I sympathise with the views expressed by Max Hastings in the Guardian today. He articulates my own reservations about the European Union, and talks about many of the ideas and thoughts that have often been expressed during European referendum debates here in Ireland.
Europe conducts its affairs in an increasingly fantastic spirit that would be admired by Lewis Carroll, but which becomes frightening when transferred from Wonderland to the political destinies of hundreds of millions of people. Some of us swallowed reservations about the Maastricht treaty because we accepted the assurances of British ministers,that its integrationist provisions would never be enacted.
Today, when those optimistic Tory “wets” have been proved so wrong, it is far harder to accept the European constitution merely by cherishing hopes that it will collapse under the weight of its own follies, together with wilful breaches by the usual suspects, led by France and Italy.
It is always painful to switch political course. It is especially so in the case of Europe, because it puts us in some rotten political company. Yet it no longer seems possible to support the European constitution – as Blair still seems willing to do – merely as an act of faith in a “tidying-up process”.
In 1998, Hugo Young rejoiced that Britain’s destiny in Europe was at last acknowledged by “a prime minister who did not fight it, and untroubled by the demons of the past, prepared to align the island with its natural hinterland beyond”. Yet like Stuart, I no longer feel able to allow my heart to rule my head. Tony Blair’s visionary determination to march ever onward into Europe, constitution and all, looks every day less like courage, more like hubris.
We must assume that Blair will refuse a referendum, for the very bad reason that he believes he would lose it. We shall sign up to an unwanted and unworkable constitution, which promises huge damage to the real interests of Europe. For those of us who still want to believe in the cause, it is a bitter pill to be driven by logic into the “no” camp.