Could ‘ever-closer union’ ever face westwards?
Fulfilling my promise to Mike of filing Saturday mornings in the category of ‘Whimsy and Caprice’, I thought we’d try a little thought-experiment combining our understandings of the European elections with the coverage of this week’s G20 and NATO meetings.
Let’s start with some uncontroversial premises – firstly, that irrespective of how UKIP do in June’s European Parliamentary elections, there is in the UK a broad antipathy to the European project as currently constituted (Lisbon Treaty being emblematic). There are comparitively few arch-Europhiles in the UK, versus a substantial minority of confirmed anti-EU voters, and plenty of moderate Eurosceptics. Secondly, that we genuinely like being on good terms with the United States, and that the approval of the POTUS means more to us than the approval of any other global leader. The fawning coverage by the British press of President Obama’s visit was matched only by the delight with which liberal media outlets in the US gleefully reported his visit to Buckingham Palace.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a cross-party meeting to talk through what was happening in British politics, and got into talking with a former Lib Dem staffer. In the pub afterwards, the subject turned to Nick Clegg’s first three-line-whip (abstaining on whether to force a Lisbon Treaty referendum), and how a local ‘We Want a Referendum’ campaign had ensured the resignation of David Heath over the issue of Europe. After discussing Lib Dem prospects, talk turned to UKIP. The Lib Dem (a Europhile of course) pointed out that for all the talk of independent sovereignty, UKIP rarely addressed the Washington-London relationship in terms of UK independence. For him, and I paraphrase, arguing over who got to decide the shape of bananas was of rather less than paramount importance, if we didn’t have complete autonomy over the launching of our nuclear deterrant.
I got to thinking out loud about how myopic we have been about global governance – focussing all of out efforts (both in favour of and in opposition to supra-national government) on the multi-faceted European Union, whilst never having any comparative movement related to formalising our relationship with the United States.
As a cultural, economic and political partner – let alone as a military ally – there are few countries to whom we are closer. Ireland and the Commonwealth have privileged status, but America’s interests are rarely discordant with our own in foreign affairs. The G20 Summit in London saw the classic battlelines drawn between the Anglo-Saxon economies favouring greater fiscal stimulus, and the EU powers demanding greater regulation. The NATO summit will equally be preoccupied by disputes over burden-sharing in Afghanistan, and how to respond to Russia’s informal relationship with borders.
With such scepticism about our integration into the EU, and the democratic deficit that many feel undermines the European adventure, why is there not a movement to lobby for our admission into the Union of States across the Atlantic? The Federal Structure would leave us sufficient state autonomy – at least compared to what is allowed by the EU – and would provide all the supposed benefits of supranational government in the international sphere that are claimed by Europhiles in the UK.
The true believers in the Independent sovereigty of the UK will always exist, and their position is unlikely to change. My question to the PB.com community this morning is whether we will ever see a movement committed to closer integration with the United States, and if so, what such a movement would look like. Would it attract Eurosceptics, would parties like UKIP be formed to oppose it, and if so, by whom? Would it work as a spoiler movement to contrast the inconsistencies of Europhiles who claim there to be benefit in supranational government, or would it be a full-throated voice for officially becoming the 51st state?
I honestly don’t know how I would respond to such a movement, but I think it would pose an interesting dilemma for those in favour of ever-closer union with the EU. If, as they suggest, we should aspire to be a powerful bloc within a global superpower, why not choose the stronger military, the larger economy, and the more settled democracy?
The unspoken question might then become: would the United States accept us?