Foreign Office Europhilia
The occasion was inevitably tinged with sadness given what followed so soon afterwards in 1914, but descendants and relations of those involved in the ancient gladiatorial contest were able to meet in a spirit of good fellowship to discuss matters past and present.
Late in the evening, as the port circulated, His Grace found himself in conversation with the FCO’s Sir Humphrey, to whom he posed a question having first explained his position as a remote but interested observer: “The United Kingdom faces an existential threat from a foreign power, the European Union, which is committed to the destruction of the UK. One would normally expect the British Prime Minster to explain the nature of such a threat to the electorate together with his plans for prevailing. And yet Mr Cameron does nothing of the sort. Instead, he goes to Brussels to pay the EU even more money. Why is this?”
Sir Humphrey did not disappoint and replied obliquely, “In my department we have just completed a survey of the British national interest, which is the basis upon which we assess things. The survey was designed to calibrate the relevance of all major countries to the UK, taking account of proximity, our energy security, trade, defence, the location of expats and a number of other factors.”
His Grace knew what was coming next.
Sir Humphrey continued with a triumphant gleam in his eye: “And who do you think comes top?”
Fortunately His Grace had learned at a very early age when playing chess that it pays to think more than two moves ahead. “France,” he replied without hesitation, while looking Sir Humphrey straight in the eye.
“Absolutely correct,” said Sir Humprey, “followed by Norway, the United States and Germany, in that order.” Norway seemed something of an outlier in this equation but clearly energy resources are weighted heavily in the departmental model. His Grace was too polite to ask whether the remnants of the Royal Navy were tasked with seizing the Norwegian oil fields for the UK in the event of any threat to other energy supplies, but it’s a thought.
Reassured by His Grace’s evident Francophilia, Sir Humphrey became expansive: “Of course, the French have an extraordinary position with regards to energy. Not only do they more or less control the means of distribution in the UK, but their nuclear policy puts them where we should be but aren’t.”
His Grace ventured an implied criticism: “But aren’t you merely being reactive and accepting the status quo rather than trying to change things pro-actively for the better?”
Sir Humphrey’s answer was predictable, in part: “I feel at home dealing with the French, they’re Europeans, so are we. It’s not like dealing with the Americans who I simply don’t understand. Not long ago I travelled through, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia (all candidates for EU accession) and I was struck by how terribly European they all were.”
We didn’t venture further into the Balkans and avoided Turkey and Albania altogether, their European credentials remaining unchallenged.
At this point His Grace tried to change the direction of the conversation: “Of course, there have been earlier pan-European projects, the Roman Catholic Church to name but one,” he said. “The genius of Catholicism is not unlike the genius of the United States; the lost soul is baptised or the huddled mass is naturalised and both achieve redemption through assuming a new identity, either as a Catholic or as an American, as the case may be. Europe comes nowhere close to this: there is no unified demos.”
Sir Humphrey was somewhat taken aback. “My son has recently returned from the US and you have no idea how different the various states are,” he replied rather lamely.
“Well,” said His Grace, “that’s fairly typical of continental geography but has no immediate bearing on the unified political structure and common culture.”
By this time Sir Humphrey had had enough. “Look,” he said, in tones foreboding finality, “it’s wrong to see Europe as a threat; we see it as an opportunity in terms of the British national interest.”
‘We’, of course, being the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
So, it is just a matter of Sir Humphrey’s judgment after all. The minister is ‘advised’ of the British national interest and the British jury never gets a chance to give a verdict.
Jean Monnet’s proposal to do away with the nations of Europe was re-stated last week by President Van Rompuy.
The EU is the answer to whatever question is put.
The British will find their redemption only in becoming more German.