November 26, 2007


We fret over Europe, but the real threat to sovereignty has long been the US: Britain's biggest foreign influence is the one politicians don't dare debate: not immigration, not Brussels, but America (Linda Colley, November 23, 2007, The Guardian)

[B]ritain's politicians - and its Foreign Office - have found it hard to adjust to the loss, not so much of onetime colonies, as of the global clout the colonies once afforded. "Poor loves", the novelist John Le Carré has one of his characters declare from Oxford (alma mater of both Tony Blair and David Cameron): "Trained to empire, trained to rule the waves. All gone. All taken away. Bye-bye world."

Shadowing Washington allows official Britons who still hunger for the big stage some continued admission, even if it is only as supporting players. And there is a further consideration that underlines how closely foreign policy has been bound up with postwar British anxieties. Conservative and Labour governments have arguably championed British rights in Brussels so ostentatiously in order to deflect public attention away from their deference to Washington. But British official suspicion of Europe also stems from the challenge it undoubtedly represents to the union. Scottish and Welsh nationalists, like the Irish Republic before them, favour much closer involvement in the EU precisely because they believe this will lessen their countries' dependence on Westminster.

Indeed one of the problems with current debates about "Britishness" is that they focus too exclusively on domestic identities and values. Addressing the question of what Britain is, and of how far it can plausibly function as an independent and united polity, requires a far more informed and even-handed public discussion than exists at present about our relations with both America and the rest of Europe.

Such a discussion might be uncomfortable for more than just the politicians. Since 1945, Britain - like much of Europe - has been tacitly involved in a massive bargain. The US has bankrolled large sectors of our defences, and thus allowed our governments to plough money into various social programmes instead.

As Brother Cohen is fond of noting, that deal was great for us--as it neutered the bothersome Euros--but disastrously enervating for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2007 12:00 AM
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