9 JUNE 2001, Page 10


Europe will dominate the next parliament, says Michael Gove, but

the 'No' campaign must not be hijacked by the Conservatives.

If it is, Labour will win the referendum

THERE is something irresistible about the second world war. Its history furnishes the British mind with episodes both comforting and bracing. In this campaign just gone both Sir Peter Tapsell and Lady Thatcher sought to rally voters to the flag by walking once again with the destiny we embraced 60 years ago. Across the Channel the enemy musters, a heroic struggle for independence beckons, England once again expects.

But see where that got them.

The history to which Eurosceptics appealed appears to have given its own grim verdict. The British public were told with all the force the Tories could muster that Mr Blair would go with the Continental drift, and yet they still appear to have placed their faith in him, Is it then perhaps time for Eurosceptics to move on. to recognise that there is no particular appetite among the British people for blood, toil, tears or sweat? Should we just give the Battle for Britain a rest?

Tempting as it may be to quit the field, there has never been a worse time for Eurosceptics to stand easy. We have had a reverse; but we must not allow it to become a rout. For we are about to face the most momentous decision Britain has had to make for a generation: whether or not to join the single currency. Europe will dominate the next parliamentary session. The continued existence of our country as an independent nation state, the ability of our people to hold to account the managers of our economy and the shapers of our future, is under direct threat. A peacetime revolution as great as any since 1688 is planned, and its consequences would be anything but glorious.

Which is why, shattered and querulous as we are; those of us who will form the forces of opposition must learn to reconnect with our country before it is lost for ever.

The first step Eurosceptics must take is to abandon the mindset which still sees our struggle in terms framed by the past. While the blood of some, including my own, may run quicker at the thought of the Few, we have to make sure that we remain the Many. That requires a savvier. more forward-looking, less insular, more modern articulation of what are, at bottom, eternal principles. The case against the current pattern of European integration, and in particular against its most potent engine, the euro, is too urgent, too important and, in its best sense, too genuinely pro-European to be restricted to those with pristinely AngloSaxon attitudes.

The Prime Minister flies to Gothenburg next week to accept the congratulations of his fellow heads of government and to hear, before the first magnum is drained, how imperative it is that the campaign starts to take Britain into the single currency.

The Prime Minister's desire to place Britain within the confines of a single European currency has been constrained hitherto by public opinion. But he feels he cannot afford to temporise any longer. The main opposition force, the Tory party, is grievously weakened. It may not be so always.

And Blair also knows that the longer Britain stays out of the euro, the less chance he has to assume what he believes is his rightful place as primus inter pares among Europe's leaders. Sensing that Chirac's power is waning, knowing Berlusconi's energies will be absorbed domestically, believing that Schroeder lacks the gravitas to dominate, he feels that he could — indeed, must — be Europe's natural leader. But before he can lead he must follow, and take Britain into the single currency. To that end extensive plans have been laid. In the coming weeks, business opinion, trade-union voices and the campaigning strength of the pro-euro groups will be orchestrated to produce one message: we risk being left behind.

The urgency with which the euro battle will be launched should not be in doubt. If, as the pro-euro campaign hopes, public opinion can be shifted over the coming months, then Gordon Brown will pronounce his economic tests satisfied in the spring of 2002 and we could be in the euro by the end of the year. The importance of maintaining public opposition, and averting that demarche, is vital for the future not just of Britain, but of our shared Continent.

The euro is more than just a store of value and a means of exchange. It is the engine that is driving integration, the functional justification for far-reaching changes now floated by other European heads of government. Its existence requires, according to Gerhard Schroeder, a re-creation at European level of the federal model which prevails within Germany. Lionel Jospin responds by making the case for an 'economic government' and improved 'social protection' at the European level, These responses may differ in detail but they are united in accepting that power must be transferred from nation states to transnational institutions.

Joining the euro will require not just the surrender of the powers of economic selfgovernment already made by its current members. It will involve the progressive ceding of yet further powers from all Europe's nations.

That prospect should give Britons yet another reason to tread warily. Not just because we will lose a vital shock-absorber in the global economy if we give up the power to set our own interest and exchange rates; but also because our nearest neighbours are locked on a course that will bring its own, automatic, painful, wrenching shocks.

The further governing elites move away from the people, the greater the potential for corruption, incompetence and civil unrest. For all its faults, the nation state provides an intelligible community, bound by shared assumptions forged through common experience. The sacrifices which political leaders occasionally ask of a people are accepted by an appeal to that community's shared assumptions. However much Margaret Thatcher's economic reforms were resented, however unpopular the price Germans had to pay for reunification, they were accepted because political leaders had national legitimacy.

No economist doubts that the price transparency that the euro will bring will lead to the closure of industries in the EU's less competitive areas. Can one imagine the political case for that pain being made to French communist steelworkers by a Greek Christian Democrat leader of a European 'economic government'? To what shared assumptions will he appeal?

Britain needs to stay out of the euro, but firmly within the EU as a precondition of offering other nations, especially the applicant countries of central Europe, hope of an alternative model built on the principle of freely co-operating states.

In place of an integrationist model, which leads increasingly to power being exercised in an almost mediaeval fashion in closed conclave, we need to assert European Enlightenment values. Those sceptical of European integration are the natural heirs of all those Continental thinkers, from Luther through Erasmus to Voltaire, who made scepticism towards the claims of arbitrary authority the West's great gift to progress. This liberal intellectual tradition animated political leaders such as Garibaldi, Kossuth and Palmerston, who saw in the nation the best means of reconciling the order a state must uphold with the freedom of a people to question.

But the process of European integration has robbed the liberal Continental Right of its natural role as defender of the nation state. Into that territory, which is being colonised by the unattractive voices of raucously populist parties, we need to plant our own standard. The case for less transnational legislation, for greater intergovernmental co-operation, for the repatriation of policies such as agriculture to national governments, needs to be made in Europe's interest. And Britain needs to make it — not least because it is particularly well placed to appreciate how the 'European' consciousness which is now being built in place of the old national identities is quite dangerously anti-American.

Dr Henry Kissinger has already noted how, on missile defence, the rapid reaction force, the environment and even relations with Stalinist North Korea, the EU has deliberately chosen to set its face against America. In the last few weeks, while England slept. the EU even voted to evict America from the UN Human Rights Commission because European states were embarrassed by the USA's insistence on criticising slavery in Sudan and religious persecution in China.

That the nations of the West should be so divided is of comfort only to liberty's enemies. That Europe and the USA develop a union of the hearts again must be Britain's mission.

But Britain's capacity to make the case for a better Europe, and stronger West, relies on retaining the freedom which the euro would remove. And in contemplating the battle ahead one must, with no pleasure but all honesty, acknowledge the damage already done to the Eurosceptic cause by the Tory campaign of the last four weeks. That damage goes beyond the clumsy invocation of Mein Kampf by Sir Peter Tapsell, and the self-indulgent nostalgia of Margaret Thatcher beating Drake's Drum on Plymouth Hoe. It emanates from the heart of the Tory campaign itself.

The first Tory error was to give the single currency such salience. While the public, still, agree with the Conservatives on the desirability of keeping the pound. they do not, yet, accord the issue anything like the prominence which the Conservatives gave it. By saying so little on other issues, and especially by having next to nothing to say on the public services, the Conservatives seemed to lack a sense of proportion, and so made their judgment on all issues, including the euro, seem deficient and at variance with the mainstream.

The second Tory error was to say that this election was the real referendum on the pound. It insulted the voters' intelligence, because they knew a referendum before entry had long been pledged by Labour and could not be abandoned. It demeaned the voters' judgment by implying that when the time came they would not be able to assess the issues properly. And it conveyed a fatal lack of confidence, by implying that the Tories didn't trust themselves to prevail in any plebiscite.

What made it worse is that, after only a few days' campaigning, the Tories stopped saying that the election was the last chance to save the pound and claimed, weakly, that it was just the last 'fair' chance to do so. The final week, which was supposed to have been a countdown to save the pound, became a climbdown which saved no seats.

Such woeful tactical misjudgment should disqualify the architects of the Conservative campaign from any guiding role in the coming battle. But even if the fight had been conducted with aplomb, the Tory hierarchy would have had to realise that its role in the argument against the euro must be second fiddle and not conductor.

The more closely opposition to the single currency is identified with the Tories, the more difficult it is to keep a majority antieuro coalition together. If the No campaign were to have a Tory politician — any Tory politician — as its figurehead, then it would be handing Tony Blair a huge advantage. If he can define this issue as Labour versus Conservative he has won. And he has also won if the No campaign does as the Tories have done and makes sovereignty the issue, dealing in the symbolism of sterling as national fetish.

Campaigners for the euro will try to make their case on jobs and investment. Unless battle is joined on that ground, the No side will lose, however eloquent its arguments for retaining sovereignty, because the normal fears of a natural majority will have gone unaddressed.

If, and only if, a telling economic case for staying out is made can the emotions of national attachment be safely invoked. And even then, the argument must be put in its proper pro-European context. For it is vital that voters appreciate that our case is predicated on wishing the best for the whole Continent, rather than turning our back on the world.

There are organisations outside the Conservative party capable of building the coalition necessary, from Business for Sterling through to New Europe, the Congress for Democracy and the Democracy Movement. If, to paraphrase Churchill for one, last, indulgent moment, they are given the tools, then they can finish the job.

Michael Gave is assistant editor of the Times.