Britain – a special relationship with the EU?

Last week I attended a dinner organised by German hosts, who had gathered an impressive group of the economic and political establishments of the two countries to discuss the history and future of the Euro. I am grateful to them for their hospitality.

I am sure they were aiming to be friendly, but the exchanges I experienced reminded me why the UK can never become part of Euroland, viewed as a kind of Greater Germany by some of those present.

The conversations did not begin well. I was asked by a friendly German where I came from. I explained I came from Wokingham. Asked again, I said England. He wanted me to give him the name of a region, and went into a long explanation of his regional identity before asking me again.

I explained patiently that I fully understood regional identity and lander power in Germany, and was happy for him that he liked his land so much. I had no wish to change that for Germany to bring them into line with our system. If he wanted to understand my country he should know that we hate enforced regionalism in England, and have voted it down when given the opportunity. I am not and never will be a Rest of the South easterner. We dislike attempts to balkanise England and hate the EU’s refusal to recognise England as part of our history and identity.

The conversations got worse. I was asked pleasantly when we would want to join the Euro. They explained that they knew we did not want to join it now, and agreed with that judgement. The more I explained we never wish to join it, the more argumentative they became.

I was then told very firmly that if we carried on behaving like that – refusing to have regions and refusing to join the Euro, – we would “not have any influence”. They seemed amazed when I said I do not seek any influence. I have no wish to try to govern Germany, and wish her every success. I am certainly not going to volunteer further large sacrifices of power to govern ourselves in the vain hope that it will bring us influence over the government of the continent. To date it has not brought us any such influence. The EU project has continued on a pre-ordained course of more centralised power whether the UK has stood aside or has given away her rights to self determination.

The mood of the gathering generally was sombre. For the first time Euro enthusiasts realise there are threats to the Euro’s future. They are grappling with the problem of bailing out Eastern Europe, with the Euro fanatics keenest for Germany to pay the bills. There was a shock to discover that Germany’s successful export based economic model has been harder hit so far than the US’s debt based consumption model, as orders have dried up for German cars and capital goods.

My suggestion is that Germany should be less insistent on countries joining her union. She should concentrate on completing the union with the inner core who are willing and ready. She needs to understand us better so we might buy more of her goods. The single market was not a favour granted to the UK in a moment of weakness, but legal underwriting of Germany’s export superiority at a time of tariffs and other barriers worldwide. This has been largely supplanted by the world trade framework anyway since then.

So who should we be special friends with? I have always found the Commonwealth a better gathering, where the strong ties of language, history and culture create more of a family atmosphere. Let’s be friendly with as many as possible, but not strain to be more friendly than common interest allows.

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36 Comments

  1. Stuart Fairney
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Germany wasn’t really a country at all until 1871 and was again carved up in 1945 until the early 1990’s so it’s no shock they are very regional in their outlook. No shock either that England, unified since 1066 should be far less regional in its outlook.

    I hate to say this (really) but it’s my personal opinion that the whole project of the euro currency, the politics, the law making etc is all part of a crypto Gross Deutschland strategy. ………

  2. APL
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    What a good post Mr Redwood, now if only we could hear something similar from Mr Cameron?

    JR: “So who should we be special friends with? I have always found the Commonwealth a better gathering, where the strong ties of language, history and culture create more of a family atmosphere.”

    Well yes. But one could hardly object if having been treated so diabolically by the ‘mother country’ (thanks to Heath, a supposed ‘one nation’ tory), the former commonwealth countries might look twice an any supposed ‘special relationship’.

    And now, thirty years later, they have all made their own arrangements too.

    Essentially, I guess what I am thinking is, ‘special friends’, ‘special relationship’, these are outmoded terms. We should be prepared to trade with whom ever wants to trade with us.

  3. Raedwald
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Excellent post.

    I’ve encountered the same sort of intellectual arrogance amongst both the Germans and Danes. Many federalists really can’t conceive that a one-size-fits-all European integration isn’t the answer for the UK.

  4. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    John.
    Having lived and worked in Germany, your comments are spot on.
    They find it impossable to see someone elses point of view. The way they do things must be the best.
    Regretably the way we now have to do things is because thats what Germany wants.
    I was never so glad to get back to England ( region East). It made me realise just how fortunate we are in Britain.
    Then Brown became PM.

    If you realy want to know about Germany go and live and work there but not on a government paid job.

  5. Donna
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I have thought for a long time that we should seek to strengthen our ties with the Commonwealth and should loosen them with the EU. Unfortunately, no Government in recent history – including the Conservatives – has followed this path.

    The final opportunity to do so will be rejection of the Lisbon Treaty which was ratified without the promised Referendum. Yet David Cameron is still not unequivocally promising that the Referendum will be held – it all, apparently, rests on whether all the other EU countries have ratified. I fail to see that Ireland being bullied into a second vote in favour and if the Czechs fall into line should have anything whatsoever to do with the UK holding the Referendum it was promised and to which it is entitled. It is OUR country.

    I have friends in Germany (teachers). One of them recently commented that the countries of Europe would have to become a Federal Union (likes the States) because we are not strong enough individually. The propaganda pumped out by Brussels is leading to a conclusion that there is no alternative to the EU. Well there is, and we should take it.

  6. Colin D.
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    What happened at this dinner is indicative of what will happen to us all in dealing with the Authoritarian state that the EU is rapidly becoming. All is well if we are compliant, but start being ‘difficult’ then so called ‘friendly relations’ quickly degenerate to threats. Blair and Brown were compliant…will Cameron have the guts to face down the threats?

  7. Ian Jones
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I do wonder what outcome the Germans want from the current economic crisis in the East. Are they now moving back towards the French and a small core of countries as punishment for the East being American stooges or do they just not know what to do.

    I guess a little of both as they know they need consumers for all the goods they produce but they want countries to do what they tell them to!

  8. alan jutson
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Like you John I cannot see how a one size fits all solution can ever possibly work in Europe.

    There are now too many Countries involved with too much difference in history, culture, expectations and how to realise those dreams.

    I could understand the original concept of no trade barriers between Nations, but simply cannot understand or want a Europe where everyone has the same legislation and Regulation.

    Unless you completely unite all of the Countries with exactly the same Currency, interest rates, tax rates, VAT, laws, Energy Supplies, Local Authority charges, Regional charges and dismiss all individual Governments, you will never ever have a level playing field.

    What we have at the moment is a complicated nonesense of confusing and competing laws, subsidies, benefits, charges, and increasing administration that benefits no one in the long run, other than those Euro MP’s that seem to be doing very nicely.

    The only reason Countries still want to join is for a financial handout/subsidy.

    Where else would you be able to join a Club where someone else pays your subscripions, you can still take benefits and be allowed to vote on the Clubs future rules.

    Given the extraordinary cost of running such an organisation I find it absolutely shocking that their own Accounts have not been signed off by the Auditor for the past 13-14 years and they are still allowed to continue.
    Try that with Companies House !!!!!

    The fact that they move Head office every 6 months from Brussels to Strasbourg and back again, at huge expense, just about sums up the nonesense of it all, and the way it operates.

    How many Successful Organisations operate in such a way.
    The answer NONE.

    At one time (many years ago) I have to say I thought it may be possible for it to work in some sort of way, but the older I get, the more I travel, and the more I see growing legislation being produced, the less I am interested in being part of this organisation.

  9. John
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I am sure they were aiming to be friendly, but the exchanges I experienced reminded me why the UK can never become part of Euroland, viewed as a kind of Greater Germany by some of those present.

    Generally speaking, and with a lot more cause, if you substitute commonwealth and Britain for Euroland and Germany, that’s how most people who aren’t British think about the Commonwealth.

  10. Lola
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Absolutely priceless.

  11. David Belchamber
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Our experience with the ERM and now recession should cure us once and for all of any thought of joining the euro.

    It is highly unlikely that we would be able to change the EU from within, as it is an even greater socialist bureaucracy than this country, so we could press for a referendum on leaving the EU.

    Before we do that, however, would some form of ‘associate membership’ be a practical – and desirable – solution?

    I believe that is what Churchill would have preferred.

  12. Rare Breed
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I’d be happy with a similar attachement to the EC as the Swiss.

    Great post by JR.

  13. oldrightie
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    An excellent rebuttal of the whole dismal EU project.

  14. Demetrius
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    It was Voltaire who chose Westphalia as the best of all possible worlds in “Candide”. Then look at what happened. As someone who spent time in the old British Army of Occupation, I think we established the Lander on the basis of old territories as the best of all possible solutions. Ironic, no, ja? As for England, in Wokingham you are not a true South Easterner. We Men of Kent say you are Wessex and our sworn enemies, we of the Shield Wall of the King strike our blades on our shields and call you to submit to our Wolf King of All the Kingdoms, or at least something like that.

  15. David Cooper
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    This all illustrates the myth of “influence”. It is a giant confidence trick. No matter how much our political masters go on about strengthening our influence in the EU, or the danger of weakening it, they overlook (perhaps deliberately) the fact that influence is not – and never can be – a worthwhile substitute for the power for a nation state to make its own decisions in its own interest.

    • SJB
      Posted March 3, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t the union of europe idea come about because european nation states did make decisions in their own interest … and war (x2) was the result?

  16. Graham Hamblin
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely spot on John and I for one would have been happier had we continued to develop our links with the Commonwealth rather than getting into bed with this lot.

    This Country lost it’s way after the Suez crisis and went for the easy option. Enoch Powell was for it initially but when he realised the full implications he became steadfastly against membership and said so. I believe that had more to do with Heath sacking him than his infamous speech, that was the excuse.

    When will a member of parliament spell out for the public the real reason’s for the proposed privatization of parts of Royal Mail and the cause of LDV’s (think that’s right) problem’s. Chris Booker did in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph and Dr Richard North has for weeks on his eureferendum.blog?

  17. Chris Rose
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Last week I listened to a talk by Mr Timothy Kirkhope, who is leader of the Conversative delegation at the EU. Unlike your German hosts, Mr Kirkhope does not like the Euro or regions and he would like to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but I formed the distinct impression that he likes being part of the EU culture and that he and his colleagues will do little to further Britain’s interests for fear of upsetting the EU applecart. I cannot see that if the Conservatives return to power they will do much to improve our relationship with our neighbours.

  18. Chris Rose
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    In a post about half an hour ago I wrote Kirkwood instead of Kirkhope. If it’s possible to change it, I shall be most grateful.

  19. Neil Craig
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think the Commonwealth is as unstrained or useful as you say. When we treated it seriously it seemed always to be a venue for African governments to denounce us for not giving them enough money or being rude enough to South Africa.

    On the other hand that problem could be solved by restructuring their meetings so that power directly reflected economic strength.

    Personally I think if that had been done 80 years ago the Commonwealth would be a major player now & the world a rather better place. For a recent blog I checked & found that the combined Commonwealth economies come to about $10 trillion whereas the US & EU are both about $15 tn but the Commonwealth ones are growing faster. Only problem for jingoisits is that we are decidely only the 2nd economy in it – following India.

  20. Bernard Palmer
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Here is the latest from the Wall Street Journal on the implosion of the EU.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123591435325503221.html?mod=todays_us_page_one

  21. Bazman
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    A German man goes to a bar in Germany and explains that his wife has had a baby boy, but they cannot think of a name for the child. Everyone in the bar suggests a suitable name.
    The next week he is asked if he had chosen a name for the boy? He replies: Ya! Hans.

  22. an ex-apprentice
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for that, Mr Redwood. The fact that there are politicians who actually understand how so many feel is both a surprise and a slight relief.

    Now let it be stated as official policy – PLEASE.

  23. Budgie
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    When Bonaparte conquered Europe he installed his generals or relatives as rulers in the conquered nations. When Wellington defeated the French conquerors, the British left Europe. Same sort of thing after WW1 and WW2. That is the difference.

    I see no good reason why we should not be independent, but if we really had to be a satrapy of a foreign power it would be better to be a state of the US or an overseas dependency of India than ground under foot by the EU.

  24. steve-roberts
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    How about “..peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” ?

  25. LT
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    David Belchamber mentions the option of associate membership of the EU. Personally I can’t see the point. We had something better than that before, it was called EFTA. The associate membership unfortunately would still require Britain to enshrine new EU legislation into UK law. We need to remove ourselves from this tyrannical organisation completely and let them get on with it. Sadly as mentioned above Britain shafted it’s real friends in the Commonwealth (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) I rather doubt they will be minded to help us out now.

  26. DBC Reed
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    You think you have a rough idea about British history but I came across the Ottawa accords (1932)which set up the Commonwealth and the perfectly plausible sounding Imperial Preference system (which appeared to be a Commonwealth Common market ) completely by accident .
    I seem to remember at the time of Suez ,when my father shouted at people in the street and never spoke to them again,that there were a lot of Conservatives like him, who saw America as butting into our sphere of influence in a globalised system of production and transport. He also used to say that it was the Dominions that kept the Sterling Area going.
    If you read John Laughland’s Tainted Source, it seems that a lot of European founding influences seemed to be right-wing weirdos,intent on the kind of Eurasia,Eastasia, Oceana power bloc system. It is certainly worrying that the Brit front runner for European unity was Oswald Mosley’s Union movement.Perhaps he got behind the trouble in Notting Hill to make the Commonwealth look bad.

  27. brian kelly
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Every part of this article chimes precisely with my own views. We need to shed the EU ties other than as a member of the free market. When that day comes I believe there will be a resurgence of hope, confidence and energy as the country realises that it is in charge of its own destiny once again and that we stand or fall entirely by our own endeavours and that we are no longer helpless bystanders. Free to rebuild ties and relationships abroad for mutual benefit. It may well be difficult for a time but the deeply embedded qualities of our peoples of resiliance, fighting spirit, practicality and enterprise will, with the right leadership, will begin to forge out a new future for this country. All we need is to find the means to release these qualities. On a parochial note it is as well to remember that the balance of trade between the UK and the EU is heavily negative against us, as I understand it, and which, if so, will ensure that the EU will treat any negotiations with us very seriously.

    • chris southern
      Posted March 2, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

      Brian, the EU is not a free market, it’s a continent wide trade block that places tarrifs on incoming goods, not goods produced and traded within.

      • brian kelly
        Posted March 3, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        Thank you, Chris, I stand corrected. I believe, in so far as Britain is concerned, that if we loosened our ties with the EU we would nevertheless be able to negotiate to be a member of this free trade area. And continue to fight for a more open trade policy. It is my opinion that the EU has done enormous damage with its external protectionist trading policies since its inception – particularly to underdeveloped agricultural countries.

        • chris southern
          Posted March 3, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          Totaly agree Brian, trade with europe is good for both parties.
          Being under direct control of the EU does not benefit us at all, and the negotiations for trade and worker migration would be interesting as they would try and get as many loop holes into the agreement as possible (it’s happening with switzerland and the people are starting to dislike the EU now)

  28. mike stallard
    Posted March 2, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    Notice how there is nobody on this thread who does not think that what our host has written is excellent. How that contrasts with poor Dan Hannan’s blog where the many EU enthusiasts bang on and on.
    And on.
    And on.
    Here in New South Wales, I feel completely at home.
    When I lived in Spain, I was always a foreigner.

  29. SJB
    Posted March 3, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    “She [Germany] needs to understand us better so we might buy more of her goods.”

    The UK is already Germany’s largest European export market. I bought a Miele vacuum cleaner and a Bosch washing machine because of Germany’s deserved reputation for high-quality consumer goods.

    If the EU does implode in the near future, some of your cheerleaders may wish to give some thought as to how quickly the UK would be able to establish the industrial muscle necessary to counter any potential return (to European conflict-ed)

    Reply: I do not forsee any danger of western European countries wanting to fight each other. One of the b iggest fibs about the EU is the argument that it has stopped wars in Western Europe.

    • SJB
      Posted March 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      What member states have fought each other since the Treaty of Rome in 1957? If you are referring to the break-up of Yugoslavia then the advantage of the EU is that candidate countries like Serbia will have to raise their game rule of law wise to gain admittance.

      If Germany slips anchor from the EU it seems foreseeable to me that she will look eastwards … again.

  30. bill
    Posted March 3, 2009 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    This is the first time that a politician has pointed out what has always seemed to me a fairly obvious stumbling block in the EU – that the same word refers to different things in different countries. A Region as John points out means something quite different in Britain and Germany . a Mayor means something quite different in England and France and different again in Spain. Town council quite different in Italy and UK . No doubt readers can supply other examples.

  31. Verity
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    This was a telling and revelatory post. Quite chilled the heart.

    I have been saying for quite some time that we should dump the formal arrangements with the EU, which threaten our democratic and economic wellbeing, and form a formal, but loose, arrangement with the Anglosphere. Not just the Commonwealth, but the United States as well. (James Bennett has written an interesting book called The Challenge of the Anglosphere.) We already share the essentials – our law and our language. And belonging to a loose association (in other words, not too many European-style tortured, Napoleonic spelling out of every tiny detail) would put us firmly in the camp of two of what will be the three richest and most powerful nations in the world within 30 years. That is, the US, of course, and India.

    Let the Europeans get on with their fussy, bossy hiding to nothing. We’re better off cleaving to our own.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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