From an odyssean experience came a vision of a Europe
that builds on the steady exchange of people and languages, culture and ideas, until we create a wider, looser, more generous Europe, that includes the Turks
Let’s buy into the good things about Europe
Much as I love my fellow countrymen, I couldn’t quite believe how many of us decided last week to pick the same small set of beaches on the island of Lefkas. There we were, alone on some stretch of bone-white sand, the sea the colour of forget-me-nots, the sky like blue fire; and then dots would appear at the far end. Would they be French? German?
Slowly the dots would turn into shimmering human shapes, and they would call out: “Oi, Boris, long way from Henley!” Or, “Don’t you MPs do any work?” Yes, they were you and me. They were perfectly charming, but sometimes it didn’t feel as if we were abroad at all. So, after a while, we hired a motorboat and went to an island that was even smaller and more remote, and after spanking over the billows for about an hour we came to a place straight out of the Odyssey. Green foliage hung mysteriously down to the water. Lemon-yellow butterflies skittered over the empty beach. Perfect! The only sign of civilisation was an ancient taverna wedged on the rocks, and so we moored the boat and headed in for lunch.
To our amazement, the place was thronged; and as soon as we went in I heard one turn to another and say: “Hey, it’s that wotsisname. That Basil something, the Tory geezer from Not The Nine O’Clock News.” I looked around and realised that we were all Brits, every one of us. We might as well have been in the Angel on the River in Henley. What’s up?
I asked our rep, and she told me it was just the beginning of the craze.
People are not only going to Greece on holiday in ever growing numbers; they are buying houses there. “Pretty soon it is going to be like Spain,” she said, and I can see why. The flights are cheap. The UK property market is so relatively inflated that you can parlay your assets into some stunning place in the sun, and ever more of us are doing so.
There are now 750,000 British properties in Spain and half a million in France, and it is well known that there are now some French villages where the English influx is so heavy as to provoke the kind of tensions not seen since the Napoleonic era. And I have to tell you that there came a point after lunch, staring out over that wine-dark sea, having drunk a certain amount of wine-dark wine, that I was filled with a Byronic romance, and thought yes, why not? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to escape to the south, like swallows, and join these other Brits in their bliss?
The answer is that it would be wonderful, and I point all this out now because this right of abode is one of the unambiguous blessings that has come from Europe. Here we are, we Euro-sceptics, in a state of complete triumph. The European ideal has been overwhelmed with derision and disaster. The European constitution is dead, and of course it is a good thing that it is. There is no earthly point in this country going through the expensive charade of our own referendum, and queueing up to stab the corpse like the cast of Murder on the Orient Express, when the French have themselves had the honour of first extinguishing its vital functions; and nor do we want our own government furtively importing the text by means of intergovernmental agreement.
We don’t need more qualified majority voting, which hollows out the democratic process at Westminster. We don’t need a European defence policy or foreign policy, not when 16 out of 25 countries secretly or openly disagreed with the Franco-German position on the war in Iraq. You can’t herd squirrels with some fancy new treaty. We don’t want the European Union to be blessed with a new preposterous oxymoronic motto, “Unity in Diversity” (you might as well say Strength through Feebleness), or a new Euro-army or a new European foreign minister and European embassies all over the world; not when British businessmen trying to do deals in, say, Zambia, are already finding that there is no one left in the UK High Commission to help them on the trade desk, because the trade desk has been abolished in favour of joint representation with the EU.
We don’t need a European policy on sport, together with qualified majority voting, or the mandatory celebration of “Europe Day” on May 9, or a European space programme. All of which is contained in this constitution and the constitution is – at least for the time being – dead, and of course it ought to be with joy that we Euro-sceptics place our feet on its mounded belly. And yet, as the Duke of Wellington said, there is only one thing more melancholy than a battle lost, and that is a battle won.
As we survey the carnage, it is vital for Euro-sceptics of all kinds that we are not petty. This is a time for bigness of soul, and for realising that it is precisely now, in our moment of triumph, that we must be most generous and creative. Yes, let us scrap the pretensions of the EU to statehood; let us congratulate ourselves (because no one else will) on being so resoundingly vindicated about the euro. Let us prepare to offer the Italians, when they eventually leave the single currency, the use of the pound sterling, provided they are willing to pay the seignorage. But let us also remember that some good things have come from Europe, and they include the basic four freedoms of movement – of goods, people, services and capital.
It is that achievement that allows one to become a dentist in Belgium, and it is that achievement that facilitates and secures your purchase of that dream little place in the Mediterranean. Let us have a positive vision of Europe that builds on the steady exchange of people and languages, culture and ideas, until we create a wider, looser, more generous Europe, that includes the Turks, and let us toast – in retsina – the construction of this project without any interference from government, or treaties, or ancient French politicians.