The REAL BRITS – The Voice of the Silent Majority

Daniel Hannan is a writer and journalist, and has been Conservative MEP for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the European Union is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free.


The EU has failed. Who are the truly guilty men?

By Politics Last updated: September 26th, 2011

71 Comments Comment on this article

‘The Maastricht Treaty represents a good deal for Britain…’

Being intellectually wrong isn’t the same as being morally wrong. It’s a distinction that is often forgotten in politics, where we habitually dismiss our opponents as liars, blackguards and fiends. Convinced that our opinions are based on demonstrable facts, we easily slip into assuming that the person who disagrees – the person who refuses to see reality as we do – must have some unstated motive. We can’t help it. The tendency to take short-cuts, to press new information into our existing world-view, is encoded in our DNA.

The Appeasers are now remembered as little better than traitors. Yet, though the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact showed them to have been intellectually wrong, it doesn’t follow that they were morally wrong. Playing for time in the hope that Hitler might attack the USSR rather than the West was a failure of judgment, not of patriotism. If we remember Chamberlain’s supporters as Guilty Men, it is a tribute to the genius of Michael Foot. His pamphlet of that name, rushed out in 1940, has defined to this day how Britain remembers that unhappy period. Yet it never purported to be other than a partisan diatribe, designed partly to deflect blame from Labour, whose support for disarmament had been more wrong-headed than anything Chamberlain did. The Appeasers had miscalculated; but at least they used the time bought by their policy to increase aircraft production.

The present crisis in the euro is, in intellectual terms, almost as transformative as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which is why Peter Oborne has adopted Michael Foot’s title for his denunciation of Britain’s Euro-enthusiasts. Once again, almost the entire Establishment has been found to be wrong: the erstwhile leaders of all three parties, the CBI, the TUC, the BBC, the civil service – pretty much the same line-up, in fact, that had supported Appeasement – all wanted Britain to join the single currency. Not that they will pay any price for their error. As a general rule in public life, it is better to be wrong in respectable company than right before your time. Europhiles will continue to drift complacently through the great offices of state, picking up knighthoods and peerages and headships of Oxbridge colleges. They will still be deferred to on the Today Programme as impartial experts and asked to write essays in the FT – not least because the MSM got it every bit as wrong as they did.

None of this should surprise us; nor, indeed, should it bother us. Like the Men of Munich, many of the Euro-enthusiasts simply made the wrong call. They believed that being part of a big bloc would make Britain better off. It’s true that, had they thought about it a little harder, they might have realised that big blocs, the world over, become inefficient. It’s true, too, that they were blinded by their dislike of what they thought their opponents stood for, having convinced themselves that Euroscepticism rested on xenophobia. But I am prepared to be charitable. We all make mistakes.

I don’t blame those who honestly but misguidedly supported the euro. No, my villains are those who saw that European integration was bad for Britain but who, from careerism or cowardice, chose to push their doubts from their minds. There were a couple of dozen Conservative MPs who believed that the Maastricht Treaty was in the national interest. There were perhaps 200 who voted for it because they wanted to join (or remain on) the front bench. It passed by one vote. Business leaders, financiers, diplomats, academics: in every walk of life, people ignored their misgivings because they wanted to be in the club, to sound respectable, to be associated with the civilised chaps who organise seminars at Wilton Park rather than the brutes demonstrating in the street.

Have they learned their lesson now? I suspect many of them can privately see the implications of the eurozone’s economic convulsions. EU membership was sold to us as a trade-off between politics and economics: we’d have to cede sovereignty but, in exchange, we’d get prosperity. That equation has proved false. Far from offering prosperity, EU membership has dragged us into problems not of our making, has trapped us in a cramped and declining trade bloc, has cut us off from the growing markets of the Anglosphere and the developing world. Yet, once again, it seems somehow vulgar to point this out. People would rather be wrong, but in the right crowd.

No one can be blamed for failing to grasp something. But to see the light and deliberately avert your gaze – that, truly, makes you guilty.