it. Funny how the right-wing press can get so worked up about the EU, and yet says nothing about how Maggie Thatcher’s economic policy sold real control of our country to foreigners, to whom we must now kow-tow by resisting any attempts to make them pay through taxes for the damage they caused by pumping up the 1990s “boom”.

    Switzerland also has that Germanic sense of social discipline, which we liberals really don’t like talking about. Actually this does a lot to create productivity. One of the big problems we have in Britain is that the dog-eat-dog mentality which filters down from our thrusting business types in the City is actually not terribly useful lower down. Switzerland is also, of course, heavily decentralised. Which does help counter what that social discipline can be turned to when combined with a centralised government system.

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