So it appears that we are now a few days, or possibly even a few hours, away from being engaged in an honest-to-goodness, actual, balls-out, fighting war. Despite the misgivings of Antoine Clarke, I believe HM forces will acquit themselves admirably although there is no doubt that the bulk of the war effort will fall upon the much larger US contingent.
We are here now because Tony Blair has prevailed over the anti-war sentiments of much of his own party. Without wishing to sing his praises per se, he has confounded the sizeable number of British commentators who believed that he did not possess the spine to see through his pro-war commitment. He clearly does and he clearly has. Last night’s vote in the House of Commons, on a motion to delay hostilities with Iraq, was defeated despite a record number of Labour rebels voting for it and, ironically, with most of the opposition Conservatives voting against.
Of the Conservatives who voted for the motion, some are undoubtedly what Mark Steyn has called ‘defeatist patricians’. In all but name they are Social Democrats and are driven by sentiments that are not so much anti-American as they are pro-EU. For them, the top-down, corporatist paternalism of Europe is much more resonant of the natural order of things than the racey vulgarity they see as intrinsic to the American way of doing thigs.
But there are others on the British right who are vigourously opposed to Britain taking any part in the attack on Iraq not because they harbour anti-American sentiments (indeed, they heartily reject such nonsense) but because they believe that it is not in British national interests to do so. They are far from confident that any US administration would go to bat for Britain in the way that Britain has gone to bat for America and whilst this may or may not prove to be the case, they (and I) do have genuine cause for complaint about the kid gloves that successive US administrations have put on when dealing with the IRA.
However, it would appear that at least some of isolationist argument in this regard is based on the erroneous (and largely left-inspired) view that Tony Blair is merely acting as George Bush’s ‘poodle’; that he will get his ‘orders’ direct from Washington and that he will send British troops off to yomp around the planet in whatever direction the Whitehouse commands.
It is this kind of thing that makes for good copy, but it is not actually true. For good or for bad, Blair has very much acted as his own man throughout this whole affair. Had it not been for Tony Blair, the Americans would almost certainly have not agreed to take (the ultimately fruitless) UN route to disarming Saddam. Had George Bush had his way, the war in Iraq would, by now, have been over and done with. Try telling anyone in Washington that Tony Blair is their ‘poodle’. I think you will be sharply disabused of any such view. But, aside from our relationship with the Americans, there is one issue on which the isolationists and I see eye-to-eye and that is the matter of the European Union; when it comes to the EU, I am the Mother-of-all-Isolationists. I want to see Britain out of it. Not a renegotation, or a realingment or a partial detachment but out. For good.
Up until very recently, views such as this were considered to be both extreme and marginal in this country. Nearly everybody who was anybody considered our membership of the EU to be of vital importance and beyond question. Certainly the overwhelming majority of our political and media classes were united in their belief that Britain simply had no future outside of the EU.
Well, times they-are-changin’ and in some surprising quarters:
When will the British wake up from their pathetic little dreams of being Europeans and realise that we have been looking for our future in all the wrong places?
Who wants to be European today? Who wants to be an ungrateful, unprincipled, two-faced, pacifist, Euro-grasping, oil-hungry Lilliputian?
Some right-wing American? No, that is the view of the notably left-of-centre British journalist Tony Parsons.
And it is not just in Britain that our future membership of the Euro-club is being called into question either. Some Europeans no longer believe that we belong:
He was able to understand the real consequences of Britain’s decision: the country’s possible isolation from Europe. The comment by the Greek Presidency on Britain and Spain’s attitude in the matter was eloquent: “with their actions they have placed themselves outside the framework of the European Union.”
Nor, does it appear, that this is all just rhetoric. British officials appear to be dragging their feet in this project all of a sudden:
The British government has rejected the Convention’s plan to create a European public prosecutor. This new legal body would be based in Brussels, dealing with serious crimes affecting more than one European Union member state, reports the Ananova.
Would we have been treated to headlines like that, even a year ago? I rather doubt it.
Of course none of this means that British independence from the EU is either inevitable or imminent. Who knows, perhaps, when the dust has settled over Baghdad, Mr.Blair will move to repair our damaged ties with the Franco-German axis with the same kind of missionary zeal that he has displayed in his support for the US. After all, prior to this war, Mr.Blair was widely seen as by far the most Federastic Prime Minister that Britain has had since Edward Heath. Has he changed his mind? I have no idea.
I do know that, as is so often the case, it is events not arguments which change the world. I am pretty sure that, had it not been for Blair’s determination to commit British forces to the removal of Saddam Hussein, had we stood aside and let the Americans go their own sweet way, then the anti-EU movement in this country would have remained as marginal as it always been and the British fly would go on being gradually and quietly sucked dry by the EU spider.
As it is, harmony has become discord, cooperation has given way to mutual distrust and the settled view both here and in Europe is now shot through with angry debate and denunciations. How can any conservative or libertarian in this country plausibly maintain that this is not in our national interests? I humbly submit that it is our priority national interest.