This ‘Tribune’ article was written for Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute.
In Britain when a family decides not to have a party to mark some calendar event it is usually said, ‘We’re having a quiet New Year’ or ‘I’m having a quiet birthday.’ The celebration of Britain’s fortieth anniversary of its membership of the European Community will be a particularly muted affair.
Any boisterous carousing is more likely to come from the other side. Britain’s dedicated anti-Europeans will congratulate themselves on the UK’s progressive disengagement from the European project; the ‘veto’ of the Fiscal Pact; the negative position on the EU budget voted in the House of Commons (thanks in part to an act of crass opportunism by Labour MPs); growing public support for a referendum; the inroads now being made by UKIP in national as well as European elections, the toil in Whitehall drawing up an inventory of competences to be repatriated to Britain, and the first opinion polls showing a strong majority for outright withdrawal. All the while the daily drip feed of anti-European bile from most of the media continues.
There are also worrying but understandable signs that the rising optimism of the anti-Europeans is mirrored by the frustration and annoyance of the UK’s friends and partners which begin to resemble the World War I recruiting song, “We don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go”.
As the UK government tries to appease anti-Europeans at home through a policy of surly non-cooperation it alienates even members of what used to be an almost automatic support group of countries from Northern and Eastern Europe. Patience with Britain is being exhausted, and resistance to any future demands for special treatment growing.
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