The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Response to Douglas Hurd's "Road to Nice"

Jonathan Collett

With this Paper Douglas Hurd begins to sound like an old gramophone record. The message is the same - just the Treaty has changed. Presumably he has been propagating the same message through the Treaties of Amsterdam, Maastricht and Rome - perhaps even Utrecht and Westphalia too? If this analysis seems tired that is because so too are his arguments.

His basic premise is that there are only two options for Britain in European negotiations when judging new proposals. The UK can decide that the objective suits us, and if it does then we should push hard to get that objective realised in ways that we can accept. Or the other apparently "less sensible" way is to ask only one question - "does this proposal mean further European integration?" and then to reject it outright regardless of intrinsic merit, if by any twist of argument the answer might conceivably be yes.

Hurd's preference, out of such a ridiculously loaded choice, is of course the first option. He does not outline, however, what the UK should do if the objective does not suit us. Such woolly minded, weasel politics formed the logic behind British foreign policy during the ill- fated Major years with Hurd taking a starring role. Thus we had "game, set and match" in Maastricht - which was much more likely a straight sets defeat for Britain along the lines of the recent Davis Cup defeat by Ecuador. Hurd gloriously proclaimed that Britain was "punching beyond her weight" and operating at "the Heart of Europe". Meanwhile the Franco-German driven ratchet of integration drove on relentlessly.

This is what Hurd seems unable to grasp. He says he has watched the French attitude with "mingled admiration and frustration" over the years and yearns for Britain to take the same approach. He seems incapable of understanding that the Franco/German friendship, through which the EU has traditionally developed, has set its compass for a federalist destination. Those British politicians, like Hurd, who hope that France and Germany may halt or repudiate European integration are deluding themselves.

Hurd rather grandly declares that the main aim of present British European policy should be to hold the EU to three objectives, enlargement, liberal economic reform and stronger defence. Why he supports enlargement is not made clear. Does he really feel that it will benefit applicant countries or is it his fiendish Machievellian plot to block the deepening of the European Union through the complexities of widening it? If it is the former it is difficult to see how most Central and Eastern European countries would benefit from joining. They simply require access to West European markets not punitive tariff barriers against the rest of the world, high labour costs and bureaucratic regulation. If it is the latter Hurd is still operating in that surreal wish list Europe where the central dynamism behind integration, which has ruthlessly operated for almost fifty years, suddenly turns about face. To turn John Major's phrase on its head this really is "cloud cuckoo land".

Hurd's desire for liberal economic reform within the EU is also the stuff of fantasy. The economic doctrine of a federal Europe will continue to diverge from that of North America to which the British economy after its Thatcherite reinvigoration, now conforms. Britain cannot lead Europe towards free market economics any more that it can lead Europe toward a non-federal loose association of nation states for whom sovereignty is respected.

His final desire for stronger defence of the European Union is frightening. Presumably he sees this as the sacrificial salami slice of sovereignty to be carved off at Nice to follow all those slices previously cut off at previous IGCs. It is illuminating that Hurd does not advocate a stronger defence through NATO - the real guardian of peace in Europe since 1945 and an intergovernmental institution to boot. Instead he sees this as an area of trade-off to allow Britain to gratefully keep other areas of self-government.

To a Conservative of my generation Hurd's outlook is baffling as it would be to a Conservative of any pre-Second World war generation. What happened to senior figures of the Party of the Nation that turned them into such pathetic quislings lacking any confidence in Britains' outlook or self governance that they are forced to seek to trade off parts of vital national self interest in order to keep others? What happened to that Second World War generation that deluded them into seeking substitute Empires to replace the one lost which left such psychological scars?

Hurd is obviously a fundamentally decent man and gentleman of the old order. Yet his vision of foreign policy for Britain is rather similar to King Canute's vision of rolling back the tide. Any retention of policy areas under national control is a huge achievement at negotiations where everything is up for grabs. His claim that "the threat of a super-state has receded with the diminished power of the Commission" is risible and reminiscent of the lies told in the 1975 Referendum by the "Yes" campaign. A future of back-room deals, opt-outs and flexibility is not a vibrant, optimistic one for Britain. Where is the beef Lord Hurd? Why not say what you really want. Is it a self governing Britain with friendly relations with the rest of Europe or a Britain incorporated into a centralised European super-state? Do you not really know what you want? Is that the problem?