by Norman St. John-Stevas
IF the Prime Nlinister is to
be believed the country is poised to take off into a great new period of its history, entry into Europe and the opening up of new and wider horizons for all. That, at any rate, is what he said at the Mansion House and presumably he had more in mind than simply buttering up the City of London. Why then has there been so little public response?
The re-opening of the Common Market debate in Britain has had as much impact as the dropping of a large piece of wet flannel. The reasons for this public tepidity have sonic significance in assessing the general situation over Britain's renewed "application" for Common Market membership.
In the first place there is an Inevitable feeling of "deja vu": in a very real sense we have all been here before. The fires of passionate pub. lie debate burnt themselves out way hack in 1962, and the argu me uts for and against British entry were gone into in such detail then that it is difficult to go through them all again now.
More important than this feeling, which is akin to the reluctance to see a B feature film over again, is the fact that opposition to British entry has dwindled almost to vanishing point. The humiliating experiences of Britain's endemic financial crises: the fact that we have retained the shadow of independence but lost its substance has at last stink into the public consciousness.
I believe there are very few people today who can see any acceptable alternative to British membership of the Common Market. No one today can regard the Commonwealth as either an economic or political alternative to European union: union with the United States is acceptable neither to us nor to the Americans: iso. lation would have nothing splendid about it, but merely guarantee sharp political and economic decline. For Britain union with Europe has become a necessity. There is in short very little to debate about.
Added to this there is a reaIIStic scepticism as to whether British entry to the market can be achieved at this time. Five of the six countries who make up the market undoubtedly would welcome British entry, but there is no indication that the obstacle presented by General de Gaule is any less insurmountable than it was four years ago.
French public opinion favours British entry, but it is the will of the General rather than the French which is immediately important. British opinion can never get worked up about academic issues and the suspicion that a British application to join the market is yet another example of a non-event is widespread.
In this situation what should the British Government do? I believe that Mr. Wilson was right to open up the question again, but I believe also that the tactics adopted and the mode of approach are ill judged and wrong. The first mistake is the marked reluctance of either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary to state that they accept the Treaty of Rome. The Government appears to be under the impression that if they did so they would throw away an important bargaining counter, but the truth is quite the opposite of this.
There can in fact be no bar gain about the treaty: only about transitional arrangements. We would lose nothing by recognising this fact, and would make the positive gain that by a clear declaration of acceptance of the Treaty we would exclude the possibility of an early Gaullist veto. We would also rally round as the friendly five if we could convince them that we meant business.
In addition, we would gain widespread support in France, where alarm about the fruits of General de Gaidle's European policy has suddenly become acute following the revival of Right-wing Nazism in Germany. French public opinion 1155 grasped what the General refuses to recognise, that a nationalist Germany is in danger of becoming a reality rather than a nightmare and a major threat to French interests.
Mr. Wilson's other error has been to continue to stress the economic as opposed to the political importance of European union. Since Britain's contribution to Europe at the moment must be political rather than.economic, this is to abandon the strongest card in our hand. There is no need to commit ourselves to any particular political form, since the SI: have not done so themselves, but to attempt to exclude the political tismere folly in the European setting, however attractive it may appear in the context of internal Labour politics.
The one part of the Prime Minister's European policy which has evoked a Continental response has been his suggestion for the formation of a European technological community, and the triecas. reason is simple because it put Britain into the position of offering something positive to Europe, instead of merely seeking to get something out of Europe to ameliorate our own difficul I myself rather doubt whether Britain's application can Im. mediately succeed because I dcoant: t l e he al inetsv etic Gi ne ntehrea I m adre.
ket at any price. We can, however, make it as difficult as possible for him to exclude us and put ourselves into an invincible position for a third and successful attempt at British entry.
Government policy seems designed to frustrate both these limited objectives. The duty of Parliament and of public opinion is to urge upon the Prime Minister a change of tactics and of momentum before jt is too late and Britain finds herself In the same humiliating position as she did at Brussels in 1963.