Friday, December 30, 2011

Echoes of Churchill

With the Eurozone in crisis over the Greek tragedy, Ireland’s financial tumble, and the economies of Portugal and Italy teetering on the brink, a core group of EU leaders came together on December 8 and 9 to draw up a new EU treaty. Led by the indomitable, if misguided, Angela Merkel of Germany and with Nicolas Sarkozy of France in tow, the Europhiles seek tighter integration, centralized control over financial markets, and, ultimately, even more national power from EU member states divested to Brussels – whether or not the people agree. Indeed, Mrs. Merkel recently called for a “Fiskalunion” at all costs, insisting recently that she would “give up a piece of German sovereignty” in order to make it happen.

And what of Cameron? Recently, he angered Tory backbencher Euroskeptics, whose motion in the Commons demanding a referendum on Britain’s role in the EU was beaten into submission by party whips. Many conservative columnists predicted his capitulation to Germany, accusing him of, at best, weakness, and, at worst, treason. Some, more outrageously, even compared him to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who infamously signed over the Czech Sudetenland in a vain attempt to appease Hitler, before pompously declaring , “peace for our time.” 

Indeed, had Merkel, Sarkozy et al read the British broadsheets, they would have reasonably assumed that, when faced with even the slightest opposition, Cameron would roll over. Even smaller nations turned up the heat on the embattled Prime Minister, with Luxembourg’s prime minister and chief of the ‘Eurogroup’ warning, "I don't want the United Kingdom setting aside entire pages to say the United Kingdom will not do what all the others have to do. I will not accept that."

In the end, however, Mr. Cameron invoked not Chamberlain but his more prescient and formidable successor, Winston Churchill. First, Cameron demanded protection for the City of London, which, to the chagrin of European technocrats, remains the financial hub of the continent. This prompted a blazing row with Sarkozy, who wouldn’t hear of such a thing – dissention in this “new Europe,” not being tolerated. Undeterred and finally channeling Churchill’s mythic “bulldog spirit” that has been absent for much of his term, Cameron refused to back down, and eventually wielded Britain’s veto.

This bold stroke has endeared him to the same Euroskeptics who, just hours before, were filleting him on Fleet Street, while also sending a direct signal to the power base of the EU that Britain will be pushed around no longer. Boldly defiant, Cameron’s stance reveals a hearteningly Churchillian willingness to become a pariah.

During the mid to late 1930s, Churchill issued a wakeup call over Hitler’s ambitions and military buildup, vocally criticizing the leadership of his own party and ensuring that he would never hold a Cabinet post under Baldwin or Chamberlain. He endured his outsider status, and was proved right in the end, when he was called on to lead Britain against the Nazi Germany. Then, in March 1946, once again finding himself out of office, Churchill took the podium at tiny Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri to issue a stern warning about the ills of Communism, the division of Europe by an “iron curtain,” and the need for a “special relationship” between Britain and America.  It was a time when many still considered “Uncle” Joe Stalin a staunch ally, wrongly assessing Communism as merely an alternative system of government, thus reverting to the isolationism of the interwar years. Churchill’s words of warning set off a firestorm of hostile criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle, the ridicule of most magazine columnists, and a stinging rebuke from Moscow itself. Yet, when asked a few days later if he regretted his sentiments, the supposed ‘warmonger’ roared, “I do not wish to withdraw or modify a single word!”

Now it seems it is Cameron’s turn to be unpopular. Worldwide financial markets have plunged, the Europhiles are in a white-hot rage, and Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, recently blustered, “Britain this morning is more isolated than at any point in the 35 years of British membership of Europe.” Cameron’s coalition partner, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, he of the strong pro-Brussels views, was so miffed that he stayed away from the first Commons session after Cameron’s controversial decision and has subsequently decried the Conservative’s veto. The Prime Minister has even risked straining the Anglo-American “special relationship,” with Barack Obama cozying up instead to the EU’s integrationist leaders. 

Like Churchill in 1946, Cameron must screw his courage to the sticking place, and reaffirm in 2012 that Britain is, and will ever remain, a sovereign nation. He should also, as Iain Murray and James C. Bennett suggested in the Wall Street Journal and the prescient English Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan has advocated for years, look to the rich trade possibilities of the Anglosphere instead of to the crumbling Continent and what Hannan has correctly called (in homage to C.S. Lewis) its “hideous strength.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment