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A referendum, yes - but in or out

David Marquand responds to Eurosceptic attacks on his recent post

There’s nothing I enjoy more than flushing out the lumpen xenophobes in the blogospehere, and I’m delighted to have done so again (Ed's note - the original comments on this article have been lost in our move to a new site  - we hope to recover and re-publish them soon). It’s good to be reminded that Europhobia attracts nasties they way jam pots attract hornets. But I mustn’t give in to the temptation to exchange insults with them, fun though it would be. I have a few clarifications to make to my original post.

I’m accused of lacking patriotism. That charge leaves my withers unwrung. Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel’ and, goodness knows, he was right. However, I am in fact proud of being British. But the Britain I’m proud of is the Britain that stood alone against Nazi Germany for twelve long months; that offered France a total merger with Britain, which would have joined the French and British states in one indissoluble union in 1940; that welcomed asylum seekers from the Hugenots to Jews fleeing pogroms in the Russian pale, to Karl Marx, to the parents of Isaiah Berlin; that prided itself on an unarmed police and a long tradition of free speech and peaceful protest; and boasted that an Englishman’s home was his castle. Tragically, that Britain no longer exists. We are the most spied-upon nation in Europe, and one of the most spied-upon in the world; our Government has almost certainly been complicit in torture; our right to live our lives as we like is threatened by the remorseless advance of the data-base state; and instead of rejoicing in the protections to our liberties given us by the European Convention on Human Rights we have an Opposition party that constantly denigrates it, and media barons who lose no opportunity of whipping up illiterate contempt for the rest of the continent to which we belong.

But I’m now getting more and more favourable to a referendum – not on the Lisbon Treaty, which is a side issue, but on the one question that really matters: in or out? I’m pretty sure that the Europhobes would lose, just as they did in 1975, but even if they won there would be a silver lining. British secession from the EU would be a disaster for Britain, but it would be a good thing for Europe. Its progress towards federalism would still be slow and halting, but at least the UK would no longer be there, throwing spanners in the works at every opportunity. And – a bigger bonus – the UK would probably break up. Scotland and (probably) Wales would not want to leave their continent, even if England did. I’ve always been against the break-up of Britain, championed so brilliantly by Tom Nairn, but I’m increasingly coming to feel that it offers Wales, where I was born, and Scotland, where both my grandmothers were born, their best hope of escape from the deadly UK mixture of authoritarian illiberalism, gross inequality and small-minded insularity. 


About the author

David Marquand is former principal of Mansfield College, Oxford. Among his many books are The Unprincipled Society (1988) and The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe, (2011) Princeton University Press.

Mammons kingdom


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